Inhibition and Activation are a lot like putting on the brakes, and shifting into first gear. But when the brakes don’t work, it’s not because you’re not pushing the pedal, but something failed in the braking mechanism. In ADHD, inhibition, just like many of the other Executive Dysfunctions, is not a matter of not knowing what to do, rather it is a matter of not doing what you know. So when you try to put on the brakes, and you tell yourself to “stop the action,” but the brakes don’t work it is vital to have back up systems.
Imagine having calls to return, and other tasks to do, and you get sucked in to something a bit more interesting. As this less important, more fun thing pulls you in, the voice in you head tells you not to do it, but your brakes don’t work and you do it anyways. You rationalize the brake failure, and try to minimize the damage by setting a timer for 10 minutes. The timer goes off, but you miss your turn, you try to step on the brakes, but no luck once again, so you set the timer for a few more minutes, and you say out loud “when the alarm goes off, Stop the action, and get to work! It will feel great to return those phone calls!”
Continue to imagine with a minute left on the timer, you stand up in front of the less important, more fun thing that you are doing, anticipating the need to shift gears, you stop the action, put something away, but then on the way to go do your work, you notice just ‘one more thing’ that you want to do, and end up spending another unintended hour doing the more fun, less important thing.
The brakes didn’t work, but they were applied, the gears didn’t shift, although the engine was revving, and the work did not get done –at least not today. But then you know you’ve been taking care of your car, and feel okay because when you look in the rear view mirror and reflect on the past few weeks, and you see the brakes have been working pretty good, and the gears have shifting without much difficulty, and you now the only consistent thing about ADHD is it’s inconsistency.
Whether you are a coach, a therapist, or an adult living with ADHD, I can not over emphasize the importance of acceptance of the occasional brake failure, or other mechanical problems. This is what I call, having an ADD-Day. It is also important to recognize that when an occasional ADD-Day, turns into multiple days or even weeks, it is time to bring your car to the shop, or at least open the hood and try to figure out what needs be changed in order to increase consistency of overall performance. And when you don’t know what you’re looking at, or how to fix the problem, ask for help, find support, or get a ride, just make sure it gets you to where you intended on going.