AHAs! and DUHs! — HUH?



I could’a had a V-8!
They don’t SAY “duh!” — but they might as well have

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Duh!s and Aha!s

Aha! seems to have worked its way into the blogging mainstream.  You’ll see it used as a noun – an Aha! – and pluralized, used as a category – your Aha!s.

Duh! not so much — even though it will probably turn out to be the more useful of the two (at least it will if you adopt the manner in which I encourage you to reframe its meaning).

You’ll run into aha!s all over the web — so let’s begin with the concept that’s not quite so common.


Duh! is usually used to comment on an action perceived to be foolish or stupid (like “I left the keys in the ignition – duh!“), or in response to a concept perceived to be blatantly obvious (like “Science “proves” men and women are different – duh!“).

Even though they are frequently meant to be funny, I call those old paradigm duh!s.  The coaching reframe is used as a distinction to move life forward.  It lets us all off the “stupid” hook. 

I want to encourage the use of the term as a light-hearted reminder that knowledge is a term meaning little more than a holding tank of information provided or discovered.

None of us are born knowing everything we need to know – even the Einsteins among us. 

  • We learn it when we learn it, and not one moment sooner.
  • Let’s take the shame off “not knowing” so that learning becomes fun again.

The ADDCoach Coaching duh! used to lighten the mood following a sudden realization or understanding of a concept or procedure that the person with the insight might otherwise be tempted to believe should have been obvious;

A good-humored reminder that all learning is a good thing – once clarified, duh!s underscore how the understanding of one simple thing can change how an individual thinks about things or tackle tasks from that point forward.

© from Madelyn Griffith-Haynie’s upcoming Coaching Glossary

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Distinguishing duh!

Experienced by even the smartest of us more than a few times in our lives, a duh! tends to be more pervasive in the lives of those of us with attentional deficits.

Suddenly becoming aware of new information can be life changing – offering an explanation for an inability to accomplish tasks or realize goals that can now be approached in a new fashion.

Probably because our attention had drifted somewhere else, many of us with ADD tend to be missing a few “basics” that others picked up easily and quickly earlier in life.

As a result, we have more than enough memories of being punished or made fun of to make us a bit reluctant to “demonstrate our ignorance.” There frequently lingers a vague, underlying assumption that everyone else knows or understands something fundamental that we don’t.

How do you frame a question about something you don’t know you don’t know?

  • Even when those of us who feel totally clueless have an inkling about what’s missing, we can be more than a little hesitant about asking for clarification.
  • We are generally unsure how, when or whether to ask without making ourselves look down-right stupid in the eyes of anyone who already knows.
  • The smarter we are, the dumber we tend to feel in those circumstances.

So, in contrast to an “aha!” – the other term for sudden comprehension – a duh! is accompanied by the awareness that we might have figured it out on our own, had we not been missing a concept or underlying fact with implications that had not been fully explored.

  • As a result, there goes the moment of encouragement that might have been provided by an explanation for our former inability to accomplish a task or complete an activity.
  • The momentary hope that life will now be easier in the future is coopted by the flush of embarrassment.

Old paradigm duh!s are always infused with tincture of embarrassment — i.e., the thought that the information most surely would have been obvious to anybody else. Embarrassment is a polite word for SHAMELet’s get rid of the bugger!

Reframing duh!

This silly utterance points out the obvious: duh!s make us feel more than a bit dense in the moment — which isn’t such a bad thing, actually.  That feeling can become our cue to remind us not to should on ourselves.

  • Every new duh! can become a subtle self-reminder of how easy it is to over-complicate what is already complex enough!
  • It can also serve as an inoculation against our tendency toward black and white thinking, reminding us of the importance of searching for the underlying simplicity that will make things DO-able, not perfect.

In my experience, that “search” usually happens best with a coach or ADD-literate buddy – externalizing the pre-frontal cortex-intensive tasks (planning, deciding, prioritizing, sequencing, and so forth), compensating for areas that function less effectively in ADD-flavored brains than in the neuro-typical (aka “vanilla”) brain styles.


Three ADD coaching tasks following a duh!:

  1. Helping your client see the humor in his or her reaction to the sudden insight; laughter serves as a pattern interrupt, brushing off the sense of shame
  2. Assisting your client in sherlocking why s/he did not figure out something so “obvious” on his or her own, diluting the should by normalizing your client’s functioning imperatives and underscoring the reality that “work-arounds aren’t cures” and that everybody has to deal with something!
  3. Reinforcing the insight by helping the client think through how s/he will approach tasks impacted by the new information in the future.



Aha!s are a very different flash of insight – that moment when everything suddenly clicks.

The sudden clarity of an aha! can feel as startling as the sudden appearance of a lightbulb over your head. In a heartbeat things make sense.

“I always love those moments when I sit down to talk to somebody and they say something that makes me look at life or a situation in a completely different way,” And I say, ‘Aha! I get it!’ Light bulb . . . and the little hairs on your arm stand up. That is an aha moment.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

What Oprah is describing is “the defining moment” kind of aha!, one where all at once you gain the insight of wisdom that could change your experience of living.

  • That instant of sudden realization can also be less dramatic: something that alters understanding in the moment, but smaller in scope.
  • The resulting shift in paradigm can be something that seems to occur “out of the blue,” or created deliberately (as with the moments that coaches strive to inspire in their clients).

ADDCoach Coaching Term: a sudden realization that prompts an instant shift in paradigm – that flash of comprehension of something that has been missing in one’s understanding of a situation, circumstance or functional difficulty.

In contrast to a duh!, an aha! is not something that anyone might assume that we “should” have figured out on our own.

Experienced by almost everyone, aha!s tend to be more foundational in the lives of those with attentional deficits.

© from Madelyn Griffith-Haynie’s upcoming Coaching Glossary

Unlike a duh!, an aha! feels great – as if you blinked and a cloudy sky became clear blue in the instant your eyes were closed.  For that precise point in time, you can almost believe that life itself makes sense.  Pay attention! Do your best to hang on to that feeling.


ADD coaching tasks following an aha!

1. Acknowledging and underscoring the shift, anchoring the learning

2. Helping your client process the implications of the new realization


Aha!s vs Duh!s

The sudden knowledge that others had an internal “sense of time” and I did not was clearly an aha!  I was simply stunned when I found out – at 38!

Even though I could never figure out how the rest of the world managed to be on time, I would have been no more likely to ask a question that might have clued me in sooner than a blind man would have thought to ask about the dimming of the light as night approaches.

It was foundational, and it changed my life.  It was the missing concept that allowed me to begin to figure out what I needed to do to work within the boundaries of time.

On the Other Hand

Finding out how others “knew” how long it would take to get to any particular location in New York City was a duh! – something so simple I “should” have been able to figure it out on my own, but didn’t

Believe it or not, I was doing my dead level best to stay tracked long enough to be able to time myself and memorize the time it took to get to each of the places I went most often, using those figures to take a wild guess about everywhere else I needed to go on the entire island of Manhattan!

When I wasn’t sure – or wasn’t home – I used “30 minutes” and tried to remember to pay attention so that I could add a correction to my mental database.  THAT rarely happened!

Learning what I never knew

When a actor friend of mine glanced at his watch, as we sat side by side on a bench not far from Columbus Circle, laughing delightedly as we caught up with each other’s lives, I finally learned the secret known by everyone but me.

Saying the time aloud, my friend apologized for having to say goodbye so suddenly, explaining that he needed to leave in five minutes to walk down to his audition or he’d be late.

I literally grabbed the poor man by his lapels, staring insistently into his eyes.


How do I know what?  He was clearly taken aback by my desperation.

How do you know how long it will take you to get there?

Still puzzled by my sudden intensity and unsure, even, if this is what I wanted to know, he responded tentatively.

Because I know how long it takes me to walk a block and I know that the audition’s on 42nd street and we’re on 59th?

I had to laugh. Severely dyscalculate, it rarely occurs to me to think in terms of arithmetical solutions.

Eureka!  Even I could stay tracked long enough to time myself for a leisurely walk down a New York City block.  I memorized entire scripts in my day — I could certainly remember one measly number and do simple multiplication from there, even if I had to count the number of blocks on my dyscalculate fingers.


A client example:

I once worked with an early 20-something ADDer who was unusual because, not only did she have an excellent internal sense of time, she was always on-the-dot prompt for each of our appointments.

Imagine my surprise when she asked for help sherlocking a recent comment from her therapist: that she was consistently ten minutes late for her therapy appointments. She professed to be totally stumped.

I sherlocked the obvious for quite some time before finally asking what time she had to be there.

A quarter past four, and I can’t understand what he’s talking about. I’ve only been late once – because there was a wreck on the highway and traffic was backed up. Every other time I have been sitting in his lobby at 4:25 sharp.

Duh!  She grew up in a time where digital watches and clocks were the norm. Her only link to “quarter” was the coin!

How could she frame a question about something she didn’t know she didn’t know?

I smiled to myself as I gently explained to her that the source of the phrase came from analog clocks, the ones with the hands that go around the face of a timepiece with numbers arranged, generally, in a circle.

I told her that time used to be conceived as slices of a pie: a quarter ’til, half-past, three-quarters of an hour. She was incredulous.

She told me she thought that was the dumbest way to tell somebody the time of an appointment she’d ever heard — and she could hardly wait to say so to her therapist!

I hope you laughed – we certainly did.  Once you jettison the shame and the shoulds, duh!s can become a source of endless amusement.

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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!"

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  19. HAHA Wow a quater past the hour. That made me laugh. Perhaps she should get there a dime past. This was magic. thanks so much Madelyn.


  20. Cornelius Stultz says:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and
    wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts.

    In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and
    I hope you write again very soon!


    • Thanks, Cornelius.

      Policy here, by the way, is that ONLY comments with names in the name field & valid websites (NOT marketing) are published. Otherwise you get spammed. Hate to see that happen to you, since you are going to be a subscriber, so I edited your name field. I rarely have time to pick through the spam folder, so make sure you follow the anti-spam rules (or you’ll be auto-spammed and I’ll probably never see your comment).
      xx, mgh


  21. Hello 🙂 Sorry I have been a hermit recently. Sort of crawled back in to myself… what have you been up to? Is it weird to save I have missed your long comments and daily talkings?

    Another good post, as always Duh! Really enjoyed the quarter coins story!

    Louise xx


    • Thanks, Louise – I’ve missed you too.

      I’ve been pedal to the metal of late – doin’ good to get stuff already in draft edited & posted.

      Good news/bad/worse news with me.

      Good news: I FINALLY think we’ve got the trouble with my phone sorted out – only yesterday.

      Bad – my email went belly up – freezes minutes after start-up. Have now spent about 6 hours trying to figure out what’s going on, finally managed to forward my e-Tickets to Peggy to pull up and print. sheesh!

      UNFORTUNATELY, there is even worse news
      – maybe my biggest nightmare (wish I WERE dreaming – since my dreams of getting back to work now that it seems I have a reliable phone once more have been dashed to smithereens, I’ll take a nightmare over what I’m now facing — ANY day!!!!!)

      Opened a notice when I returned home last eve. that my landlord has “chosen not to offer me” a lease continuance and wants me to vacate the premises — I have 30 days to straighten out finances (which are still not right 😦 ), pack, find a place to move TO & get those legal details worked out, *and* move!!

      Needless to say, after being unable to work for 4 months (nobody coaches or does classes in December — couldn’t type, etc. until the cast came off recently) – still unable to pick up a dictionary-sized book with my right hand alone — and now the need to do that and more MANY times over in the next month! – I’m barely hanging in!

      There goes any ease I planned to be able to pack and prepare for a week in Phoenix for the ACO conference ::groan, kick, scream, cry:: FOUR weeks would be tough enough – 3 weeks? Impossible without a miracle!

      If she follows through on her threat to file eviction proceedings if I don’t make it, everything left (that the scumbags who robbed me did not take, that is) will be thrown out on the street.

      So you’re gonna’ have to miss my long comments etc. for at least another month (and THEN I have to unpack, settle in, and set up computer & office and get back to work before I can, once again, be a blogging fool).

      So ANYBODY in God’s good graces, say a prayer for my miracle — it’s sorta’ looking like he’s not inclined favorably in my direction, so I can use all the influence I can muster!

      I’ll try to get online and at least read & like, but please understand I may not even be able to do THAT much until mid-June. Hope all is well with YOU. xx, mgh


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