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Shut Down Your Automated Critic
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By Dana Henry and Nancy Harter

Today you had an important meeting.  You were supposed to review the materials beforehand but you woke up late.  After 15 minutes of shuffling through your wardrobe, you finally find something to wear.  Now you’re running late, so you rush out the door.  You arrive out of breath, barely on time, only to realize that you’ve forgotten to put on deodorant.  Ugh!  On top of that, yesterday was your sister’s birthday and you forgot to call… again.

If you’ve got adult ADHD, this story—or similar variations—probably sounds familiar.  Despite our best intentions, we seem to repeat the same mistakes, disappointing others and ourselves.  We may be great at picking ourselves back up and trying again, but after so many failed attempts, our habits can seem downright hopeless.

Resist the urge to punish yourself, even if you think you deserve it.  Phrases such as, "I always screw up,” "I’m so thoughtless,” or "I’m a mess,” are like recorded message that switch on and play repeatedly in your head in times of stress: They provide no information about why the problem happened—or how to solve it.  They only serve to lower your morale.

Realize your brain is wired in its own unique way and those people you envy—who always seem to have it all together—have their own problems; you’re just not privy to their struggles and insecurities.  And even if it’s not immediately visible to you, you do have aptitudes others admire.

You can’t change your life by reinforcing your shortcomings; the greatest improvements always come when you focus on your strengths, and they have the biggest impact at those dark moments when you feel you have none.  Turn off the recording when you hear it, and forgive yourself for being you.  Easier said than done?  Perhaps, but it is possible all the same.  Here are some concrete steps you can take to turn that automated critic in your head into a cheerleader.

1. Identify Problem Thoughts

Throughout the day, stop and take notice of what you’re thinking.  Maybe you’re facing challenges in your relationship, having difficulty on the job or experiencing trouble getting organized.  If all you think about are the problems, and your automated critic is harping that everything is your fault, it’s robbing you of energy and motivation.  If your comments would be hurtful to someone else, don’t say them about yourself, even if you’re the only one who hears them.

2. Change the Monologue

Most negative thoughts are distortions.  Challenge yourself to replace the negative thoughts with pragmatic statements.  Changing your commentary aloud or on paper can help put things in perspective and reinforce constructive thinking.  As in these examples, try swapping a negative message for a pragmatic one:

·    Negative: "What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I do this?”

Pragmatic: "This is a difficult task.  I may need some help.”

·    Negative: "Why am I always late?  I can’t ever be on time.”  

Pragmatic: "I know I can improve my tardiness if use my organizer.”

·    Negative: "I’m a lousy listener, always interrupting a conversation.  I don’t know why anyone would want to be around me.”

Pragmatic: "I have friends who accept me even though I sometimes interrupt their conversations.”


3. Articulate Your Emotions

Your feelings are not you; they are only what you’re experiencing at the moment.  Giving your negative emotions a name such as anger, fear, sadness, or disappointment diminishes their power.  

4. Congratulate Yourself

Positive self-talk deserves praise.  Every time you replace a negative thought with a more pragmatic, positive or encouraging thought, give yourself credit.  Phrases such as "Good job” or "I’m getting better at this,” can boost your mood and keep you on an encouraging wavelength.  And say it out loud!  Verbalizing positive self-talk reinforces positive thinking.

5. Take Advice From Those Who Care About You

Choose supportive people you can depend on to give you helpful advice and honest feedback.  We often see ourselves differently than others see us.  The media, our coworkers, even family members can give us confusing signals and make us feel as if we’re not good enough.  But ask those who know you well and you may be surprised.  

6. Use Humor

Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially when you’re struggling.  Recognize that being human means making mistakes.  Be able to laugh at yours.

7. Collect Affirmations

New research suggests memories are made of proteins that strengthen when we use them.  The more we recall something, the more likely we are to recall it again.  So choose memories of your best self and keep prompts in a thought journal, a photo collection, or a sketchbook. 

8. Choose Your Perspective

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can choose how we choose our viewpoint for what happens to us.  Most seemingly dismal situations are lined with opportunity.  Find a new perspective and use it to hoist yourself from that dark place.

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