Accept and Redirect: ADHD and Mindfulness
Wise Mind brain
Written by Scott Spradlin, LPC, LMAC

Distraction Frustration

Perhaps you find your head busy with thoughts about the unfairness that you can’t have a block of time for yourself. Maybe you begin to judge yourself for not being able to let go of the passing feet and giggles of your children, who were only doing what kids do, right? Perhaps this fractured moment gives rise to your hostile and judgmental thoughts as you feel bad about judging your children, or for feeling incapable of settling down, becoming upset about being upset.

You’ve settled down for the evening for a rare moment of quiet. You have your tea, and tranquil music plays in the background soothing you aurally. You have become engrossed in that novel that you’ve been waiting weeks to read. You think your chores are done and you think your kids are settled, and then comes the pattering of feet and giggles through the living room, breaking your peace and your concentration. Although you feel irritated, you politely invite the kids to redirect their play in the next room. And even as they follow your redirection and the room has again become a reader’s paradise, you can’t settle. You feel you can’t return your focused energy to the enjoyment of the novel.

For us, ADHD folks, broken focus can linger beyond the limits of our neurotypical friends and family. It literally takes more effort for us to direct the current of emotions and to return our focus to what we intended to do. Be it savoring a novel, or organizing the kitchen. And depending on our own internal habits of thought, seasoned in a life of criticism and invalidation, we may be vulnerable to yielding to our own worst version of ourselves with harsh and critical thoughts about ourselves. And as we know, all of this turmoil eats up our precious time and sets us up for yet another “failure” to stew in. We lose time not only to the usual detail-related mistakes of daily life, but we also lose time to emotional suffering.

Accept and Redirect

DBT core mindfulness skills are the tools that help us to cultivate new ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. Including how we relate with ourselves, family, work, and community. To change our ineffective self-chastisements, we can turn toward DBT mindfulness skills and start with radical acceptance.

Acceptance is getting square with the reality of a situation. A simple acknowledgment that what is, is. Acceptance is not to be confused for approval, as if we are to celebrate our fractured moments and emotional dysregulation. Rather, we are letting go of fighting against reality as such fighting tends to intensify emotional pain, transporting us from ordinary pain into the terrain of emotional suffering. To practice acceptance, we start with observing and describing what is happening. Without exaggerating thoughts and feelings, we can watch how they emerge from the confluence of causal factors, including a history of being criticized, executive function deficits, the present context, and our present skill set. Do we even have the skills to do otherwise?

We can say in a moment of broken focus, “Of course I’m having a hard time re-focusing. It’s difficult.” We can acknowledge with a little self-talk, “Of course I’m judging myself. I’ve been doing it for years. I’m really good at it. Well, back to reading.” Or we can simply ask, “How could it (this situation) be otherwise?”

Redirect: Turning the Mind

Accepting a situation as is we can turn our mind toward willingness, the attitude yes toward the moment, of becoming flexible with a focus on what works. From our DBT core mindfulness what and how skills we focus on effectiveness. Some have said this is choosing to do what works for the desired outcomes, doing the next best thing. In this case, letting be without making irrational demands on ourselves to be what we are not, nor to be more skillful than we are, nor to attach firmly to imagined preferences for how we wished things had turned out. We leave our reflex fictions in preference for what’s real.

We acknowledge the noise and distractions and we bring our attention back to the book, validating our brief disappointments and turning our mind back to reclining on the couch, book in hand, relaxing into the ambiance of our soothing music, and finally, we bring our attention back to savoring the book we’ve long wanted to read.

As we practice accept and redirect, we discover deep wells of kindness for ourselves. We find tenderness for our experiences, our willful irritations soften and give way to a new and gentle willingness. We find new clarity in our wise minds. And from this persistent work in mindfulness, we certainly do increase our attentional regulation, as noted in the research literature. More importantly, the proof is in the pudding as they say. In our practice, me in mine, and you in yours, will existentially authenticate all of this with a steady living into. Day by day. Moment by moment.

Image: Wise Mind for the Distracted Mind: DBT for Adult ADHD presented by Scott Spradlin, LPC, LMAC, and Mariah Warden, LSCSW

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