Tag Archive for: Memory

broken window to illustrate Capacity

Capacity and neurodiversity

Our capacity to manage and thrive with neurodivergent traits is vital, and this is often the difference between being able to lean into our strengths and being overwhelmed by what we find difficult.

I’ve noticed lately the impact that capacity can have on our ability to move forward, especially when dealing with particular stressors or situations that challenge change.

Picture of a window with arrows to show how this window is opened and closed based on the amount of dysregulation we are experiencing

The Stress window

Looking at this from an ADHD perspective, if your emotions are high, your capacity can be removed or decreased significantly, meaning you can’t move forward. Similarly, this can have the same impact if you’re sad or uninspired. Getting the systems and processes in place to support good capacity is essential. These might look like some of the examples below:

Controlling negative thoughts

This sounds much easier than it is and is about your self-talk; for example, if you tell yourself, “I’m going to fail, I can never do much of anything, or I’m useless”. This attitude and the language that you use can impact your stress. Switching from “I’m going to fail” to “I’m going to give this my best shot” can shift your focus and allow you to move forward effectively.

To freeze, flee or fight?

It’s the old amygdala hijacking when our essential primitive brain kicks in and takes over how our bodies respond. Now, this part of our brain is brilliant. When we’re in an emergency, we must decide rapidly, but sometimes, this can kick in at the wrong time. When we feel overwhelmed, we have choices about what we can do. This can also be a call to procrastinate because our amygdala overrides our willpower, which decides how we will respond next. Relaxing and moving away from this can be helpful.

Stop the stress

Noticing when you’re getting stressed can be helpful. By removing or moving away from stress, you can make decisions that effectively override your amygdala; for example, tapping and affirmative statements can be helpful. Also, removing yourself from the situation for a short period can be hugely beneficial, as it will allow you to take a step back to gain perspective and work out what to do next.

Keeping it simple

Often, when approaching tasks and activities, you can overcomplicate what you need to do; for example, you might have a ton of tasks to complete on your to-do list, which is overwhelming. There’s a good argument for recording what needs to be done, but is it helpful to keep looking at your to-do list, which can make you feel stressed? Reducing your list’s visibility once compiled may be more effective. Focus on one thing at a time, keeping it simple and moving forward. As a side note, simple is often not easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve decided simple is best.  It’s probably been a long journey to get there!

Make a manageable plan

It’s easy to overcomplicate planning because we can all overthink. This can be debilitating. What is often better is to create a plan for the short term and then work out what to do next. For example, I will do this for thirty minutes and then review my progress. What went well, and what would improve the next thirty minutes? It’s also helpful to do short tasks to get yourself moving forward. It’s like a workout at the gym; start with something easy to warm up before you move on to heavier weights or chunkier tasks. In the same way, it’s a good idea to do some more manageable functions at the end of the day when you’re winding down. Keep your plan simple and treat your body with respect.

Create time to think

For example, if you’re caught in a conversation pressuring you to make a decision you are not confident about, it’s pushing you into a place where you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can often be helpful to acknowledge the importance of what’s going on and then say, “I need to take a moment to think about that”. That way, you create time to make high-quality decisions and help yourself manage any anxiety.

Get some accountability

There are loads of ways to do this. It might be talking to someone you know or a work colleague. Being accountable for what you’re doing, maybe even doing some work together can be helpful when managing stress. It enables you to partner with someone, which is essential because you can manage your stress together. Sometimes, this is called body doubling, but that term sounds strange to me.

Recognise it’s okay not to finish a task in one go

Allowing yourself not to finish a task is OK. I’d go as far as to say it’s a good habit to break tasks into smaller chunks. Then, you can make a start, reflect on your progress and complete the next section, often making the finished product far better. You’ll finish the beginning, the middle, and the end and reap the benefits of three finishes for the price of one.

Make a plan in the diary

If things need to be done and they need to be done at a particular time, why try to hold that information in your short-term memory? Often, this can be a real challenge, so having a diary can help, especially if it’s a recurring event. Then you don’t need to think about it anymore. You need to turn up and follow your diary. When you’re looking at diary management, I would also recommend that you factor in times for reflection and downtime. If you don’t, you can fill every moment without considering your energy levels.

As you can see, there are several steps to manage your capacity. What’s important is to recognise what’s good enough for now. Then, you can determine which step you want to tackle next. You don’t need to do it all in one go, and if you’re working or supporting someone struggling with some of these areas, I’d always encourage you to take it gently and progress one step at a time.

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neurodiverse

Neurodivergent traits – retaining and empowering them in your organisation

Based on statistics from the British Dyslexia Association (@BDAdyslexia), it is estimated that at least 15% of the working population have some neurodivergent traits. Neurodivergent traits are those associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, ASC along with medically diagnosed and acquired conditions like PTSD and migraines. These traits are likely to appear in different combinations in each individual.

Read the full article here in FE News.

Scales weighing up the reasonable adjustments with one side lower than the other.

Reasonable adjustments, so what is reasonable ?

Reasonable adjustments are subjective and the term is often overused; well, I think it is!

Let me give you an example. I recently worked with someone who thought it reasonable that her employer makes sure she feels in a good mood when she goes home. Now on the surface, that might sound reasonable, but let’s think about it. What is entailed in making sure someone is in a good mood has many variables. This could include interactions within the workplace, conversations and even things that that individual has brought into the workplace. Suddenly that doesn’t sound like a reasonable adjustment; it sounds like a dream!

The equality act gives us some guidance on what reasonable is, but even this isn’t enough as we try and work out what is helpful in the workplace. So here are some of my thoughts on how we can get to reasonable:

It needs to be effective in removing a barrier!

So will the reasonable adjustments remove the barrier, and will it do it for the long-term? In being effective, there is another question, will it work with the rest of the organisation? This is a wise argument as it might be effective for the individual but not for the employer.

Real-world example, I worked with a teacher struggling to keep their equipment together. She worked across ten different classrooms, and because of her short-term memory, her equipment was never in the right place. Several reasonable adjustments were considered, including an electronic calendar and some creative processes to ensure her equipment was moved to the right place at the right time. Along with several other exciting and innovative options on the surface which all seemed great, but they were on the complicated side. Would you agree?

Ultimately, the changes involved giving that teacher a fixed classroom so that her equipment didn’t need to move.

It turned out to be a brilliant adjustment because it was simple and solved the problem. This problem could have been solved in far more complicated way that would have ultimately broken down and put more significant strain on everyone.

Don’t let the solution become part of the problem with reasonable adjustments!

It’s got to be practical!

Being practical matters. If it’s not, we all end up in a big mess.

Being practical means it needs to be practical to implement and practical to use both for the individual and the organisation. Perspective is critical because what is practical for the individual may not be practical for the organisation. In the same way, what is practical for the organisation may not be practical for the individual.

I hope your head is not spinning with the word practical now!

So to work out what this means, we must have conversations and not throw lists of stuff over fences metaphorically because reasonable adjustments are about including people, not putting additional barriers up.

Real-world example:

I worked with an individual with anxiety issues around understanding what they needed to do and when. The organisation conducted an assessment that suggested several interventions, including using whiteboards, apps and other to-do list-style reminders. Giving credit to the individual and the organisation, they’d worked through several different solutions and finally came to the one they felt best: the to-do list app. The app itself worked fine. Things got tricky when multiple managers used the same account to set tasks, and the individual was confused about who she was accountable to and for what.

This is an excellent example of something that started off incredibly practical, but became impractical because the process around it got confusing. In this situation, there was a simple remedy of using initials for each manager. This illustrates that we have to keep reviewing what’s going on; otherwise, we will likely make adjustments to the problem.

Though I say, the remedy was simple, getting the individual managers involved to buy into it and implement it is still an ongoing process.

Never forget the people element of change.

How much are these reasonable adjustments going to cost?

Cost is significant, especially in our current economic climate. Many adjustments are not expensive, particularly for neurodivergent individuals. Often they are about process changes that positively impact individuals across the organisation. There are also grants and schemes available to support equipment purchases, potential coaching, and other ongoing support.

I think it’s helpful to approach adjustments like a project, considering their merits and impact on the individual and the business.

We often don’t know how an adjustment will work until it’s tested.

When it’s tested, it’s essential to understand what needs to be modified and the fitness of the adjustment to perform the task. There can sometimes be a train of thought from the individual that suggests this is being paid for me, so I have to use it regardless of if it adds benefit. This isn’t helpful and can sometimes result in individuals creating additional obstacles for themselves to use something unsuitable.

Real-world example:

I worked with someone recently who was given dictation software as part of a reasonable adjustment. On spending time with them, it became apparent that they were a touch typists who was very comfortable with writing at speed and accuracy, but they felt obliged to the organisation to use the software that ultimately slowed them down and didn’t allow them to operate at their best.

We need to talk to people, not just provide vanilla solutions, because we think we understand them.

In the long term, it’s essential to keep adjustments as simple as possible and actively remove the ones that no longer serve a purpose.

All adjustments need to have a review-by date built in.

Do they still work, or does something need to be done differently? Otherwise, we risk assuming that we did something once and that it will last for a lifetime.

I was thinking about my car. Would I seriously take my vehicle for one service in its lifetime and have one MOT and never have another?

Once we’ve looked at this, there is an implication that if we conclude something is reasonable, there is a legal obligation to do it. Don’t forget to make sure solving the problem is a reasonable adjustment.

Note: The Equality Acts linchpin is that once an adjustment has been deemed reasonable, it is unlawful not to implement it. That’s why it’s essential to consider what is reasonable as part of the implementation, then build reviews and document conversations that will allow you to respond to the individual’s needs and business requirements.

It’s about trust and an ongoing conversation about what works and what doesn’t.

No one needs adjustments that don’t work for them or the business, so ensure you keep this alive and real.

If you need help navigating this, don’t hesitate to contact me at The Neurodivergent Coach.

Forgettory and Neurodiversity

Forgettory and neurodiversity

Imagine a bookshelf that only holds three books, but you have nine books that you need to put on the shelf. Every time you add another book over the first three, the others fall off. You now need to catch the book that has fallen and try and place it back on the shelf – as you do the next book falls. This cycle continues throughout the day! Welcome to forgettory and neurodiversity

For many neurodivergent individuals, this is the reality of how their short-term memory works.

What this looks like in my life. As I wake up in the morning with a bunch of ideas floating around in my head, as soon as I interact with a member of my family those ideas are gone and replaced with the conversations and requirements of the day. This cycle then continues as I move to the next part of the day, be it breakfast, exercise, or work. What seems to happen is a continuous fight to hold on to great ideas and actions. This can be incredibly debilitating as the energy required trying to hold onto the ideas or books that have fallen from the shelf is immense. What is more frustrating is that when you put something back on the shelf you are likely to have pushed something else off and the cycle goes on again.

This doesn’t stop here, we need our short-term memory for our working memory to function effectively. The more restricted our short-term memory is, the more difficult it is to use our working memory effectively to solve problems, hold ideas and work with complicated or sometimes not-so-complicated issues.

Both areas of memory are under the concept of executive function (EF). Executive function is a cluster of skills that are necessary for efficient and effective future behaviours. These skills are the ones that sit outside of what we do automatically.

For example, you may have done the following without even thinking about it:

  • Got out of bed
  • Made a cup of tea
  • Checked your phone
  • Made your porridge
  • Unloaded the dishwasher (not for all of us I know).

Executive function (EF) comes into its own when we attempt to do new things in different situations. These situations don’t always need to be critically complicated, just different from what we expect to do on autopilot and can include things like:

  • Changing the number of people you are making porridge for
  • Meeting someone new for the first time
  • Someone giving you a slot car racing toy (Scalextrics) for your children (that’s in pieces with no instructions).

These are my experiences, it is important to note that there is a ground of evidence showing EF is relevant to a number of neurodivergent conditions including ADHD, ASD/C, developmental coordination disorder DCD (also known as dyspraxia), dyslexia, and dyscalculia.

How these impact you

Getting started:

  • The actual process of starting can be really challenging when you’re not sure you have got everything you need in your memory.
  • Reflecting on what you need can sometimes make it even harder to get moving.
  • Understanding how long something can take has a significant impact as it can feel like an unknown.

Not being kind to yourself:

  • Thinking you are good enough.
  • Focusing on the negatives.
  • Not recognising the things you do well.

Running out of road:

  • Knowing that there are things you have forgotten.
  • Not having enough time to process.
  • Feeling you have to make decisions even though you’re not ready to.
  • Trying to be like everyone else.

Staying in the zone:

  • Staying on task.
  • Moving from one task to another.
  • Finding it hard to get your head around things.

What might happen next:

  • Sometimes when you run out of road (in terms of processing and EF) it’s hard to think about what might happen next based on previous experience.
  • It’s also very challenging to predict what difficulties or challenges you might face in the future.

Being all out all of the time:

  • Perception of time can often be linked.
  • This makes it difficult to remember appointments.
  • Putting the right amount of time aside to complete tasks.
  • Break things down into smaller tasks and understanding what the time indications are.

What can be done?

The executive function often forms the glue that allows us to deploy our skills effectively. I’ve talked before about the fact we need to help neurodivergent individuals amplify their strengths and manage the things that they find difficult. Unfortunately, if they are not able to use their strengths because their executive function doesn’t allow them to be present, they will be unable to thrive. What is often needed is skills and frameworks to help the individual unleash their potential, these could look like:

Checking in on how well things are going.

  • What does the day look like?
  • Have you got enough time to do the things you have set before you?
  • Who do you feel you need to ask about what to do next?
  • Do you need space to put things in perspective?
  • Who are you going to be accountable to?
  • What are you going to do when things go wrong?
  • What is your Banana?

Definition of banana – it is the thing you have in your back pocket. It gives you time and space to reset yourself. My Banana is often around taking a short break to do something completely different, for example skipping.

Lists and processes

Creating a list of activities is a really helpful way to understand what needs to be done.

Don’t treat these like a stick!

Treat them as a way to formulate your plan for the day.

Processes are also useful as once you have done something once:

  • Record it
  • Review it
  • Revisit it – make it better next time!

Once it is written down, you have something to compare it against, removing the need to rethink how you are going to do something again. It is also a great tool to go to when you have run out of road as you have already done your thinking.

Reflect on what is happening, take stock and make sure you ask someone else to check in on your belief of what’s going on. It is worth pre-emptively asking someone to help so when you need support, they already know how to serve you best.

Remove the tat and rubbish to make space for this thinking.

This could be about coming away from your current work environment, tidying up, or turning off your email. What is important is you are not distracted when you are working on your processes.

Think about the team you work with, who loves doing certain tasks? What tasks do you love doing? How can you collaborate to get the most out of both of you and the people you work with? What tasks should be automated or relegated?

Navigating this space is tricky, especially on your own. If this article rings true, I would encourage you to reflect on it with someone you trust at work or reach out to a workplace coach who can help you move through this space.

If you would like to have a conversation with me about this topic for yourself or someone you lead please get in contact.

Book shelf idea credit: Janette Beetham

neurodivergent traits are strengths

What are neurodivergent traits? – How do we retain and empower them?

So what are neurodivergent traits?

Based on statistics from the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) it is estimated that at least 15% of the working population have some neurodivergent traits. Neurodivergent traits are those associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, ASC along with medically diagnosed and acquired conditions like PTSD and migraines. These traits are likely to appear in different combinations in each individual. This is supported by research carried out by Professor Amanda Kirby that shows it is more common for individuals to have co-occurring traits from several different neurodivergent conditions, rather than traits just associated with one.

As we consider these traits, I believe it is essential we take a strengths-based approach looking to understand what the individual is great at, while at the same time helping them to understand the things they find difficult and how to mitigate the impact of these on their effectiveness.

These neurodivergent traits include (this is not an exhaustive list):

Neurodivergent traits (strengths)

Creative, imaginative, energised, solution finders, emotionally intelligent, persistent, inquisitive and have fresh eyes.

Neurodivergent traits (difficulties)

Short-term memory, anxiety, fear, disguise and sensory overload. Screening diagnosis and understanding of these various traits and conditions are improving rapidly, though there is still much more to do.

How these traits impact an individual’s working environment and their effectiveness at work is unique to them. I work with a wide range of individuals across several different sectors. Though their stories are all different the recurring theme is that they have hit difficulties at some point in their working life that has caused them to reach out for support. Some of these individuals have been recently diagnosed, while others have known about their traits since primary school. The challenge is not just to know that you have these traits but how these traits affect an individual’s effectiveness in the workplace.

Some of the ways that common neurodivergent traits impact individuals’ effectiveness in the workplace include:

Memory and concentration

Working in environments where a lot of information is shared orally can be extremely challenging for individuals who have poor short-term memory.

A way to think about this is like a bookshelf. The average person (if they exist), can typically hold around 7 to 9 books on a bookshelf. However, someone who has difficulties with their short-term memory is likely to be only able to hold one to three books on the bookshelf. The implications of this are when a new book is added the first book is pushed off and the individual is forced into a situation of grabbing the book that has fallen, often disrupting the rest of the shelf.

If the culture of the organisation means that this is just the way things are done it can be incredibly challenging for these individuals to keep and recall information.

There are ways to help individuals through coaching and technology that allow them to support their short-term memory. This can enable them to work effectively within their organisation.

Organisational skills

In a workplace being organised and understanding what is going on is an essential skill, especially when collaborating with others. If however your sense of time and your ability to follow processes is challenging, then this can make life very difficult. We often assume that having a calendar allows us to be organised, but what we take for granted is that there are a whole bunch of skills around making that calendar work for us. These include building in time to do post and pre-meeting work, accounting for travel and building in buffers to deal with unexpected situations.

Not being able to organise effectively can be very debilitating but through co-building processes, the individual’s situation can be improved dramatically.

Time management

Having a sense of time and being able to estimate time effectively are again essential skills within our current workplaces. If you are unable to do this effectively it can detract from your credibility in the workplace. For some individuals, this could just be that they have no sense of time, while for others they may be overwhelmed by the sensory inputs from their environment.

There are various solutions to this difficulty, including the use of alarms and wearable technology. It is important to work with the individual to understand their unique working environment and how time management affects them.

Wellbeing

Some individuals feel that they are unable to share or not aware of their neurodivergent traits and as a result, try and mask them. This can often mean that they spend far more time working on tasks than their colleagues. This type of behaviour can generate a considerable amount of anxiety, especially when coupled with change. This is because the individual may well be barely hanging in there when they need to reconsider changing all their strategies.

Spending time assessing an individual to help them understand their traits and how these impact their work is invaluable. It can help them flourish and become their true self at work. This should focus on amplifying their strengths and building strategies to help mitigate their difficulties.

Don’t underestimate the power that these changes can have

Christopher Reeve the actor who played Superman, paralysed in a horse-riding accident in 1995 – put it like this.

“When the first Superman movie came out, I was frequently asked, ‘what is a hero?’ I remember the glib response I repeated so many times. The answer was that a hero is someone who commits the courageous action without considering the consequences – the soldier who crawls out of the foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Unfortunately, overwhelming obstacles are present for many individuals with neurodivergent traits and if we do not change this then our organisations will be poorer for it with implications including:

  • Non-compliance under the equality act 2010.
  • Attrition of staff who can add value to our organisations.
  • Loss of competitive advantage and innovation.

To this point, we have discussed supporting the individual. It is important that changes to support the individual are not sticking plasters, but instead part of an organisational wide environmental support.

The road to success

This journey starts with raising awareness of neurodiversity and specifically neurodivergent traits. This mustn’t be a sheep dip approach, yes neurodiversity training is good, but it needs to be supported by mentoring and coaching for managers and leaders of neurodivergent staff.

This then needs to be supported with high-quality processes that are easy to understand and are embedded across the organisations, (not buried at the bottom of some old filing cabinet).

For example:

  • It should be obvious where to seek support.
  • It should be clear how you will be treated.
  • It should be clear what you can expect to happen and when.

Is there an opportunity to be assessed by a professional who can look at your strengths and difficulties and then be given tailored help and support to amplify your strengths and manage your difficulties?

If you have met one person with neurodivergent traits, you have met one person as we are all uniquely different.

Article originally published on FE News

Perfection vs excellence

Perfection vs excellence mixed with neurodiversity

I recently worked with Peter who is responsible for managing union activists within a teacher’s union. Peter had been a successful teacher who had left the classroom due to frustration with government policy that got in the way of his passion for teaching. He then moved into the union supporting teachers to be the absolute best they can be in their job. Peter has a dyslexic diagnosis, and this impacts his ability to process information along with his short-term memory. I should emphasise that he is extremely competent at his job and exercises a high level of emotional intelligence especially when dealing with union members, but he has struggled with perfection vs excellence in his role.

Recently Peter has undergone changes at work as his union has been taken over by a larger union, which has meant a complete change in infrastructure and IT with many new systems being introduced along with additional processes. I should mention at this point Peter has a well-rounded education including a master’s degree in organisational management, he is a well thought of and highly trained individual working in a frontline role because he wants to make a direct difference to teachers. Peter always wants to do the absolute best job he can, often at the expense of personal time and well-being.

Working with Peter through a series of coaching sessions we were able to explore the difference between excellence and perfection and why it is vital to understand it. I must emphasise here, I’m not suggesting Peter should be doing shoddy work that is unfit for purpose, the issue was that the work he was producing was so far above and beyond what was required. It meant other clients were not getting what they needed (nor was he).

Excellence vs perfection

Excellence is about doing the right things, in the best way possible and doing them well enough to meet what is required. It also means accepting that there is always room for improvement and ironically that perfection should be your goal. You also need to have a reality check that you are highly unlikely to get there, but if you keep aiming in that direction your current working processes will just get better and better. This is a growth mindset, it’s about building on yesterday, recognising what could have been done better and doing it. In addition to that, it is also about being kind to yourself.

It is a journey of wonder and surprise

Perfection is the definitive 100% right way to do something and is completely unobtainable and if you do try and obtain it you will use a disproportionate amount of energy and gain a diminishing return for what you are doing, often causing anxiety stress and disappointment. This can further manifest in depression, procrastination and ultimately poor performance within individuals and teams.

It is a destination with no seats

For Peter, much of this was to do with the changes that were taking place in his role and responsibilities and how he felt he needed to be able to continue to deliver one hundred per cent, even though all these changes were happening. A breakthrough moment happened when we talked about the concepts of working in your job and working on your job, as for excellence to take place your processes and working practices need to be a well-oiled machine. This means taking time to understand them and innovate to meet the needs of your organisation, but more importantly to meet your own needs to achieve your objectives. For Peter, this was a breakthrough moment that enabled him to look at his job in a different way. He recognised although he wasn’t the most senior person in the organisation he was the most senior person who had control over what he did because he was able to manage himself. Once Peter started to take this point of view, excellence became the only option. He couldn’t have perfection in a changing, innovating workplace because by its very nature improvement involves failure and learning.

This was a life-changing moment for Peter and something he has been able to use as he has moved to a role with more responsibility since completing his coaching. If this is something that is of interest to you, please get in contact.