Intentionality CAN be a Trap

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Lessons Learned from Late Night Upsets

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, MCC, SCAC

“When in deep water, become a diver”
~ the Viking Runes (Ralph Blum version)

Unexpected Benefits

When I lived in Manhattan, there were more than a few nights when somebody’s car alarm went off — sometimes blaring away for over an hour.

Sometimes the car was parked close enough that it seemed as if the sound threatened to oscillate the teeth right out of my head.

With the laws in place at the time I lived in The Big Apple, there was absolutely nothing that anyone but the owner of the car could do to silence the racket, including the police.

Dealing with this little hitch in my git-along, as they say in the South, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.


The first few times I heard that expression, it annoyed me. Greatly.


How can (for example) disturbing an entire neighborhood in the middle of the night because some idiot parked the car too far away from his or her apartment to be able to hear that s/he needed to go turn off the racket possibly be considered any flavor of perfect?

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Embracing the Perfection of What’s So

Over time, I have learned to understand “The Universe is Perfect” to mean A LOT of things — but for hateful, worrisome or distracting late-night intrusions, when getting to sleep suddenly seems unlikely-to-impossible anyway, I like to use it as an instant reframe.

I finally taught myself that a much better use of my time and energy than fuming over the possibility that lack of sleep could derail all plans for the following day (making sure that it WOULD), was to lasso agitation’s energy and make it work for me.

It’s amazing how much the perfection of an unexpected windfall
of awake-time can do for you, if you use it to pick off a hateful
“lower priority” task or two on your to-do list.

I also learned that a short list of hateful tasks to squeeze into time-chunks (that present themselves only because I’m suddenly too agitated to sleep) is better than any drug made by man to encourage my eyelids to get v-e-r-y heavy.

Beyond Lemonade

Here’s the problem with learning to be intentional: Black and White Thinking —
cognitive inflexibility; getting stuck in a thinking rut; ODD (oppositional) Rising!

The Underlying Concept

As long as our map accurately represents our road, those of us with what
I call “alphabet disorders” are greatly relieved to find that we can – finally! –
plan and actuate as well as the so-called “neurotypical” population.


When life throws us a roadblock,
we head for the shoulder
and end up in the ditch!

  • We tend to agonize over the appearance of the roadblock
  • Rather than concentrating on what must be done to navigate around it.


There are a number of legitimate, brain-based reasons why we tend to agonize.

In addition to black and white thinking, the following are among the toughest for us to learn to work around:

  1. Hair-trigger startle response (hyper-reactive amygdalas)
  2. Pre-frontal cortex [PFC] shutdown in response to stress
    (thanks again to our hyper-reactive amygdalas)
  3. Trouble with transitions
  4. Unusually high levels of distractibility, thanks to impaired filtering in our PFCs
  5. Impusivity, , thanks to the impaired “braking” ability of our PFCs


Surprises are the end result of an expectations mismatch.  They are a linguistic concept we use to label our reaction to the difference between expectations and reality: the gap between assumptions and the capricious ways of our world.

Human beings vary in their ability to accommodate sudden change – and any expectations mismatch will be experienced as a “sudden” change in the game plan. Emotional reactions to the vertigo of sudden change can range from astonished laughter, to shock,  to rage.

Surprises can have any valence; that is, they can feel good, bad or indifferent to any particular individual at any particular time.

Were we to take a poll at a basketball stadium after the team that was predicted to lose beat their opponent, the same surprise will be experienced as good, bad and indifferent, depending on who you are and how you feel about the game.

  • Surprise is intimately connected to the idea of a set of rules to which we expect life to conform.
  • Unconsciously, we base our actions and set our expectations on a set of predictions that we believe will follow those rules.

In essence, according to Wikipedia, surprises are the end result of predictions that fail.

Winning The Bobby Burns Award

The Scottish poet Robert Burns is well known for, among other things, his poem entitled
To A Mouse.

One of its lines has practically become a proverb:
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley.” 

Gang aft a-gley is Scots dialect; the line is frequently “translated” as
“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”

In other words, despite careful planning, things go wrong.

Those of us with attentional spectrum dysregulations have usually worked so darn hard teaching ourselves to embrace the benefits of planning, that we tend to respond with frustrated incredulity any time all that hard work fails to pay off.

Surprise!  (and not in the good way).

Stuff happens!

The trap inherent in intentionality is being so attached to it that we fail to respond with some version of the line from Burns’ poem when things begin to unravel.

“This is a rerouting opportunity” is a much more positive frame than
“This route was SUPPOSED to be straight-through easy!”

This week, think about this, when your “best laid plans” seem to turn to dust:

How is this an invitation to accomplish something useful —
rerouting my energy into getting SOMETHING done
rather than focusing on what I can NOT do because . . .
[of anything beyond your control]

  • “Name the game” in a way that you take a small enough “bite” to be able to complete it
    relatively quickly (no MORE than 30 minutes, including oops time), so that you can use
    the completion energy to change your mood.
  • Then do THAT.

Make it up so that you get to WIN!

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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!"

4 Responses to Intentionality CAN be a Trap

  1. Nothing seems to set people off more than our plans that go awry. After much struggle, therapy and medication I was able to change my response to changes of plans. What I learned is that plans change while goals do not.

    We have little control over many things in our lives despite our most carefully laid plans. Things beyond our control make us change our plans everyday and sometimes minute to minute.

    If my goal is to drive to a location and there is an accident in front and I have to take another route than my plans change, I had no control over the other persons misfortune. There is no point in being angry, even I I’m going to be late. Better I should be thankful that I was not in the accident and find a another route to my goal.

    Other times we plan and others have a different idea. If we cant convince them that it is in their best interest to go along than we need to update our plan. We are not kings commanding others at our whim. We need to respect others wishes. Is it reasonable to expect others to do what we want because we want it. I think not. (this is an important lesson to teach children)

    There are so many great cliche’s and quotes on the topic for a reason. It’s true.

    Man Plans and God Laughs!

    set your goals in concrete and your plans in sand

    You Can’t Always Get What You Want

    A battle plan is excellent until the first shot is fired

    and so on.

    The key to moving forward is exactly as Madelyn says

    “take your functional temperature” – a quick read on your cognitive abilities
    in the moment – to determine what you COULD do, given your current functional level.”

    What I find so important in this quote is not that we won’t have our emotional outbursts or meltdowns when sudden change occurs, we will in our own way. (my wife’s reaction is completely different than mine) But that we need to stop and figure out the best way to proceed given our emotional and functional state.

    If you are with others, as is often the case, you should take everyone’s temperature as undoubtedly your reaction, ability and response will differ from the others and your behavior can have a great effect on others.

    Imagine if you were the people in the accident. Your plans have now completely changed. Maybe even your goal will need to give way to a higher level goal. Once you have checked everyone’s physical condition than you need to start planning all over again.

    That’s OK. It’s normal. We all go through it. Check the temperature and move forward.

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
    -Reinhold Niebuhr

    Good Luck


    • Wow, Augie! On behalf of myself and my readers, I thank you so much for the time and care you put into your comment (and thanks for the additional “related resources”)

      You are also the first person, in my experience, to attach a name to what is widely known as “The Serenity Prayer” — and I LOVE attribution. My fav, however, is “Plans change, but goals do not.” — unless you get back to me with another name (yours, or where you first heard it), I plan to atrribute THAT quote to The ADDSherpa!



      • datadocexpress says:


        I second that. I continue to be amazed at the awarenesses you have. You are very insightful and reflective. When you say something, some part of me usually sees itself as it has never before. Thank you.

        In service to myself and potentially others out there wanting to grow and learn…I have to ask…Where are you when you have these insights?

        When I ask this of people, the answer often comes back something like, “on the way to the bathroom”, or “soaking in the bath”, or “in the shower”, or “watching the sunset”, or “just being outdoors in nature”. So where is yours, or what do you do? My best tend to be in the shower.

        But the ADD mind forgets…do you keep paper and pencil handy? A voice recorder in your purse? A special time every day? How does it work for you?

        Thank you,


        • Thanks, Steve, for the comment as well as the acknowledgement (and for the cool Social Media graphic sent via email too, btw).

          I don’t have a “place” – I guess, after 25 years in the field, my brain thinks ADD all the time 😐

          Coming out of alpha in the AM (trying my darndest to brain-boot), and late-late-late at night (dipping in and out) seem to be the best time for writing (before speech comes fully on board in the AM, and after everybody else is done with me and I have time to myself in the wee small hours – my night).

          I frequently use “backstage” on this blog to warehouse notes on posts I have no time to flesh, but want to make sure I track SOMEWHERE — sometimes I simply dump the recently stumbled-upon web content that triggered a new awareness into the post, knowing that when I reread, I’ll make the same connection.

          I keep ideas for content in my datebook, on post-its, in notebooks — everywhere, actually. My brain throws ideas and makes new connections faster than I can capture them — I could probably keep 4 secretaries busy full time if I could afford to pay them!

          btw- the ADD mind doesn’t really “forget” – but the stress of trying to remember shuts down access (i.e., “recall on demand.”) I tell people that my long-term memory is truly EXCELLENT, but my brain’s file-clerk is old and slow. She’ll be back with the info in her own sweet time (and not one minute before!).



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