Are you OUT of your MIND?

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Reframing to Rewire (First in a series)
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Most of us take that “Are you out of your mind?” question to mean that we’ve just said or done something NUTS.  I want to stand that idea on its ear.

Image via Wikipedia

I think it would be FAR more powerful to use that phrase as a reminder to do exactly that: to GET out of our minds.

To “get out of our reactionary mind” so that we can align our actions with our intentions is more what I had in my mind, so let’s explore how we might begin to DO that.

For those of us with Executive Functioning Dysregulation, following one idea to completion is frequently an exercise in frustration and failure.

Metaphorically, our brains are rather like a tangle of string-like dendritic connections resembling a plate of cooked spaghetti.  

About the only way we can locate both ends of a single strand of spaghetti on a dinner plate is to lift it up out of the plate and away from the rest of the tangle.

After twenty plus years of investigating ADD/EFD and working with all kinds of EFD Challenges, I’ve come to believe that “getting it up and out of the plate for closer observation” is the most successful way to locate both “ends” of a single train of thought as well.

When that single-thought strand is left tangled with the other strands, we can become like Alice in Wonderland clones, looping around relatively aimlessly and getting ourselves into all sorts of odd predicaments.

Lifting that strand of spaghetti away from its tangle successfully is where the mere presence of another person makes all the difference in the world: an ADD/EFD-literate mentor, coach, or non-judgmental friend who can reframe our challenges simply by virtue of the fact that, from their vantage point, things don’t look so convoluted.

(More to come about that concept in a later post in this series)

Movin’ ON to the Rewiring

Neurons that wire together, fire together

The human brain is a network of interconnections formed and reformed throughout our lives.

Input from our senses begins the process.  

  • Our brains are designed to put various vibrational patterns together to make meaning of what would otherwise be a bombardment of random sensations.
  • We begin putting things together long before we have acquired language to help us articulate our ideas about cause-and-effect, or to anchor and concretize our concepts for further refinement with repeated exposure.
  • Our early impressions are amorphous – they lack specificity, and tend to be fairly
    black and white – safe/not safe, not safe/DANGER!

Image via Wikipedia – The Brain Limbic System

Sense and Sensations

Deep inside either side of our brains, part of a complex known as the Limbic system is a walnut sized area called the Amygdala, specialized for emotional processing.

Robert Sylwester, author of  A Celebration of Neurons says, “The amygdala complex is composed of two almond-shaped, fingernail-sized structures that are richly and reciprocally connected to most brain areas, especially advanced sensory-processing areas.

Its principal task is to filter and interpret sophisticated incoming sensory information in the context of our survival and emotional needs, and then to help initiate appropriate responses.”

THIS is where our ready-fire-aim ADD brains get activated,
long before we have learned to think about how we choose to respond.

Designed to support our survival into adulthood, that Danger, Will Robinson” center is one of the first areas to go “live.”

Emotional Spin

Before we can even understand what it means to be unhappy about the fact that we are hungry, for example, the Amygdala spins and we howl in anger or frustration. We can’t fight and we can’t run, but boy can we sound the alarm!

The moment we begin to understand that howling brings a nice warm body to put milk in our little tummies, our brains have begun to wire cause to effect.  

  • Some of us will be parented in a way that we unhook that howling thing
    from getting what we want, taught to say please and thank you instead.
  • We will  learn to incorporate the idea that sometimes we can’t have
    what we want the very minute we want it.
  • We’ll come to accept the idea that delayed gratification is a normal and
    natural part of living, not a threat to our very survival.

In other words, we begin to rewire that brain of ours.

  • Some of us, however, will attempt to go through our entire lives stamping
    our little feet and shaking our curls in an attempt to get what we want . . .
  • Even when those tactics don’t work very well for us as we get older . . .
  • Sometimes even when we are well aware of that sorry state of affairs.

We say we can’t help ourselves – it seems to come out of nowhere!!
Until we rewire, we become victims of Amygdala Hijack.

Since our emotionally-based reactions are much faster than responses (based on intellectual decisions), it takes time, repetition and feedback to disconnect a few of the wires so that we are ABLE to choose our behaviors.  We refer to the result of that process as emotional maturity.  Unlike maturing physically, emotional maturity  never happens simply because we grow older: its a product of rewiring.

No TIME to Think!

The amygdala is a sort-of all-seeing, all-hearing command center set for a hair-trigger response – the trigger for our fight, flight or freeze gun, our most primitive survival response.  If the amygdala perceives what it considers a threat to our survival, it’s not going to give the neocortex thinking centers time to analyze and respond before it sends out the full-speed-ahead REACT NOW signal.

As Daniel Goleman (who coined the term Amygdala Hijack) says about the fact that that the amygdala trumps the rest of the brain whenever it believes there is an emergency, it’s a response developed eons ago to provide an immediate answer  to the question: 

Does it eat me or do I eat it?  

Only those ancestors who immediately responded with appropriate action survived to contribute their genetic information to the human gene pool.  The ones who paused for reflection (or zigged when they should have zagged) died of starvation — unless they became dinner for another, more “reactive” animal.

So, through a process of natural selection, our Limbic System evolved: a group of brain structures that work to regulate emotions, memory and certain aspects of movement, that includes  the amygdala, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, septum and basal ganglia.

The “limbic lobe” is thought to be the area for biological rhythm regulation as well as integration of recent memories, especially those with strong emotional linkage (love, rage, fear, sex).

In upcoming posts in this series, we’re going to take a look at what this all has to do with rewiring and intentionality, and take a look at some things you can DO to rewire so that life becomes more predictably responsive to your dreams and desires.  So stay tuned – there’s a lot of good stuff coming up.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the EFD Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!).

Related Articles here on

Check out my article on Brain-based coaching on Dr. Charles Parker’s CorePsych blog

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

3 Responses to Are you OUT of your MIND?

  1. You are so cool! I do not think I’ve read something like this before.
    So great to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject matter.
    Really.. thanks for starting this up. This website is
    something that is required on the internet, someone with
    a bit of originality!


  2. The idea of combatting amygdala hijack has been around for a long while under different names.

    We face many pressures and much conflict and it is easy to invoke a stress response even when facing minor challenge- like somebody criticising your post on an internet forum.

    Those stress responses DO NOT optimise our brain function for relaxed attention- they optimise them for running away or fighting. They DECREASE blood flow in the frontal lobes- not good for ADHD.

    I personally rely heavily on the words of the 8th century Buddhist saint Shantideva in working with “difficult” people and situations:

    He points out that our friends are too kind to us and they will not point out our weaknesses.
    He comments that we should (mentally at least) thank our enemies for kindly pointing out weaknesses that nobody else would mention, and that a real enemy is a true treasure.

    It DOES take a little practice to do this in real life, and I have just had another reminder that I am barely off my “training wheels” in this skill.

    When it works though- it brings remarkable benefit to all.


    • I LOVE your comments, Andrew! “A real enemy is a true treasure” will go on my quotes list (under perspective!).

      MY friends, however, are also “true treasures” — willing to hold me to my own high standards, gently, lovingly (and with kindness) pointing out areas where I haven’t noticed I’ve strayed from my path. (It’s that “gently, lovingly and with kindness” part that puts ’em on the FRIENDS list! – they’re mostly trained communicators)



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