Neuroscience evidence changes thinking.

Brain Science and ADD/ADHD Coaching – Notes On The Rubber and The Road

Coaching, out where the ADHD rubber meets the road of reality

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)

Henry Ford - On Thinking, Image via Wikipedia

Guest Coach: Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, MCC, SCAC

Coaching Philosophy Is Changing

In previous article here on the CorePsych blog, Dr. Charles Parker shared some secrets of success from the coaching philosophy of “the most successful squash coach in the nation: Coach Peter Briggs at the highly esteemed Wapawamis Club in Rye, NY.”

1. Ability is what you are capable of doing.
2. Motivation determines what you do.
3. Attitude determines how well you do it.

I’m as big a fan of the simple as the next guy.  However, as the co-founder of the ADD Coaching field who developed and delivered the world’s first ADD-specific Coach Training curriculum, it occurs to me that Briggs left out a few essential success components.

However… I need to add five more points to his list of the basic three:

4. Activation determines whether you ever begin to do much of anything at all, and whether you are able to get back to it after an interruption.
5. Brain/body neuro-biological balance determines whether you can access activation.
6. Education and information helps you identify neuro-dysregulations that are holding you back, no matter how motivated you are, or what your attitude happens to be.
7. Encouragement and Positive Feedback help you build new habits and develop new ways to approach old tasks while you re-balance, avoiding rumination’s persistent de-motivation, all too frequently the fall-out from “tough love” feedback.
8. A comprehensively trained, brain-based ADD/ADHD Coach adds serious velocity to ALL of the above.

Details do matter. Thinking details matter…

Listen to Henry:

Whether You Think You Can, or Think You Can’t – You’re So Right
Henry Ford ~ Industrialist

Thinking Matters  

Said another way, unless you think you can, you can’t! 

In another post here at CorePsych Blog, Dr. Parker provides a link to Lyle Lackmuth’s excellent Learning Lens diagram, outlining the characteristics of what Lackmuth calls “the growth mindset.” His easy to comprehend diagram contrasts the growth mindset with the “fixed” mindset. That static, “fixed” mindset puts a glass ceiling on our intelligence – it leads to a deterministic view of life that impedes learning and growth, which results in a premature plateau that limits our ability to achieve our full potential.

The Problem With Failures

Here’s the underlying problem: there seems to be an unspoken assumption that whether or not we adopt the growth mindset is up to us, – yet it is not solely a matter of volition. Writing in Psychological Science, Smith et. al (2008) report that when randomly assigned participants are made to feel powerless they become worse at keeping on top of changing information, filtering out irrelevant detail and planning ahead to get the task done.

When individuals have spent a great deal of life “swimming upstream,” they have collected a great deal of evidence of failure that tends to make them feel extremely powerless.  All too quickly, they internalize that failure evidence to the extent that “can’t” becomes an unconscious core belief.

And Keeping Score

We humans seem to like to keep score, collecting evidence to validate our core beliefs – and it isn’t simply that we see, it’s also what we look for.

In the Coaching world, “come-from” is a term used to describe the point of view and basic assumptions underlying a person’s language or behavior – one’s world view.  Come-from alters perception. We interpret what we see based on our come-from – what psychologists call “confirmation bias.”

EFD: The Hitch in the Git-along

Over in ADD/ADHD land, Executive Functioning Dysregulations [EFD] throws a curve ball into the assessment game that flies totally within the air space of volition.  Accepting the idea that a person could sincerely try and fail due to dynamics completely divorced from underlying psychological conflicts is fundamental to the recovery process, to the balance process in life. As long as we look for blocks, conflicts, or lack of motivation, our view of behavior is indelibly skewed in a way that predisposes us to only find those negative shreds of reality.

- And the challenging part: those thoughts can become hard evidence.

Motivation & Will As Evidence?

The mistaken idea that attention and “motivation” are always within the province of will underlies much of the frustration and shame so familiar to anyone with ADD.  It has become part of the problem for a population that is already beleaguered with problems. Only when one accepts the idea that an ADDer has much more difficulty than a non-ADDer with what I refer to as “intentional attending,” are we able to come up with strategies to positively impact that self destructive dynamic, and shift the balance from struggle to accomplishment.

After over 20 years of coaching ADDers, I have observed that issues of what is often referred to as “low self-esteem” are actually the result of the internalization of  repeated “evidence of failure.” Whether diagnosed as a child or in adulthood, there have been many years of struggling to incorporate the implications of ADD with the well-meaning “support” of people who didn’t really understand the pragmatics of Executive Functioning Dysregulation: They didn’t understand the reality of what moves things forward in life, and what makes things worse.

Take the focus off of “just trying”

Our “helpers” and partners must understand that attempts to motivate us to make better choices in any fashion will never work – because 90% of our chronic oopses are not the result of a “failure of WILL.” They aren’t even conscious “choices” at all, unless you want to use the “choice” term to hold us accountable for unconscious assumptions underlying our actions.

We don’t need to be motivated to make better choices, we need to be coached and mentored to learn how to MAKE and ACTUATE choices at all.  And that process  must absolutely begin with an examination of what I call The User’s Manual for the ADD Brain: Education and Solid Information.  In addition, in order to be available for the coaching, we need to balance our internal neurobiologic chemical equation.

If the brain isn’t working right we can’t think right.

As Dr. Parker explains in an Overview here on CorePsych Blog, fresh brain information matters,

“New questions with new answers increasingly drive treatment interventions. Brain and body “biologic systems” can be measured for their function and specifically treated based upon solid molecular and cellular laboratory evidence.”

Here’s Where Brain-based ADD Coaching Comes In

In addition to the classes that all coaches are exposed to in their initial training, brain-based ADD Coaches have specialized training in the underlying causes of ADD affect, and the particular coaching interventions that are effective for various specific areas of ADD/ADHD difficulty.

Specifically trained ADHD coaches also stay in touch with other members of the ADD/ADHD treatment team, pay attention to characteristics that are good indicators of biological or pharmacological imbalances, and have the presence of mind to insist that clients stay in touch with their medical team.  The most comprehensively trained coaches know how to help with what is called a Titration Log, to help maximize the time in the doctor’s office, documenting the information needed to tweak medication effectively.

No matter how competent in other arenas, not all coaches have been trained to work with Executive Functioning Dysregulation.  And not all ADD Coaches are Brain-based Coaches.  Trainings like the one I developed (not currently offered), and the training that is being developed by Dr. Parker provide the foundation for the only type of coaching that is truly effective with ADD/ADHD clients of all types. [Thanks Madelyn! ;-)]

Brain Matters, Biology Matters

I have always believed that in order to understand what’s going on in the mind of ADD clients, a coach must first understand what’s going on in the brain of ADD clients.  Only then can coaching be effective in guiding ADD individuals toward lives of power, effectiveness and the joy of accomplishment.

Let’s invite all of our coaching crowd to play with a full brain-based deck, and watch for all of the available details clients bring to our ADHD Coaching offices from evolving Neuroscience. Do join me in moving forward with full decks!

I hope to see many of you ADD/ADHD coaches out there at the ACO [ADHD Coaches Organization] meeting coming up in Atlanta, March 23-25, – just around the corner!

Madelyn Griffith-Haynie


Ed note -

Thanks Madelyn, great working with you and your coaching colleagues out here! Look forward to meeting you in person in Atlanta, where I’ll join you in covering the details of exactly how coaches can connect with medical teams on the abundant confusions surrounding ADHD meds.

Talk soon,


  1. I appreciate the additional 5 categories added to coaching. I can see throughout this article that ADD and Brain Injury overlap significantly. Does brain injury cause ADD and/or could be an undiagnosed ADD prior to injury and traumatic brain injury was an event that triggers this onset? How successful is medical treatment for ADD following brain injury?

    • Edith,
      Often TBI follows ADHD as those with ADHD take more risks, drive while intoxicated, and live closer to the edge. On the other side of your question, yes, brain injury to the PFC significantly contributes to Executive Function Disorders and we, following the literature and our own positive office experience, have carefully used stimulant meds with TBI for years. TBI creates significantly more sensitivity to meds so dosage strategies need to be even more carefully followed.

      In addition we have seen significant improvements by measuring neurotransmitters and trace elements to correct underlying neurophysiologic imbalances that interfere with brain function.

  2. Excellent, thanks!

  3. Just this, not hard: Chickens are neurotransmitters, they are the wires in the brain engine – without wiring the engine can look great but simply won’t work.

  4. Thanks back to you David, it takes a village, and working together will move these understanding more quickly – appreciate!

  5. Thanks Lorre,
    The pressure of time and the need to condense complicated problems always does a disservice to the complexity of matters. Appreciate your feedback- I’ll keep trying to come up with better word pictures!

    Think chickens at the synaptic ranch! ;-)

  6. With you girl! Excellent piece, much appreciated! See you at the Coaches meeting in March-

  7. Wow your such a smart doctor. I am on vyvanse and we just started it. I am so glad to find your blog. You break it down for us and I understand it. Thank you so much and I will keep reading all your posts!!

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