4 Phases of Self Awareness with ADHD

For many ADHD brains, self-awareness is a significant challenge.

Also known as metacognition, this executive function helps you go from small to big picture, evaluate your progress, and – essentially – think about your thinking.

Because self-awareness proves to be such an obstacle for people with ADHD and ADHD tendencies, it often challenges our performance and follow-through.

In episode 147 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we explore four key phases of awareness when it comes to learning and developing new skills, and we discuss strategies to strengthen each one.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 147: The 4 Phases of Self Awareness with ADHD, You Will Discover…

  • The four key phases of self-awareness when developing new skills
  • How to recognize what phase you’re in on your journey
  • How to support yourself in developing greater self-awareness going forward

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Episode #147: 4 Phases Of Self Awareness With ADHD (Transcript) 

Over the last week or so, I have been doing a lot of reflecting when I’m out on my walks with Bruno. I am about to wrap up the January cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome next week; by the time this episode comes out it will have officially wrapped up.

It has been so incredible watching these individuals come together, each at different stages in their ADHD journey and in terms of their familiarity with coaching and the coaching tools. And on top of that, they’re all coming from different stages of life and life experiences.

It has been so inspiring to see these busy awesome humans come together and share and get coached. It’s been incredible to see them challenge their brains to consider new ideas and stretch their self concept of how they view themselves and their abilities.

I am just so proud and honored to have worked with this remarkable group, and I wanted to share one of the key reflections that came to the foreground as I’ve been thinking about the past four months t, which I think will be really helpful to our podcast community as a whole.

I do want to say that I am recording this episode before enrollment is open, but by the time this episode comes out, enrollment will be happening for the June cohort. I’m not sure if spots will still be open, but I do encourage you to check out We’re Busy Being Awesome if you are interested in learning more about the program and how to enroll if it’s a good fit for you.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


What I am sharing today from this group is the power and importance of self-awareness and the way that our awareness unfolds in what I see as four key phases as we adopt new skill sets and habits and shift the way we think about ourselves and our abilities.

This concept will be so valuable for our busy awesome community because – as I mentioned – these four phases of awareness impact any type of strategy, concept or tool that I share on this podcast. It has an influence on how we take these tools and implement them and eventually gain a skillful mastery of them, and what that concept of skillful mastery even means.

As we discuss the four key phases of self-awareness when you have ADHD, I invite you to think about the different areas of your life and the things that you are working on right now.

We all have different goals we’re working toward or habits we are establishing. We all have different objectives and timelines, but even though we are all working on different things, they all fall within this framework. And when you can figure out where you’re at, it makes it so much easier to work through the messy middle when things get hard.

Let’s get into it.

The 4 Phases of Self Awareness with ADHD

4 Phases of ADHD Self Awareness with Examples

Phase 1: Recognizing & Accepting Where You Are At

This first stage goes more in-depth than the others, and it can take a bit longer to arrive at this first phase. That’s not a problem. It’s just something I’ve observed both with myself and with clients.

Phase one of self-awareness with ADHD is recognizing where you’re at and fully understanding that where you are at right now is not a problem.

I know that some of you might already be cringing at this idea because our brains are so hyper-focused on trying to find the next tool or strategy to fix our problems or make us better. I definitely have thoughts about that too. But first, let me back up.

As I worked with this January group of We’re Busy Being Awesome, I loved how there were so many different life experiences and backgrounds to share. The group had people from all over the United States as well as Ireland, the UK and France.

These amazing brains worked in such a wide array of jobs from entrepreneurs to city planners to professors and lawyers, to health care workers and administrators and authors.

With this wide array of experiences and backgrounds, it was powerful to have this space where someone with ADHD or ADHD tendencies could show up and know:

  • Wow. I’m not the only one who struggles with a distractible brain.
  • I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
  • There are all of these remarkably successful people in this group, who navigate similar obstacles. It’s not just me.

Let me tell you, when you have spent a lifetime trying to either hide the fact that you don’t fit in or even if you do completely own it, still having that feeling that you don’t fit in, I think there’s something really affirming when you feel seen and understood by all those who actually get it.

By others who understand the racing thoughts, the challenge with focusing, and the overwhelm that comes when thinking about tasks that neurotypical brains don’t think twice about.

Image shows Woman working on a laptop. Text reads: How to Stay Focused with ADHD Free Training. Click here to sign me up!

I know that not everyone who listens to this podcast has ADHD, and what I want to highlight with this point, is the power of finding people who get it.

The power in finding people who see you and recognize what you’re working through.

For example, my husband used to be an elementary music teacher, and he and the other specialists – the folks who taught physical education, art, technology, and language – would sometimes get together for dinner after work to connect and share ideas because they got it. They understood one another’s obstacles.

Whatever group it is, There is something so powerful in finding that community of people who see you and understand you and celebrate you for all of the magic that you bring to the table.

This is not only because it creates that core sense of belonging that is imperative to us as humans. But additionally, when it comes to our phases of self-awareness, it makes it so much easier to accept where you’re at and stop thinking that you are a problem that needs to be fixed.

Because as much as your brain might want to tell you sometimes, you are not broken. Nothing needs fixing.

In fact, I think that this can be one of the problematic areas or potential obstacles of the personal development space.

There’s this line that some of us tend to walk – myself included – between wanting to continually learn and grow and stretch ourselves simply because it’s fun and you love the challenge and you love learning more about you and what you can do.

The brain flips this into something very different, where it starts thinking:

  • I‘d be more acceptable if I could just fix this problem
  • I’d be better if I could change this thing about me

It’s like we forget that we are not problems and we don’t need fixing. There’s nothing to fix.

You are a remarkable human and 100% worthy. Whether you learn how to manage your schedule or reduce your procrastination or not, has zero impact on your worthiness as a remarkable human. This number is fixed at 100. And yet we forget that, so we keep hustling, trying to prove we’re good enough.

This is when we can start using these tools against ourselves, as I mentioned in an earlier episode.

This is especially true for my clients with ADHD brains who are looking for the “cure” to fix their brains.

As Tamara Rosir reminds us,

Your Brain’s Not Broken. It’s just wired differently.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

No amount of strategy will adjust the number of neurotransmitters in your brain.

It’s not going to suddenly create more norepinephrine, which I know – rude. But it’s true. This is simply how the brain is wired. 

Now can we create additional support to make things easier for the brain than they might otherwise be? Without a doubt.

Can we build the scaffolding that works best for your specific brain so that you are living into that life that you’ve always imagined? Absolutely.

However, before we can implement these different strategies to deal with ADHD and build up that scaffolding, we need to land in this first phase of awareness, which involves passing through that layer of judgment thinking we need to fix ourselves. 

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We first need to recognize how inherently incredible we are, whether or not we ever do another thing again.

I know this goes against what the hustle culture tells us, but I’m pushing back against it, as once we can release this self-judgment and thinking, we need to be fixed.

Once we can recognize that we are incredible and amazing and whole exactly as we are, that’s when we can add in the strategies and tools.

This is when it becomes so much lighter. It becomes so much easier. Rather than thinking we need these strategies for fixing, it becomes a fun experiment to see which ones you really enjoy.

It becomes a puzzle where you get to play with the different pieces to identify the ones that work best for your brain as you learn and grow throughout the process.

So, I realize that my explanation of phase one is a little bit lengthy. So let me bring it back to the key concept.

Phase one is the difference between “I have to make things work so I’m not such a disaster” versus “I’m amazing and have so much to offer… what supports can I implement to make sharing these gifts easier?”

Phase one of self-awareness with ADHD enables us to remove this first layer of judgment about where we’re currently at.

Phase 2: Using Tools and Strategies To Help Your ADHD

woman writing in planner

Phase two of self-awareness with ADHD is where we begin using the tools and the strategies as we further our awareness of how to best work with our brain.

Phase two happens after the fact.

So, in phase one we beat ourselves up and don’t stick with anything because we haven’t shifted our self-concept; we don’t realize we’re not broken.

Then we get to phase two, and we start using these strategies… And none of them work the first time. The way that we develop greater awareness in phase two about what’s going on and how to best work with our brain is to learn upon reflection.

Being self-aware in phase two means you can take a look at what happened, what didn’t work, and do an assessment so that you can make any adjustments necessary and try again.

Some examples that you’re in phase 2 of your ADHD awareness:

So, you might be in phase two if…

  • You set a schedule and then completely forget to look at it or forget that you even made it.
  • Your alarm goes off to remind you to go to bed, and you ignore it and stay downstairs instead.
  • You planned to work on your article first thing in the morning, and instead, you procrastiworked until about 4:30 that afternoon.

As we enter this second phase of awareness in working with our ADHD brain, we learn upon reflection and we do this by asking questions like:

  • What prevented me from remembering that I created a schedule for myself?
  • What’s not working here, and what can I try differently tomorrow?”
  • We can get curious about the bedtime alarm and ask ourselves, what was the excuse that my brain offered that moment that the alarm went off and I dismissed it?
  • What were all the reasons my brain offered, so that I can be aware of them when they come up again?
  • What do I want to think instead next time? 

Or with the writing example, we can ask,

  • When I was procrastiworking all morning instead of writing my article, was I aware that I was doing this?
  • Did I know I was avoiding the article or was that not on my radar?
  • Was it out of sight out of mind?
  • Or was it more of a deliberate avoidance?

Both are great answers, we just want to build our awareness of where we’re at so we can learn from it.

When we can go in with this open curiosity and not bring along the judgment, we can learn so much.

Now, the challenge is that we often want to skip this reflection. Instead, we tell ourselves, I’ll just try again tomorrow. I’ll get it right next time. Tomorrow’s a new day.

But, when we keep repeating the same thing without ever reflecting or learning from it, we keep creating the same results. There’s that quote that’s often attributed to Einstein – though I don’t think it was actually him who said it.

But the quote is “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

When we don’t make time to reflect, we get stuck in that repetitious loop not creating the results that we want.

Howver, when we do slow down and we figure out what is going on after the fact, that’s when we have space to make adjustments.

When we realize and understand why we forgot to look at our schedule, or why we ignored our bedtime alarm, or why we didn’t start on our article first thing in the morning, and we make some shifts about how we think about that thing the next day, that’s when we start seeing change.

That’s when we’ve expanded our awareness to a greater level, which allows for greater shifts.

Once we’ve done this enough times, we make our way to phase three in our level of awareness.

Phase 3: Being Aware & Catching Yourself in the Middle of What You’re Doing

woman checking emails on laptop

Phase 3 of being self-aware with ADHD is when we catch ourselves in the middle of what we are doing.

When we catch ourselves in the middle, we might shift our behavior and make an adjustment. And sometimes we don’t. 

Some examples…

Daily Autopilot of Checking Emails

Maybe you sit down at your desk and you are about 10 minutes into your autopilot habit of checking emails when you think to yourself, “wait a minute… I created a schedule last night. Let me pull that out.”

  • Sometimes you remember it and sometimes you don’t.
  • Sometimes you remember you created it, but stick with checking your email instead because your toddler brain is in the driver’s seat.
  • But other times, you’re able to coach your brain into closing your email app, getting your planner, opening it up, and reminding yourself of where you want to focus first. 

Dismissing Your Morning Alarm

Sometimes you’ll catch yourself dismissing the alarm to go to sleep right then when it goes off.

When this happens you can ask yourself:

  • Do I really want to be doing this?
  • Does future me want me to delay bedtime?

Sometimes the toddler brain will win out and you’ll stay up late. Other times your executive brain will come online and remind you that future you will be much happier if you wake up after getting a good night’s sleep. 

“Procrastiworking”

The same goes for procrastiworking.

Maybe you catch yourself at 9:45 on a Wednesday morning unloading the dishwasher or straightening up the papers in your office at work because your brain is hard at work avoiding the article you said you’d write.

Sometimes you’ll catch yourself in the moment and you’ll be able to pivot because you recognize it ahead of time and you created a plan for yourself.

Other times you won’t.

And when you continue reflecting on both experiences.

When you ask yourself during the times when you’re successful:

  • What worked?
  • How can I repeat this again?
  • What can I learn from this?

When you don’t stick to the plan, you can ask yourself:

  • What didn’t work?
  • What was going on here?
  • How can I support myself better?

When you continue to reflect and learn, this is going to propel you further into phase four.

Image shows Woman working on a laptop. Text reads: How to Stay Focused with ADHD Free Training. Click here to sign me up!

Phase 4: Anticipating Your Obstacles Before Hand

Phase four is when your brain is able to anticipate the obstacles before they even happen.

You’re ready for it. You can anticipate it ahead of time. So what does this look like?

With a planner, it might be thinking to yourself,

“Hmm, I usually forget about my planner in the morning. Let me keep it open on top of my keyboard tonight so that I see it first thing in the morning. And then let me also set a couple of reminders throughout the day remind me to refer to the schedule in case I forget about it and get off track again.”

For sleep, you may think to yourself,

“I know my brain is going to offer a bunch of different arguments. I know that my brain hates this transition time between hanging out on the couch and going to bed because it really requires a lot of cognitive flexibility… and at night that is not very high functioning.

So maybe I could set a pre-alarm to alert my brain that it’s almost time for bed, and that gives me a little bit more heads up for the transition.”

It’s the same as when you tell your kids “5 more minutes” so they can prepare themselves. The same goes for our toddler brain.

This is when you can also remind yourself of all of the thoughts you’ve chosen to practice ahead of time – about why you want to go to bed on time so you have those at the ready when your toddler brain inevitably throws a fit when bedtime comes.

If You’re procrastiworking, planning ahead of time might look like,

Preparing for the common pitfalls and distractions that catch your attention and the thoughts that suck you in – like, “it will only take a minute.” Or “I’ve been meaning to do this.”

By raising your awareness to this level, not only are you ready for those pitfalls, but you’ve set yourself up for success to navigate them with greater ease so that you can stay focused on the task at hand and begin that article as you planned.

Understanding the 4 Phases of ADHD Self Awareness

These four phases of self-awareness are fluid. You can move back and forth between them.

Sometimes we slide from one to the next depending on how new or well-established the habit is. It might fluctuate depending on how much sleep we’ve had or how many distractions we have around us. That’s OK.

If we go back to the key lesson in phase one, there’s nothing broken. We don’t need fixing. Instead, it’s an ongoing journey. It’s a practice of learning and reflection as we develop greater awareness of ourselves of the best way to work with our brain.

And of course, we keep aiming toward being in phases three and four. That’s the goal.

However, we also don’t need to make it a problem if we slip back into phases one and two.

This happens to me often if I’m learning something new, or changing up my routine, or I have a day when my executive functions don’t show up.

That’s part of being human. That’s part of having a brain and learning new things.

What Phase of Self Awareness Are You At in Your ADHD Journey?

As you learn about the examples of the four phases of self-awareness in how to work with your brain, I invite you to make note of where you might be in the different areas of your journey.

Are you in…

  • Phase one, where you’re learning to accept where you’re at without judgment?
  • Phase two where you’re doing a lot of reflection after not sticking with the habit or the goal so you can learn from the experience?
  • Phase three where you’re catching yourself mid habit or mid practice and pivoting as needed?
  • Phase four where you can anticipate the obstacles ahead of time and prepare your brain ahead of time so that you and your brain are working fluidly together? 

Wherever you are within the four phases, the next step is to practice the strategies within that phase specifically.

Strategies for Each Phase of Self-Awareness

Phase 2: Learn whatever you can after the fact. After you realized you procrastiworked all day rather than doing the article, what can you learn from this – without judgment?

Phase 3: Reflect on the experience in the moment and learn what’s working and what’s not. You can learn why you were able to catch the bedtime alarm when it went off again the second time after snoozing it and actually get off the couch and head to bed.

Phase 4: Reflect on what is working and figure out how you can apply these strategies from learning t consult your schedule each day and apply them to other areas of your life that might be in earlier phases.

Join Our Caring ADHD Community

Wherever you are in this journey, I encourage you to surround yourself with a community of amazing humans who are growing through similar experiences or challenges so you can offer and receive support, encouragement, in strategy from others who also get it.

If you want to dive further into priorities and learn additional strategies and techniques I invite you to join We’re Busy Being Awesome.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


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