Did you ever run into somebody who’s able to articulate something in such a way that all of a sudden it makes some sense? Years ago, I was coaching a woman who said, at the end of our first coaching session, that she wanted to work on her lists. We had learned during her discovery session that she is very visual. Knowing this, I asked what it would be like if she just drew a picture instead of writing words. After we got off the call, she gave it a shot.
A week later, I was fascinated when she said that, by drawing a picture of her to-dos, she began to realize that letters are symbols. When she adds letters together to make a word, that’s a symbol to her. When she adds words together in a sentence, it draws a picture in her mind of what something is. She realized that, when she would read a to-do list and assemble the pictures in her mind but then would get distracted, the pictures would evaporate. She’d have to go back and reassemble the pictures in her mind by re-reading the list. She acknowledged how effortful this was.
At some point in time, she wouldn’t go through the effort and it wouldn’t get done. But by using the picture-based to-do list, she realized she didn’t have to go through the work and it was much easier just to look at the picture. She could then associate the picture with the task on the to-do list.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of presentations about working memory, and I think this is an example that can really help people understand why things are the way they are. Some time ago, I had coached an individual who had hired a professional organizer to organize his office. But, once the organizer was done, he simply couldn’t find anything. Oddly enough, he was already organized even though it was just a bit unsightly (see Ugly Organizing Systems Are Not All Bad).
He had several binders or notebooks lined along the wall. I found it interesting when he said these were really invisible to him, so I wanted to understand why. As we talked further, we noticed that one binder had “Bank of America” written on the outside. As in the example I mentioned above, what he had to do was actually read the words “Bank of America” and begin to visualize it in his mind to make that association. But this was a lot of work. Understanding what was at hand, he had the clever idea of printing off the bank’s logo and taping it onto the binder. Voila! It worked great. Then he could do this for the other binders, as well.
It’s funny how some people can just articulate a thing and make sense of it all. This is a good example of something that might seem relatively small, but inside the mind of someone who has ADHD, having pictures or colors that they want to associate with things without having to construct a picture in the mind is a very good shortcut.
In sharing these examples, I hope this gives you the opportunity to witness your own thoughts and realize what works and why it works. In that way, you’re not actually reading things or building pictures in your mind but using things to make an association immediately so you don’t have to do the hard work. This is less taxing to your working memory and makes it easier for you to self-regulate and stay on task. If you’re having difficulties, you might want to try it.