Taking Your Functional Temperature

By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Part 1 of a 2-part article in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book,
TaskMaster™ – see article list below

Functional Temperature

artwork courtesy of artist/educator Phillip Martin

Some days I don’t wanna’

When I look at my wide and wonderful list of things I DO want to do, it seems the items I must do to keep a roof over my head, food on my table (and some semblance of organization and order in my life) are seldom the items that make me drool.

I often fantasize about what I’d do if I were to win the lottery, so I know, without stopping to think, exactly what I’d do first: I’d prepay everything for a decade or so!

Next, I’d throw a couple of years of generous support to a would-rather-be-a-stay-at-home Mom to add me to her list of charges.

THAT would allow me to coach and train, and write, and jump on the speaker’s circuit to advocate and educate for NOTHING — following my bliss every single second of every single day — freed from the constraints of capitalist imperatives.

Alas! Since I would probably need to drive someplace to purchase a ticket to said lottery (and my car is currently feeling too lazy to run), I doubt I’m likely to experience said windfall any time soon.

So if anybody knows somebody in that 1% who’s in
a philanthropic mood, send ’em my way.  

Until then I, like you, must figure out an effective way to bob and weave between the tasks that allow me to make a living and the activities that make life worth living.

Challenges of Living

On a utility pole next to the sidewalk, right in front of my abode in this lovely walking neighborhood I currently call home, somebody has stapled a laminated quote by E.B. White that reminds me of ONE of the challenges I face each day.

If the world were merely seductive,
that would be easy.

If it were merely challenging,
that would be no problem.

But I arise in the morning
torn between a desire to improve the world
and a desire to enjoy the world.

This makes it hard to plan the day.

THAT, and more

Like I said, that is ONE of my challenges each day.  Would that it were all!

spilled-groceriesWorking with ADD brain-wiring is a little bit like working around a trick knee: I might PLAN to walk to the store and back, but I never know for sure whether my knee will support the journey or my groceries will end up all over the sidewalk.

And even THAT would be a problem I could circumnavigate with ease compared to the one I face practically every waking moment of every single day:

Will she will or will she won’t?

What’s going on here?

The ADD clue-free would probably chalk it up to something psychological or biorhythmic.  While I’m sure that is PART of what’s going on, it is certainly not the root cause — not by ANY stretch of anybody’s imagination.  How many times to I have to say the following before it lands?  

ADD is a NEUROBIOLOGICAL disorder; look there first!

Like the computer models that imperfectly describe how our brains are “wired,” our seemingly limitless brains actually do have SOME limits built into the design. No matter how much “memory” we add, there comes a time when we have to wait for the “machinery” to finish one task before it can be expected to handle the next. That’s true no matter HOW your brain is wired.

Artwork courtesy of Phillip Martin

It is simply a myth that we multi-task.

What’s really going on is a sort-of cognitive
time-share, parsed in nano-seconds — what
I sometimes refer to as time-slicing.

A more accessible analogy is juggling.

When we juggle successfully, we rapidly and repeatedly toss and catch any number of objects, always keeping one or more in the air
while we hande the others.

I will expand on that concept in future articles (and I go into more detail in The Boggle Book), but for right now, let’s focus on the implication of three primary points — what I refer to as juggling’s three realities.

 Juggling Realities

  1. The greater the number of objects that must be juggled, the tougher the task.
  2. The more varied the objects that must be juggled, the fewer objects the juggler can manage before they ALL come tumbling down.
  3. Even the most accomplished jugglers eventually reach their limits.

There is SO much more going on in the world than we can attend to consciously if we are to be able to FOCUS on anything at all.

Our brains are brilliantly designed as metaphorical tuning stations, so that every metaphorical transmitting station isn’t competing for our attention at the same time.

For the most part, not only are we completely unaware of what’s going on “backstage,” we aren’t forced to spend precious cognitive resources worrying about whether our brain’s “tech support team” is is doing whatever it is that they do that makes it possible for us to do what we do.  Most of us “poor players” are then free to simply “strut our hour upon the stage,” as Shakespeare’s Macbeth likes to think of life.

Car Alarms and Concentration

Think of how much harder it is to continue your current train of thought when, right outside your window, your car alarm suddenly goes off — even if somebody shuts it off less than a minute later. Wouldn’t at least part of your attention be focused on wondering what set it off and who shut it down?

Imagine how much harder it would become to concentrate on much of anything if a band of pranksters set it off again a moment or two later, followed by ANOTHER car alarm a moment or two after that.  And then another.  And another after that.

How many additional attentional demands could you handle in that situation?  

A LOT fewer, I’ll bet, than you could if you didn’t have to adjust to sudden changes in volume, your own rising irritation, and rising concern about the source of all that racket.

Let’s take the analogy further.

Once everything is finally quiet, aren’t you mentally wondering if it’s truly over or if this is just a temporary reprieve?  NOW how well do you concentrate on what you were doing when the whole situation begins again.

When all becomes quiet for a second time, for how long afterwards is at least part of you half-expecting a third round, and how does THAT affect your ability to concentrate?

  • Isn’t even a small part of you wondering what had to happen to stop the racket, or if the pranksters would be back again — and when?
  • Aren’t you thinking just a bit about what you would do to put a stop to it once and for all if they were to return one more time?
  • Weren’t you tempted to go check it out for yourself, even though you may have been in the middle of an extremely important task with a looming deadline?
  • Isn’t some part of your brain wondering if maybe it would have been wise to have followed that instinct?

Welcome to our World

That’s a small taste of what life is like for most of us with Executive Functioning struggles, MUCH of the time.

Some of us are exquistely sensitive to sound, some of us to tactile stimulation, and some to visuals or smells or temperatures.

Most of us are moderately sensitive to ALL of it, relative to the majority of those with “vanilla” brainstyles (unflavored by concerns that characterize ADD/EFD-brain wiring).

Even though they don’t even notice much of the incoming sensory stimulation that is making it hard for us to concentrate, for a great many of US it is as distracting as those blasted car alarms in the analogy above.

MORE to juggle

Because the filtering and focusing areas of the brain are impaired in ADD/EFDers, we are already juggling many more balls than most non-ADD/EFDers (those with more “vanilla” functioning) ever realize are there TO BE juggled.

  • Most people have brains that screen out irrelevant, omnipresent, “unimportant” stimuli unconsciously — it is part of the mechanism that has evolved to ensure survival of the species.
  • In order to have the cognitive bandwidth to be able to notice new stimuli that might indicate something potentially life threatening, neurotypical [“vanilla”] brains automatically determine that some of the ongoing stimuli is merely “background,” not important enough to note consciously.

Unfortunately, for those of us with ADD/EFD brain-wiring, much of the process of filtering ambient stimuli is a conscious one.  We expend a great deal of our cognitive resources actively ignoring what many others don’t even notice.

I have a term for conscious attempts to screen out background stimulation:
juggling invisible balls.

  • On an average day, we may well be able to handle a great many things that become,”suddenly” impossible when it is necessary for us to do it again some other day – which makes sense ONLY if we start paying attention to those invisible balls.
  • In the presence of overwhelm and over-stimulation, shutdown is inevitable – but predictable.
  • We can head it off at the pass if you can see it coming.

Part of the value of ADD Coaching is helping you to learn to take your functional temperature — to notice and count your invisible balls BEFORE you agree to take on more of the kind that everybody else is juggling than you can manage.

But how come we can juggle more balls sometimes?

Ah, Grasshopper, you must take a second look at juggling reality number two:

The more varied the objects that must be juggled,
the fewer objects the juggler can manage before
they ALL come tumbling down.

It is certainly frustrating, for us and for everyone around us, when some days we can and other days we can’t.  It’s especially frustrating when there doesn’t seem to be much in the environment that might explain the difference — meaning that you don’t seem to be forced to juggle more invisible balls than you were able to manage yesterday.

But for some reason, you know you can’t manage one more thing TODAY, because
you just don’t feel like you are able to juggle quite as well or quite as much today.

Or maybe you don’t realize that you aren’t juggling quite as well until everything comes
crashing down around you  as you howl in frustration,  “How come? “

Well, one reason is because the more varied the objects,
the fewer the juggler can manage.

What you are able to add to the number of objects you are tossing and catching is a factor of what you are juggling already:

  • How many objects of what kind have been tossed your way, moment by moment
    as well as 
  • How long you’ve been testing the limits of your juggling skills.

The next part of this article will expand on this concept, so you will be able to figure out how to calibrate your functional thermometer and use it to change how you move from task to task – stay tuned.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the TaskMaster™ 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

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, 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 right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above)

Articles in the TaskMaster™ Series

Linklists: Easy for me to keep updated for access from ALL related articles
– easy for YOU to jump to the article you want –
(hover before clicking on any link to see more)

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my articles periodically to update content and links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from

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!"

12 Responses to Taking Your Functional Temperature

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  6. gloriadelia says:

    I have ADD and have noticed a correlation between what eat and how I think. Have you noticed that, too? In recent years, I’ve been following the GAPS diet. Have you heard of it? The doctor who wrote the book claims that simply changing what you eat can relieve depression, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, even schizophrenia, as well as auto-immune disease. Here’s a link to a blog post from Nourishing Traditions that highlights GAPS and provides links for further study. http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/heal-your-autoimmune-disease-now/


    • ABSOLUTELY! No matter whether you take medication or not, if you aren’t eating what your body needs to make those neurotransmitters, your body can’t and won’t respond correctly, and your brain won’t get what it needs to function correctly. (An ADD colleague struggled for 18 years before he finally got his body working right – and it really improved the severity of a number of his symptoms. He tested positive for all KINDS of food sensitivities that had no real symptoms outside of the cognitive ones).

      ALSO if you’re ingesting junk foods (calories but low nutritive value), or neurotoxins (aspartame, GMOs in many cases, etc.), or if you have sensitivities to certain foods and eat those foods (say, gluten, eggs, milk, or foods with certain food dyes – red in particular – just examples, others too & not everybody is has the same sensitivites), your body won’t support what your brain needs to be able to function at the top of its game — and sometimes at all.

      “Not functioning” looks like symptoms similar to ADD, depression etc, etc etc — sometimes when you wouldn’t have those symptoms otherwise. Even if you would have symptoms of various disorders, eating “wrong” will exacerbate your symptoms (and maybe give you a few you wouldn’t otherwise be troubled with).

      In SOME (but by no means all) cases, simply changing how you eat changes everything. It’s always worth trying!! Even those with bona-fide diagnosis that require medication will be able to see a symptom difference when they eat “wrong” and eat “right” (degree, number of, types of symptoms – it varies by person and what they eat etc.)

      The link between gluten and auto-immune diseases is scary! There are blood tests and hair tests, btw – skin tests generally don’t pick up what I call “cognitive allergies.”

      I’ll check out your link when I can (moving – must be OUT in 3 weeks and still don’t have a place to move TO, so my blog visits will be spotty and short until that happens). THEN I have to pack and move ::groan:: — so please forgive if I’m a bit slow on the uptake until I’m settled.

      THANKS for visiting & for taking the time to comment.


  7. Pingback: Getting Over Overwhelm

  8. What a relief to find somebody that actually knows what they are speaking about on the internet.More and more people must read this and understand the importance of it.Very nice post,i enjoy this site,keep it up!


    • Hi Shawnna,

      Please forgive the time it took me to approve your lovely comment – and thanks for taking the time to leave it. Today was the first day I had time to go through all the spam, and there you were, for some reason marked by the spam filter. Welcome!

      I have dance in my background too (theatre) – although I started dancing way too late to do it at the level I would have preferred. My talent was acting/directing – danced (and sang) enough to handle a lead, but BOY was it tough to keep up in the chorus!


  9. christine says:

    Really outstanding gift of analogous thinking Madelyn.

    I’ve noticed your contributions on Adderworld, and really interested in your own site.

    Christine from Australi


    • Thank you SO much, Christine – both for stopping by and for the acknowledgment. Between Kate’s illness, 2 presentations for the upcoming ACO conference in [gasp!] TWO days, this blog and my practice, you may have noticed I haven’t had much to say on ADDerWorld of late.

      That will change in April – at which time I’ll click around to check out YOUR posts.

      Until then ‘gday!


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