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EF Skill of Initiating - Starting and Following Through - 077

executive function podcast Jun 08, 2020

I love responding to questions and enjoyed being interviewed by Meredith for Real so much that I decided to change the format of my show to focusing on a topic and responding to questions about it.   

If my podcast show is the first time you’ve been hearing about executive function skills and strategies, you are not alone.  If you’re an adult who received a diagnosis of adult ADHD, executive function skills should also have been assessed and discussed with you, in my humble opinion.  The odds of having executive function deficits along with ADHD are very high; in fact, almost a given that you will. 

Today’s episode is about the executive function skill of Initiating and some strategies to get you started on developing this important skill, as well as offering you hope; real hope that you can change your life.  How much time do we have?  Not much.  So let’s get to it.

In this episode Dr B talks about:

  • The simplest, bare-bones definition of Initiating that I could give
  • How Initiating and Procrastination relate to each other
  • The insult of "lazy"
  • A few quick strategies to help you start developing your Initiating skillset
  • A testimonial from a student on this topic
  • If you don't believe this can work for you, listen up
  • The importance of celebrating your wins

Developing your Executive Function Skills and shifting your limiting beliefs is the fastest and most effective way to overcome ADHD limitations, find focus, gain confidence, and newfound freedom in your life!

My mission is to put an end to the worldwide needless suffering of adults with ADHD and those with under-developed Executive Function Skills - whether from ADHD, chronic depression or anxiety, trauma, addictions, or chronic illnesses.  And, you don't need a formal diagnosis to know you need help developing these executive function skills in order to greatly reduce your suffering.


Full Episode Transcript EF Skill of Initiating – Starting and Following Through – Episode #077

Dr B: I love responding to questions and enjoyed being interviewed by Meredith for Real. So much so that I decided to change the format of my show to focusing on a topic and responding to questions about it. So if you have a topic that you'd like me to talk about and half a dozen questions that you'd like answered on that topic, submit your topic and six questions to me directly at And you'll find that address in the show notes as well.

If my podcast show is the first time that you've been hearing about executive function skills and strategies, you're not alone. If you're an adult who received a diagnosis of adult ADHD, executive function skills should also have been assessed and discussed with you.

In my humble opinion, the odds of having executive function deficits along with ADHD are very high. In fact, almost a given that you will. Today's episode is about the executive function skill of initiating and some strategies to get you started on developing this important skill, as well as offering you hope, real hope that you can change your life.

How much time do we have? Not much so let's get to it.

Interviewer: It's great to talk to you today. And I want to start off with a simple question. What is the simplest, bare bones definition of initiating that you can give me?

Dr B: Well, it certainly isn't from the Nike commercial--Just Do It--because that doesn't help anybody at all. Otherwise we'd all be doing it.

Initiating means being prepared to get started, with everything you need to get started. To know the beginning, the middle, the end, the whole picture. So you can sit down and do it and you're informed.

Interviewer: Okay. So can you give me an example of what it looks like in real life when somebody is struggling with initiating?

Dr B: Sure. When someone's struggling with initiating, they either don't know the task, don't know the steps, don't know how to enter the task. That would be at the beginning where they're having trouble initiating. It's like, I don't have a clue what I'm supposed to be doing. Like how do you organize this space? How do you prioritize everything that looks like a 10? How do you do that? No steps, no guidelines, nothing. And so they don't get started.

Interviewer: Okay. So how, how do you do that? How do you prioritize? How do you know what to write down and what not to write down if you're writing, if you're doing that at all?

Dr B: So I'm going to back up a couple of steps because unpacking this gets a little bit complex, but I'll keep it as simple as I can. Which is, if you don't know, you have to have some criteria or structure or something tangible to work with to be able to prioritize as you ask. If you don't have... if you don't know your values, for example, how would you prioritize where you would spend your time or what you would start first?

Like for myself, one of my highest priorities right now is my health. So that's always coming first, according to my values, according to the way I spend my time. That's what happens. But if someone doesn't know their values, That makes it difficult. They could go online. They could look up a list of values. There's handouts everywhere. I've seen them. For a list of values. And then look and see, what do you identify with, what do you see in your life?

And then the things that you're going to do or choose which ones fits your values. Pick 10. Not more and work with that.

The other thing would be criteria. Criteria to me are the specifics or the data of what do I know about the task? And maybe I don't know how to get started, but maybe I know stuff about the middle.

Maybe I know stuff about the end, but I don't know how to get started with this at all. And jumping into the middle, I guess I could do that. Not very productive.

And I can't just finish it up because I don't have the front end. And so people still get stuck because they don't know how to get started.

If you know what you know, and you can write down what, you know, it really helps people to externalize what they know and see it in front of them. And just like, I don't know, a jigsaw puzzle, for example, where you see part of a picture and then you start filling in the picture with the pieces. Cause you see what it is. Being able to see the task--if this is a difficult thing to initiate, because you don't really know the task--seeing it out in front of you, gives you the opportunity to fill in things that are missing for you.

Interviewer: So for people who do have the steps and know exactly what to do, but they still can't get started. What are they missing?

Dr B: So now we swing back around to another piece of this puzzle, which is motivation. Because motivation by the way that I understand motivation is motive, which is having a good enough reason, and -ation is taking action.

So I need to have, they need to have a good enough reason to take action on the thing that they know all the steps to. And for many people, their motivation is their butt on fire, which is in an "away from" style of motivation. Someone's cracking the whip. The fire is burning and it's an emergency. So adrenaline becomes the motivating chemical, and they'll get something done. But the trouble with an "away from" style of motivation is it only takes you as far down the road, so to speak, until the fire is out or the crisis is over, and you stop. And you gradually slide right back to where you were, because "towards" motivation, which is the ideal motivation, is there is something that's attractive that you want. That's pulling you [00:08:00] forward, energetically speaking, and you want to go get that.

You want to do that. You want to embrace that. That's the motivation that people need. Most times they have "away from" motivation, because they're not really clear what the good enough reason is to do something. Because, aversive--like, well, I have to file my taxes, it's the last day or otherwise they're going to attack my account or something like that...or I have to do this, or I'm going to get a huge penalty on a parking ticket of 500 additional dollars on something, which I can't afford--that moves people. But that's a negative motivation. It's an "away from." I don't want the penalty. I don't want the consequence. Not, I want to be the kind of person that if I make a mistake and I get a parking ticket, I pay it. It's Done.

Interviewer: So how does that work? Let's say that I wake up in the morning, and I have to mow the lawn, do the grocery shopping, finish a report for work, and continue with my job search because I'm not happy in my current job. And I wake up, and I got all these things to do, and I know how to do some of them. And I don't know how to do others. How do I prioritize that? And how do I get into that without just feeling like, "Oh my gosh, this is all too much. I'm going to go watch TV."

Dr B: You wouldn't. You would already know what you're doing that day. When you wake up in the morning, you would not be waking up in the morning being flooded with 10 or more things and trying to make the decision.

And especially if you don't have good decision making skills and a methodology for making decisions, you're going to sit there and waste hours and hours of time trying to decide what comes first. Instead of [00:10:00] the night before or the week before! My schedules are planned out months in advance, sometimes for the whole year, things that are fixed.

And then every Sunday is a planning day to make sure that I adjust my schedule for what's happening for the week. When I get up tomorrow morning, I know exactly what I'm doing.

It's such a waste of time--I've done it the other way, where I get up in the morning: here's a list of things... I have no clue which one I should do first. They're all a 10. They're all important. I didn't think them through, I didn't look at doing this first, like the night before. This one first would allow me to do this one more easily and this one more easily. And this one more easily, because I see the relationship between this one first and the next three.

So obviously to me, this one would be first because it's going to make the next three easier, rather than they all look like a 10, because I'm not seeing the relationship between the parts and what will make one easier, faster than if I do them in a different order.

But I don't do it the morning of.

Interviewer: So it sounds like that's related strongly to procrastination and not Procrastinating.

Dr B: Well, there's a strong relationship with procrastinating. Procrastinating to me is a symptom. And people chase solutions for procrastination, and they're chasing clouds. They're chasing shadowy kinds of things as if it's the issue. And it looks like the issue because it's what they're doing. They're procrastinating, they're putting off, they're not doing that which needs to be done.

But they're doing it, procrastinating that is, as a symptom of a much deeper issue, which is they don't know how to get started. Or they don't know how to keep going in the middle. Or they don't know how to finish up, because they have no idea what the end looks like. So what else are we going to do? If we don't know how to start, if we don't know how to keep going, if we don't know how to finish, we're going to put it off. We're going to push it away.

We want to be successful. The people that listen to my show and the people I work with, they all want to be successful. They all want to do well. And what ends up happening is they jump ship on the thing that they don't know how to do this with, and they go to something else.

And then, there they are, and maybe that one they know how to get started. But then they freeze in the middle and they freeze towards the end. And so they jump ship on that and they go to another. And all of a sudden, there's this sequence or serial amount of tasks and projects and things that they have started.

And it looks like they can't stay focused or stay put on anything. But in reality at a deeper level, they could if they knew what to do. But because they don't and they're hunting for success and they're hunting for a feeling, of feeling good about themselves, that they can accomplish something and have something to show for their day, they keep moving. And hunting to try to find something they can do the entire sequence with. And so you'll see people do things that look like these enormous distractions, like jump on a video game or jump on social media or something else.

But in reality, they can be successful there. They know the rules, they know how it operates. They know the beginning, the middle, the end, they know how to [00:14:00] navigate. Let's say a video game. A lot of kids do. Adults too. And so they go and they do those things because they're not having success with the things that need doing. And yeah, these are critically important things that need doing, for adults or kids or teens.

But they don't know the steps. They don't know the criteria. They don't know the critical pieces to even be able to start or go or finish. And so they go to a game, because the game is spelled out! And the rules were there in the game when they got on the game: you do this then you do this then you do this, and you're given the rules at every level that you achieve.

What a wonderful tool. It's just what happens. You get a dopamine hit, you get that reward rush. You want more of that. If you could get it in real life, because you knew what to do with the things you really need to do that are more important than playing a game, in a sense, you would. But the only way for some people to get that hit and feel good about themselves is that way.

Interviewer: So somebody who was listening to you describe this, might say something along the lines of the following: Well, it sounds like people who have trouble initiating and following through are tackling difficult problems. And as soon as it gets a little bit more difficult to go and find something that's not as hard and that they can succeed at with, with relative ease, um, that's just laziness.

I'm guessing you're going to say that's not laziness, but why is it not laziness?

Dr B: You're right. You're a good mind reader. It's not laziness. To me, lazy is, "I don't want to." That's really hugely different then I can't. If I can't and you see me jumping ship because I can't here and I can't here, and I can't here, and I can't here... And finally, I find something that I can, I'm going to.

We want to. There's so many people, they get this word laziness thrown at them. Well, you're just lazy. You're not trying. I know from my own experience.

There was a class in my first semester in college, it was a history class. I think it was philosophy of history, something like that. I never worked so hard in a class to get a D in my life. I read and I re-read, and I re-read, but between the paper, which was glossy white, and the font, which was small and difficult to read, and the feel of the book, which was burlap in my hands--which I can still feel it if I think back to that memory.

I was studying psychology. I was already majoring in psychology in my first semester in college. I wanted to study my psychology material, but instead I'm spending most of my time studying for history to barely pass. The professor calls me into his office and says, typical, "You know, you'd really do much better in my class if you spent more time studying."

I won't be explicit in terms of what I said to this man. But leave it to be said, I made it very clear how much of my time was being spent with his course. And if this was the best grade I was going to be able to get because of the circumstances, this was the best I could do.

Is it the best I can do stray across the board in other areas? No. Is it the best I could do in that specific situation under those conditions? Absolutely. For him to think I was lazy, for him to think, "Well, hey look what you're doing in your other classes and look what you're doing in mine. It's the only logical thing I can come to." Great, because he doesn't have a brain like mine or all of my listeners. And people that don't have ADHD, people that don't-- More importantly, people that don't have executive function challenges, do not understand--unless they do--what it is like to live with a brain that you want to have do things, you know you're smart, you know you're capable, you see yourself able to do so many things in life... and yet the things that you do need to do, that you're missing skills around, you can't. Not that you won't.

And then people thrust this label of lazy procrastinator on you. It's disrespectful. It's an insult. When people understand the truth and the reality, they take it back, because it's wrong.

Interviewer: So, everybody has a difficulty initiating and following through in different areas. It might be a common problem, but it manifests itself in different ways and in different places.

Is there one quick, universal strategy that you can give all of your listeners to help everybody with initiating?

Dr B: One that I love is having a body double or a community where you can bounce what you think, by externalizing it, off somebody else. And then have them troubleshoot it and look at what they see that you mapped out. Tell you what's missing.

Another one would be, I have fun interviewing people who can do things that I didn't used to be able to do to find out how they do them. But deeper than that, what are they thinking? What are they feeling? What's going on? If I was going to step in and be them in this moment to do this, what would be going on with me? In my mind, in my emotions, and behaviorally, how would I be approaching this if I was them?

That taught me so much doing that, interviewing people who were capable of doing things I couldn't years ago. Not just, could you show me how to do it? Could you tell me how to do it? Cause it didn't work. Not for me.

All it was was behaviors, but I didn't know the thinking and I didn't know the feelings, which is a big piece of it. To know what was totally going on with them as much as possible so that I could know how to actually do it, because I know what to feel. I know what my mindset needed to be, my attitude, all of it, all very important pieces.

Interviewer: All right. Is it okay if I pause the discussion here to just read a testimonial, from one of your students that relates to this?

That would be lovely.

Okay. So here's what this individual wrote:

"As a student of Dr B, I wanted to share how my life has changed for the better. When I first enrolled in the ADDventures In Achievement Program, I was a mess. I had problems at work. I lost important documents and missed appointments regularly. I was also late all the time and I just felt overwhelmed constantly.

Working the program has taught me how to schedule my time effectively, reduce procrastination and really focus on the important things. With Dr B's unique style of coaching, I'm able to tap into my personal motivations so I can now shift into gear when I need to get going on a project, and I can focus and follow through all the way through to the end.

Instead of waking up with dread in the morning, I actually wake up looking forward to the day. That's made a huge difference in how I approach life, and it's made a huge difference in my family."

And this person wanted his or her name withheld. So can you just tell me, how does that make you feel, hearing that?

Dr B: Very emotional.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Dr B: Because this is something I was called to do in my lifetime. Because of my own personal experiences growing up and not having these skills. There was no place for me to go, to be able to learn the skills, because programs didn't exist. There were some things for kids. There were things, a few things for doctors.

So I self-taught with kids' tools. Doctor tools. Whatever I could get my hands on, so that I could learn what was missing for me. And then I needed to learn to teach and a whole bunch of things that I didn't even know that I didn't know that I was going to have to learn, to be able to answer the call.

When I listen to what my students say in a testimonial they write, in a video they record, in the things that they say on a coaching call, in a workshop, in the forum that we work in together, and I know where they started. I know how they came in. I know what their life was in the beginning. And I see how it's unfolding and improving. My heart is so Full.

There's nothing that's better than that feeling. Nothing. Because I know the suffering. I know the suffering they write about and they talk about firsthand. And I know what it's like to find a new kind of freedom where you're not imprisoned by the limitations, but not having these skills. And understanding puts us in a new kind of freedom to live life in such a rich way and pursue dreams and all of the things that half of the people that I work with never even consider thinking about. Because why could they? Why should they, when they're not doing the simplest things like in Maslow's hierarchy, survival, which is where most people start.

Why would they be thinking about self-actualization and dreams? There just trying to get through the day and hang on and not mess anything up any worse than it already is.

So, yes, it's very emotional for me. If I could just take a magic wand and give the skills to everyone like that [snaps fingers], and see the potential of every human being released in a positive way on this planet I would do it in a heartbeat. Because I know every single person I've ever met or worked with has such extraordinary gifts [00:26:00] locked up inside of them that don't get to come out until they have the tools so that it can. And they can pursue It.

Interviewer: All right. Well, we're gonna wrap up in just a moment, but I'm sure that there are some people who are listening right now who are struggling with initiating and follow through skills and they like what you say.

But they're thinking, you know, that sounds great, and I can tell she's very passionate about this and she's good at what she does. I'm just not sure that I am, you know-- I've been wrestling with this for years and years and years, and I don't know if I'm just beyond any help, you know? Can she even help me? What would you say to people like that to encourage them?

Dr B: A few things. Most of the people I've talked to that feel like that have sought help before. They've sought help with a therapist; they've sought help with professional coaching, business coaching, life coaching, but they haven't sought help with anyone with specialized training with over 30 years of experience. Someone who's lived in the trenches. And who doesn't take no for an answer. Who doesn't let people quit on themselves, because there's always a way.

And for people who think it's not going to be any different for me. I'm the exception. I've tried this and tried this and tried this.

One thing my listeners may or may not know... I may have talked about it on another episode. There is zero training in the mental health world to know anything about adults with ADHD to get a license. And there is zero training on executive function for adults. So the people that have gone to therapists and it didn't change anything, maybe it helped with some emotional issues, but it didn't make the quality of their life improve because they weren't learning skills, because that person [the therapist] couldn't do that. That person may not even be able to understand their ADHD or executive function challenges, because they're not educated in that. So to the people that think it won't work: I know this program is tried and true. The program that I created has been around for over three years now. It's been through a couple of revisions to improve it to the point where it's an amazing program right now.

And the changes that are happening for people like that testimonial that was read are just stunning.

And the other thing I would say is, you don't have to believe it's possible. You don't have to feel it can happen for you, but you do need to make a commitment and be willing to go to any length to have it, if that's what you need and that's what you want. Because if you don't, as they say, in recovery, half measures, avail you nothing. You get nothing. If you're not going to be all in and you don't commit and say, "I'm done with the suffering and there's gotta be a better way. And I don't think this is gonna work, but this is a possibility," you can borrow my hope.

You can borrow everything that I give to what I do with my students in my community, because to the best of my ability I'm not going to let you fall or fail at all. I keep an eye on my students. If there's an issue and it isn't happening for some reason, we figure it out together and we solve it.

There's always a way.

Interviewer: All right. Well, that is a great place to leave it. I want to thank you for your time today. Thank you for the discussion. And we will end it there.

Dr B: Thank you so much for all your amazing questions. I really, really appreciate it.

And the episode wouldn't be complete without celebrating wins big and small since wins are such an important part of my philosophy.

And of course, a favorite quote of mine.

So, what are you going to celebrate today? Maybe you ran an errand for a friend or a neighbor who isn't able to get out themselves. That's certainly a win.

Perhaps you've given yourself less to do each day so that you can successfully complete three of the most important tasks of your day. That's a wonderful win.

Maybe you've started taking better care of yourself in recent months. That's definitely a win.

You get the point, celebrate all of them big and small, and none of this halfhearted celebrating. You've got to mean it! You've got to exaggerate your emotions. Yes! Wow! Awesome!

You want your acknowledgement and celebration to register in your neurology with the power to move you and shift your state.

The celebration of your wins is especially important now to help you keep your emotional balance and focus on the fact that good things are happening every day. And there is something good about you to celebrate every day. Even with the serious world events that we are all living with or living in on a daily basis, focusing on what's good or right helps us to gather the energy to take action against what isn't good or right in the world and do something about it.

You are a precious child of the universe and are called a human being, not a human doing for good reason. You don't have to earn your value. You were born with it. Your value comes from who you are and not what you do.

And if you need a place to know that's true, be sure to join the Facebook group, Living Beyond ADHD, so you can be with others who will celebrate your wins with you and affirm that you are more than okay as you, the human being.

A favorite quote of mine. Carl Bard said, "Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."

So the question I have for you at this point in our journey together is will you make a fresh start today so you can make a new ending? I hope so.

That's about it for today's episode on initiating and a little about how you can start to develop this skill.

Listening to every podcast episode is a small action step and something that can help you move your life forward one episode at a time if you take action on the steps that I include for you. If you just listen and you hear the value, but you don't take action, you won't gain the value that's there for you.

Remember, for things to change for the better for you, you have to change. Which means you need to do your very best every day to do something that leads you in the direction of the change that you want to see in your life. Whether you're learning from my podcast episodes or live videos, or you're working with me directly, you are in my [00:34:00] world. And I'm here to serve your needs. So be sure to reach out and get your needs met. It's up to you to take action, so the things can change for you.

I appreciate hearing how my show helps you as well as knowing that you're sharing my show with others. It helps me in my mission to put an end to the needless suffering of adults worldwide who have underdeveloped executive function skills, whether that happened due to ADHD, chronic depression or anxiety, addictions trauma, or chronic illness. And this is the driving force behind everything I do, which is to put an end to the needless suffering.

Be sure to check out the show notes, to learn about all the great resources I've made available to you, and definitely make it a priority to join the Facebook group, Living Beyond ADHD. You won't regret it.

And save the date June 18th for a special event that I have coming up for you. More details coming very soon.

If you enjoy today's episode. Or any of the other episodes, please share this podcast show with others, as well as rate the show. If you'd like to do more, write a thoughtful review on iTunes so that I know that I'm meeting your needs.

It doesn't have to be anything lengthy, just a line or two of how the podcast is helping you, if it is. New episodes are released on Mondays and Thursdays and subscribing will put the newest episode in your feed as soon as it's released. It means a lot to me to know that your life is getting a little bit better every time we get together.

Be sure to check out the show notes for free content and ways that we can work together. You will find solutions to the challenges that you're experiencing. And I would love to help you to realize a new freedom. That is, if that's of interest to you.

Thanks for listening! Until the next time, bye for now.


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