Monday, February 8, 2010

Jumping Jack: How Coaching Can Help Curb Impulsivity

Jumping Jack: How Coaching Can Help Curb Impulsivity

Jack told his friends he left his corporate job as a salesman to start his own business, but the truth was that he was fired for swearing at his boss. This was not the first time he had done something like this. In fact, he lost several jobs for cursing or telling someone off. Although he was always seen as a valued employee for his out-of-the-box thinking, his impulsive behaviors undercut the company’s high opinion of his abilities.

Impulsivity and erratic behavior also took a toll on his personal relationships. His friends no longer invited him over for get-togethers, fearing that he would insult their spouses or say something outrageous in front of their kids. Jack’s wife was at her wit’s end. She was tired of all his excuses for losing jobs and friendships. But mostly, she was fed up with his unpredictable behavior. Jack’s litany of “I’m sorry’s” didn’t cut it for her any more.

Jack’s impulsivity affected every facet of his life—he jumped from project to project, task to task, and acted on thoughts that just popped in his head. If he drove past Home Depot, for example, he would stop and shop, thinking, “I wonder if there is a sale on lumber? I’ve wanted to build a deck for years!”

To a person without ADHD, Jack’s story might seem made up or exaggerated. Believe me, it isn’t. Such impulsivity is a challenge for many of my ADHD coaching clients. Jack might exhibit impulsivity differently than some other clients, but the consequences and outcomes are the same—the pain of feeling out of control.

Jack sought my coaching services shortly after his son was diagnosed with ADHD. Jack noticed that he struggled with some of the same behaviors as his son. He also saw that medication helped his son manage his symptoms. Jack’s wife, Linda, suggested Jack talk to a specialist about his challenges. After an evaluation, Jack was diagnosed with ADHD. His doctor advised that he work with a coach, along with taking ADHD medication, to learn strategies to improve his focus and to stay in control.

In the initial coaching intake, Jack told me that he knew ADHD was causing his struggles, yet he didn’t know how to stop himself before he, as he describes it, “jumped” into the fire. Although impulsivity can be one of the most difficult ADHD symptoms to manage, medication and coaching can be effective in helping a client take control of them. Acknowledging that there is a problem—and having a strong desire to change—is a key component to making progress.

Jack found it difficult to admit that his impulsivity was a problem. It was part of what had made him such a successful salesman: He was a risk taker and a dynamo, pushing forward to close the deal when others would hesitate. He also saw himself as a “truth teller.” He told me, “Hey, I told my boss he was an idiot because he was making a bad business decision!” As we talked, Jack realized that insulting his boss, no matter how true his words, was never a good move. He desperately wanted to learn ways to be more aware of, and to better manage, the negative aspects of his impulsivity.

Medication gave Jack the ability to slow down and to take stock of what he was doing before acting rashly. But he needed strategies to stop himself long enough to consider alternative actions—to consistently control his impulses.

Many coaching strategies can help clients accomplish this, but as with all successful client-coach relationships, those strategies need to come from the client. Jack and I discussed in detail the situations in which he acted impulsively, and we developed strategies to do slow down and to evaluate the potential consequences of his actions.

It’s important to remember that coaching is not one size fits all, so what worked for Jack might not work for you.

1) One of the keys to reining in impulsivity is being able to self-observe. Jack came up with the idea of going through the day as if a camera were monitoring him. He called it his “third eye.” This helped him to be more conscious of his actions.

2) Jack also discovered that using a mantra helped him slow down. During the day he would say to himself, “Do not engage.” Or he’d ask himself, “What will the consequences of my actions be?” or “Is this what I really want to be doing right now?” This allowed him to stop for a second and evaluate the potential consequences of his actions—getting fired, getting divorced, offending a friend.

3) To curb his urge to “do it now,” he learned to park his thought. He would write down the thought he was about to act on in a notebook, or he would text it to himself on his cell phone or call in to his voice mail. This simple act of writing or calling helped him from acting rashly.

4) Jack frequently flew off the handle when talking with friends or colleagues. To prevent flare-ups, I suggested he form a “committee of trusted advisors” to whom he could vent—in person or on the phone. This allowed him to get over his impulsive anger without feeling the need to follow through on actions.

5) Through discussion, Jack and I were able to identify some of the triggers of his impulsivity—instances in which someone didn’t see things his way would upset him—and put plans in place for alternative actions. He realized that taking a short break—a brief walk or a trip to the men’s room—gave him the time to reconsider what to do—or not do.

Over time, and through continued accountability to me, Jack learned to stop, create space between his thoughts and his actions, and consider the consequences. He also learned to remember the pain that his impulsive actions had caused him in the past and to keep his goal in mind: to be more in control of his impulsive behaviors and eventually to learn to manage them himself.

Until next time!

Warmly, Nancy