Productivity, Focus & Follow-through


What helps & what hurts
– so that you don’t unintentionally
make accomplishment harder  –

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

The Motivation/Activation/Focus Continuum

As I’ve explained in the Activation articles, cheerleading – or any other attempt to motivate someone who is struggling with activation – is likely to backfire.

There are many tips and techniques that can help a person who struggles with Executive Functions initiate action and stay on track to completion, but most of them are counter-intuitive. The “typical” advice only works for the “typical” person.

Attempting to explain the differences between the neurotypical and the neuro-diverse, I’ve said many times, “The reasons they don’t do things are seldom the same as the reasons we don’t do things.”

Different causes mandate different approaches and ideas.

One of the best ideas I know is to make use of the services of a Body Double – as long as both partners are aware of some of the unwritten rules of the game.

Body Double Confusion

An ADD Coaching technique I introduced in Body Doubles for Activation & Accountability, the Body Double concept underscores how simply having another person in the room can make things easier to do — because it is an externalized reminder of the need to stay on track for the person being doubled.

Haven’t you ever noticed how much easier it is to stay on track on certain types of tasks when somebody is observing?

Some repeat information from the earlier article:

  • It’s important to note that the Body Double does not actively help, advise, disrupt concentration or comment outside of a structured, agreed upon set of circumstances.
  • The Body Double’s only task is to sit quietly out of the way, reading or writing while the ADD/EFDer attends to work (unless it has been agreed in advance that s/he will interrupt a hyperfocused worker-bee occasionally to ensure that s/he stops for periodic breaks or for meals).
  • Frequently, the Body Double brings along a compatible task of his or her own – like journaling, knitting or catching up with email on a laptop or tablet.  They’re only there to externalize the observing ego of the person they’re doubling – the witness self of the person they are assisting.

I have observed for almost three decades now that having another person in the room actually helps those of us with activation and follow-through struggles focus on the task at hand, and stay on-task to completion — provided that the person in our space doesn’t feel it is their job to “help” us with what we are doing.

THAT’s where the confusion begins

In general, people tend to think about “helping” as an active state: donating food, clearing the table, fixing a flat — DOing something.

So when they are asked for help as a Body Double, they tend to be as much an active off-task distraction as a passive partner who helps to improve the odds that someone with Executive Functioning struggles will stay on track.

  • They often assume they are at least supposed to ask how things are going, or for a report of what has been done so far, or to remind the person of the items still undone (or something else that also needs to be done).
  • Unfortunately, intruding on the process in a manner that might be intended to be  “actively helpful assistance” actually makes things harder – sometimes much harder.

To be really helpful to someone already struggling with attention, focus and follow-through, a Body Double needs to be passive.

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Is Activation “Seeking System” Dependent?


“New” Ideas Illuminate Old Realities
I think I might be in love!

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
In support of the ADD/EFD Basics Series

Swooning over Jaak Panksepp: ACTIVATION ideas
(from cruelty-free experiments exploring animal emotions)

panksepp_rat

Jaak Panksepp, the father of Affective Neuroscience, is a very interesting “pioneer” intrigued by the neuro-scientific underpinnings of both human and animal emotional responses.

He has written a fascinating book with a slightly daunting title, The Archaeology of Mind: 
Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion.

Don’t let that stop you. It’s an “accessible to more of the general public” version of ideas he put forward in his considerably more “academic” offering entitled, Affective Neuroscience, published in 1998.

This long-awaited second publication is his updated attempt to share his life’s work – since the 1960s – the results of his cruelty-free animal experiments that led to identifying what he calls the seven networks of emotion in the brain: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, and PLAY.

He says he uses all caps because these networks are “so fundamental that they have similar functions across species, from people to cats to rats.”

If the name sounds familiar

Those of you who are also regular readers of Discover Magazine may recognize Panksepp’s name from Pamela Weintraub’s feature article on “the rat tickler” entitled Humanity’s 7 Primal Emotions from the May 2012 issue.

Readers who were smart enough to start listening to The Brain Science Podcast when I first introduced it (or to download the pdf transcripts) might have been treated to three different samplings of Dr. Ginger Campbell’s excellent interviews of Panksepp (one a “replay” of an interview from her other podcast, Books and Ideas).

The rest of you – don’t feel left out – I’ve included links to these gems and others in the Related Content ’round the ‘net section below (a section found at the bottom of most of my articles.)

“Brothers under the skin”

You will learn that Panksepp decided, after mapping “brain firing” in laboratory animals for decades, that he could come to no conclusion other than the acceptance of the reality that humans and animals share a similar emotional make-up.

An idea not always embraced by some of his scientific colleagues, he believes that his work proves that his seven networks of emotion in the brain are common to ALL mammals, great and small.

Obviously, he’s convinced me! 

PupInSlipperKittyFriends

Those of us who have lived closely with our furry friends probably needed no convincing anyway.

You would never be able to convince most of us that our animals do NOT have emotions! But you know most of those science-types — skepticism is in their DNA. Until something is proven scientifically, journal-published and replicated, it’s merely an unsupported theory.

Panksepp is a rare and outspoken voice in the science field, I suspect only partly as a result of his many years of experience exploring the neuro-similarity between human and animal emotional responses. He calls for respect for the reality that animals DO feel, not only pain, but emotions like fear, anger, loneliness, caring, grief, excitement and joy.

He is a long-term ethics advocate as a result. He champions kindness, and urges the field to rethink the way that laboratory experiments are designed. He knows from experience that it is possible to develop methods that do not cause animals pain and undue distress, yet continue to get credible results from valuable and much needed animal research.

There’s a lot more to love about Panksepp’s work — click the links I have provided below to find out for yourselves.

THIS article, however, is going to give you just enough background to begin to explore the first of his seven primal emotions: SEEKING – because I think it provides a clue to our struggles with ACTIVATION.

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Executive Functioning, Focus and Attentional Bias


Attention must be paid
How come that sometimes seems
so VERY hard to do?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series

Attentional Bias and FOCUS

“Executive functioning” is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes,[1] including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving [2] as well as planning, and execution.[3] (also known as cognitive control and the supervisory attentional system) ~ Wikipedia

Central to the idea of “control” is the concept of intentional FOCUS.

Intentional focus means exactly that — you can focus where you want, when you want, for as long as you want — and shift focus to something new (and BACK again) any time you want. (see The Dynamics of Attending for the implications of on that idea)

Can anybody really DO that?

Those of us with Alphabet Disorders don’t usually kid ourselves that we are the absolute rulers of our skip-to-my-Lou minds. But even those of you who feel that you do fairly well in that regard might be surprised at how often your focus is skewed unintentionally through a concept known as attentional bias.

About attentional bias, Wikipedia says it is a term commonly used to describe the unconscious inclination to note emotionally dominant stimuli more quickly and prominently, effectively “neglecting” factors that do not comply with the initial area of interest.

The concept implies that stimuli that do not comply with the emotionally dominant stimuli will be “neglected,” reducing our attention toward a great number of the many things coming our way — and ultimately negatively affecting our ability to prioritize action in ways we might ultimately prefer.

Sort of, but not really

While it certainly seems to be true that anything that “hooks us emotionally” will pull our focus away from more neutral stimuli, other reasons for attentional bias exist.

More accurately, attentional bias describes the tendency for a particular type of stimuli to capture attention, the familiar “over-riding” the importance of other input.

For example, in studies using the dot-probe paradigm (a computer-assisted test used by cognitive psychologists to assess selective attention), patients with anxiety disorders and chronic pain show increased attention to angry and painful facial expressions.[2] [3]

But we’ll also see increased attention to an item written in a bold color (or in a person’s favorite color), to names similar to our own among a list of names (or that of a close relative), or a familiar sound mixed intermittently with less familiar sounds.

Scientists believe that attentional bias has a significant effect on a great many items we must deal with moment-by-moment, which tends to have an exacerbating impact on quite a few “conditions.”

Some of those “conditions” include depression, anxiety, chronic pain, eating disorders and other addictions, and many other areas that might not, at first glance, seem related – like task-anxiety and follow-through to completion.

Extensively explored by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and frequent collaborator Amos Tversky, the concept of cognitive bias explains something that most of us have readily observed, and frequently struggle to explain —

The actions of human beings aren’t always rational!

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Are we hard-wired to focus on the bad news?



How come the bad stuff sticks
and the good stuff fades??

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Linking and Learning

Musings on the Machinations of Memory

FacebookLikeAwakening early today, I had time to justify a rare jaunt through FaceBook to catch up on whatever was going on with my life-long friends.  I was struck by how very many are struggling with emotional reactions to losing loved-ones to death and dementia.

We are at that stage of life, I suppose, where loss will become something that we must learn to live with more and more.

My thoughts began to take a right turn as I gazed at all of the black and white memorial photos of mothers and aunts and fathers and uncles from days gone by.

Unlined, full of hope, long before brows became furrowed with memories of struggle.  How would they have looked in those photos, I wondered, if they could have known what the next five or more decades would hold?

Moving along, “liking” here, commenting there, I came upon a another of those “getting my frustrating day off my chest” posts by one of my FaceBook Friends that began with an interesting reframe, essentially this: I have lived 365 days times my years on this earth.  They can’t all be keepers — and this one wasn’t.

While that’s a wonderful lens through which to look at our occasional experiences of one of those days,  why CAN’T all the days be keepers?

Why don’t we just cut out the crummy parts and file away what was good about the day?

Why are we so drawn to discussing the dark and dismissing the lighter as fluffy or something?  I mean, I’m aware that Pollyanna isn’t exactly everybody’s idea of their favorite role model, but why NOT?

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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 UNIVERSE IS PERFECT

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

Perfect?!

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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Trouble with Transitions


Fade In – Fade Out

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

We start small

We begin with the tedium of to-dos – because the lessons learned will generalize to the bigger changes and transitions that we all must face.

Meanwhile, we must all learn the ways in which we, uniquely, “chop wood, carry water.”  ~ mgh

Transition Trials

As we work our way from dawn to dusk — multi-tasking, time-slicing or hyperfocusing — we face many moments when we realize that we must begin a particular task, usually before we have completed what we are currently doing.

THAT is the very stake in the heart of “trouble with transitions.”

But WHY are transitions so difficult?

Wait! Let’s ask a better question: who claimed that transitions were supposed to be easy?  

ADD/EFD/TBI/PTSD or “vanilla-flavored,” most of us have some degree of trouble with transitions —  a big-time reason why most of us reach the exhausted end of many a busy day with so many undone to-dos.

It is merely a trick of language that promotes the fallacy that we will – and should – be able to transition from one task to the next with the ease with which one image on a movie screen dissolves into another — or the way a really great cross-fade between tunes seems to sneak the volume of one song down just as the other comes up.

Easy? NO WAY!

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Remembrance of Selves Past


A not-so-new form of
Self-advocacy

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
In support of the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes
and the ADD & Memory Series

Practically all of us here in Alphabet City have struggled to overcome what the neuropsychs call “short-term memory deficits.”  It hits the rest of the population as they grow older.

Not only does that make it tough to run our lives, day to day, it also has a negative effect on what we are able to remember about our pasts.

Since one’s memories become the fabric of one’s sense of self, self-esteem can only be battered by the trade winds of today if you have no reliable sense of past to keep you moored.

It also makes it difficult to explain ourselves, our decisions, and our conclusions – even to ourselves!

Many of you who battled with teachers who accused you of cheating because you had the answer but couldn’t “show your work” know just what I mean by that statement.

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Naming the Game


The Name of the Game Determines the Rules

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
An article in the Intentionality Series

Line drawing of a woman advancing up a hill wearing a hard hat, mops & brooms over one shoulder, dustpan in hand, arm raise; over her head, in outlined letters, it says CHARGE!Trying to Get Things DONE

I tell my clients that part of the problem we have accomplishing specific tasks is a direct result of how we Name the Game.

HOW WE “NAME THE GAME” DETERMINES HOW WE PLAY

For example:

If the Name of the Game is clean-up-the-house, our mental To-Do list can include anything — from “defrost freezer” to “launder all slipcovers & bedding” to “remove, wash and wax ceiling fan blades.”

Lordy Mercy, as they say in the South, just shoot me now!

“Clean-up-the-house” is far too large a task to conceptualize without Boggle, making it all the more difficult for us to activate to take any steps at all.  So we usually don’t.

We agonize over our procrastination problem instead.

Since we have given our conscious mind little beyond a vague idea of what we mean by clean-up-the-house, our subconscious mind is clueless.  Round and round our brain it spins, seeking out all the bits and pieces filed under “cleaning,” “not clean” and “house.” Endlessly!

If we ARE somehow able to get ourselves going, broom, mop, and hardhat at the ready, most of us boggle somewhere early in the task, then wallow in the despair that comes from failing, yet again, to accomplish what we set out to do.

Then we agonize over our “follow-through” problem.

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ABOUT Distractions


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NOTE: If you have not read The Dynamics of Attending, the article below will have greater impact if you do that first.
———————————————————————————————————————————– 

Monkey Minds — The Dilemma of Distractability

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of the Intentional Attending Series – all rights reserved

A cartoon monkey climbing a tree trunk, attention elsewhere - obviously distracted

All distractions are interruptions, but
all interruptions are NOT distractions.

Distinction: disruption vs disturbance

An interruption is a momentary disturbance in the projected flow of a physical or mental activity that creates a break in continuity for a relatively brief interval.

Inherent in the definition is the assumption that concentration will return to the interrupted activity, if appropriate, implying that the control of one’s focus is volitional – a factor of the “will-power” of the individual who has been interrupted.

distraction, on the other hand, is a disruption of an individual’s concentrated attention upon a chosen object of focus. The distinction between the two otherwise similar events is that a distraction is intrusive: it prevents effective operation of the first and third of the three Dynamics of Attending:

  • focusing on the intended object
    and 
  • sustaining the focus

As long as the second dynamic – shifting focus at will – operates efficiently, “one quick interruption” remains so.  Most people can get back on track effectively as long as the “distracting” event is not pervasive or repetitive.

Ay, there’s the rub!

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Symptoms of Attentional Struggles


Part 4 in the Intentional Attending series of posts — As I said in Part 3 (The Dynamics of Attending), one of the goals of ADD Coaching is to identify areas where our clients can improve on the intentional direction of attentive awareness.
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Dynamic Difficulties

Symptoms of Attentional Struggles - Problems with any or all phases of The Dynamics of Attending are why many people - ADD and otherwise - struggle to have much of a life beyond the all-too-familiar "mess it up, clean it up" cycle.

© Phillip Martin, artist/educator

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

Problems with any or all phases of The Dynamics of Attending are at the very heart of ADD/EFD characteristics.

That is why many people – ADD and otherwise – struggle to have much of a life beyond the all-too-familiar “mess it up, clean it up” cycle.

Diagnostic ADDers typically have impairments in at least one of the Dynamics, often all three in combination, which dominoes into problems with the registrationlinking and retrieval stages of the memory process.

However, every single person living
has problems with each of the Dynamics of Attending
in some situations at some times —

WHICH MEANS they struggle with:
#1  – Focusing on the Intended Object 
and/or
#2  – 
Sustaining the Focus, and/or
#3  – Shifting Focus at Will

A few of the ways those occasional “mind blips” show up in our behavior provide very funny stories – afterwards. Unfortunately, some of them (or too many of them) lead others to conclude that we are not reliable and can’t be trusted — and lead us to doubt our own talents and abilities as well.

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The Dynamics of Attending


Part 3 in the Intentional Attending Series of Posts — As I said in Part 2, Brain Waves, Scans and ATTENTION —  One of the goals of ADD Coaching is to identify areas where our clients can improve on the intentional direction of attentive awareness.

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The ADDCoach.com™ Favorite Model of Attention

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

A small man in the foreground watches fearfully while a larger one in the background juggles planets, both in the clouds, surrounded by worlds.Problems Juggling the Elements of our Worlds

Similar to Sylwester’s three-part model of attention (described in the prior article of the Intentional Intending Series of posts), I, too, favor a three-part portioning of the attentional pie.

I have found it more useful from an ADD Coaching perspective to focus my own study and observation of attention on the tasks involved in three “sub-domains” of a particular area of  the Sohlberg/Mateer model: selective attention.

I refer to these three domains or sub-divisions, collectively, as

The Dynamics of Attending:

    1. Focusing on the Intended Object
    2. Sustaining the Focus
    3. Shifting Focus at will

Underlying each of the Dynamics is the same impaired element of cognition common to all of the Executive Functioning Disorders: VOLITION.

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Brain Waves, Scans and ATTENTION


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Part 2 in the Intentional Attending Series of Posts —
As I said in Part 1, The Link Between Attention and ACTION, before I can explain what you need to DO to be intentional with attention, I need to explain a little more about the relationship between memory and attention – and before I can do THAT, we need to come to an agreement about the meaning of this “Attention” term! 

Brain Waves and Vibrational Frequencies

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

Drawing of a screen of medical monitor showing the up-down lines that indicate the functioning of what they are monitoring

ALL changes in attention and focus produce a variety of specific patterns in the brain.  These patterns can be recorded using technologies developed and refined since the 1990s, the ten year period that was declared The Decade of The Brain

Whenever our state of awareness and concentration changes,
brain waves change vibrational frequenc
y

A neurofeedback practitioner, for example, can tell by looking at an EEG read-out whether a person hooked up to a special computer is asleep or awake, strongly focused or daydreaming.

The REST of this article will help you understand how measuring brain waves relates to attention and what’s involved in becoming INTENTIONAL with your ATTENDING.

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TYPES of Attentional Deficits


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

Drawing of a brown-skinned man in a hat, walking through a shallow body of water, cat-tails growing in the background. He is about to be surprised by a crocodile because 100% of his attention is on a book in front of his face: Safety Tips.Attentional Deficits: Three Biggies

While ALL attentional deficits are, strictly speaking, neurological events – meaning that they are marked by changes in the pattern of brain waves, the location of area doing the work, and the neural highways and byways traveled to get the work done  – it is useful to think about them in three separate categories:

  1. Physical
  2. Neurological
  3. Situational

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The Link Between Attention and ACTION


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Awareness is a factor of ATTENTION!

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

Black and white drawing of a womans staring intently at something slightly to her right - eyes and eybrows onlyIn order to be able to take ACTION in response to information, a person must
retain an awareness of the information.

You can’t act on information you don’t recall – and you can’t possibly remember information about which you had no conscious awareness in the first place.

Nobody can ACT on information they don’t have.

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