Gifts of ADD

November 7, 2013

People used to think ADD was a childhood issue. We know now that a large percentage of adults who had ADD as kids will continue to deal with it to greater and lesser degrees. On my cable TV show, I did a segment on Adult ADD which I’ve been told has been very helpful to many people with ADD and for their families.

Having works with hundreds of folks with AD/HD in the past 30 years, I know that ADD is not a one-size fits all label. And, in addition to difficulties posed by having AD/HD, let’s keep in mind that many of our greatest minds, successful CEO’s and entrepreneurs, artists and others have ADD. Einstein, DaVinci and many other talented inventors, writers, artists, CEOs, athletes had ADD. A good coach helps the person find their strengths and talents.

To watch this show, just click:


Choosing a Coach for Adults with ADHD

January 7, 2012

If you have ADHD or similar brain wiring, then in order to get the most out of your coaching experience you will need a coach who is experienced working with individuals with ADHD and understands the challenges you face. What specifically would I suggest you look for?

•  Your coach needs to help you continually return your focus to the work throughout a coaching session. Perhaps you will also need shorter sessions. If this feels  inconvenient  to a coach, they shouldn’t be working with clients with ADHD.

•  Chances are that you may fidget and squirm if you try to sit still for an hour. It’s not very helpful to fight it; save your mental energy for better things. Look for a coach  who isn’t distracted by it. Taking a walk during your session may help – are they ok with that?

• You will need and want to work towards getting to your appointments on time. If your coach feels upset by your lateness or takes it personally, understand that that’s their  issue.

• Trying to do tasks alone at home or work may not be a tactic that works well for you. Be sure your coach is flexible and will adjust their “normal” process to make things  work for you. If projects take longer than is usual with their other clients, that’s a fact of life that they must be comfortable with.

• I’d be surprised if you haven’t gotten into a life-long habit of “adjusting the truth” to sidestep criticism. This is very common for individuals with ADHD. A coach has to  understand this, help you take the time to give the most truthful answer and never take it personally.

• It is typical to forget, get distracted, go off on tangents, to get caught by an interesting idea or get bored. When your neurobiology is a certain way, you need to have  coaching that doesn’t ignore the facts.

It may not be obvious whether a coach has the experience and understanding you want until you’ve worked with them for a while. But these “issues” are an everyday part of life for many people with ADHD and your coach must not only accept these behaviors as a typical starting point, but must patiently address them as fundamental aspects of your work together.

Jay Livingston can be reached at Just use Jay@

Self-Control Can be Learned

December 7, 2011

Self-control is a predictor of success. Research shows that children who learn to control their impulses do better in school, college, work and relationships. But adults who never perfected their self-control can make significant and life-changing improvements with a few simple techniques and
practice. Picture this:

You’re ready to head for bed, emotionally and physically wound down. Just a few simple routines to complete and you can drift into the mysterious state called sleep – check the doors, turn off the lights, brush, floss and settle into the embrace of your bed and sleep.

As you shuffle through the kitchen one last time, the image of a bowl of ice cream snaps into your mind. Wouldn’t the creamy, sweet, cold taste of a small bowl of chocolate be delightful? If
you slow your steps, you’ll likely open the drawer for the ice cream scoop.

It is possible to learn to resist at will. Try picturing something else. Focus on images of your bed or an experience you had of stepping on a scale that stopped short of where it previously was. Too hard? Picture a great play from the last game you watched or some other really good experience. Just know that if you stare at the freezer, you are more likely to indulge.

Have you had the experience of walking away from temptation and having the image weaken and lose its urgency? Try it as an experiment; walk away and see what happens over the next few minutes. Focus on paying attention to your reactions and the process of learning instead of the treat.

Controlling your impulses can be learned, whether it’s to stop putting junk food in your mouth or quieting your frustration with yourself, employees, colleagues or clients. Maybe you’ll never find it easy, always have to push to keep your focus, even fall off track sometimes when you’re
tired, but you can develop improved strength and technique with desire and practice.

Eight Quick Hints:

  • Use distractions to pull your attention away from temptations
  • Don’t re-evaluate previous decisions when you’re under the influence of temptations
  • Develop an unbending pattern of behavior until you’re past thinking about a temptation
  • Understand that developing will power (self-control) is a process of learning and practice
  • Dump the old notion that your abilities or attitudes are set – they aren’t, you can learn new ways
  • Notice, celebrate and savor small bits of progress
  • Have a support person or group who you feel accountable to – who bolsters your self-control
  • Live for the changes that you’re working on and practice them into being

Multiple past failures to grow your self-control simply mean you haven’t yet found the right approach. It’s discouraging, but learning is often a process of gaining knowledge from failures until you start getting a hint of which directions are successful. Try getting a new perspective (a coach’s
point of view) and more emotional support. Remind yourself, “With practice I can learn this.”

Want a more complete primer on how to improve self-control and self-discipline? I help people develop new habits and behaviors; it’s what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. Change takes practice and support, but the actual process is simple.

Jay Livingston

A Tough Time Being Wrong

August 7, 2010

 When I was in my twenties, I knew that I was right. Other’s observations were really just opinions and didn’t take my full situation into account. Well, I wasn’t always right, but I was rarely absolutely wrong.

One day when I was 19, a group of people explained that I was just dead wrong in my perception of why I did a certain thing. I explained that they didn’t know me well enough to know the whole story. They said, “Give it up!” There were eight of them so I just let them talk and then tried to let it go.

30 minutes later I was walking down the street when I got hit so hard by the truth that I had to stop and sit on the curb until my legs could hold me up again – they were right, I was wrong. I was never able to be as confidently right again. That conversion experience opened up a rich life-long self exploration path.

Kathryn Schulz, in her new book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error, takes the whole issue of being wrong and gives it the attention it deserves. Hers is the most balanced look at rightness and wrongness that any of us non-philosophers could want. She is entertaining, easy to follow and asks provoking questions, the kind that start to creep into the rest of your life in interesting ways.

One of her key points is that we need errors to help us learn. If we can’t be open to alternatives, if we don’t dare explore possible dead ends, we limit our growth. Coaching, therapy and any other kind of exploration of the truths of our lives puts us at risk to discover that we’ve been wrong.

But if we feel we can’t afford to be wrong, we’ll block the reality that is right in front of our eyes. I say to myself that the only way to be wrong is to not learn. An interesting idea, but it may be wrong. I’ll keep my eyes open and see what there is to learn.

Jay Livingston

Calming Strategies for Children

June 7, 2010

“He’s a terror when things don’t go his way … We’re always worried that he’s going to make a scene and embarrass us … We find ourselves walking on eggshells, trying to avoid one of his meltdowns.”

I hear a lot of that kind of thing from parents of children I work with in my practice. They tell me they often feel stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted from their child’s frequent struggles and outbursts. Parents jump at the opportunity to learn some effective strategies for coping with this common challenge.

As children move through their day, they are bound to bump into situations that are potentially upsetting. Some children are born with calmer temperments and better self quieting skills, while others need to actively learn and be taught how to cope with everyday disappointments and frustrations in a positive way. This is one of the most important things a parent can help a child do. No child enjoys being out of control … it’s simply the only tactic he knows. The good news is you can help your child learn strategies to cope with his emotions constructively and have an easier time getting along in the family, with peers and in school. The bonus — you get to have stress relief, too!

Creating a “My Hard Times Board” (suggested by Peg Dawson EdD and Richard Guare PhD in their book “Smart but Scattered”) with your child utilizes an excellent tool for teaching him new calming and coping strategies. Remember these few tips before you begin:

  • Child and parent collaborate throughout this entire process. 
  • Choose a time to design this plan when your child is calm and receptive. Nothing constructive can be developed during an outburst!
  • Make sure there’s plenty of opportunity for practice each day. After all, Tiger Woods could never make those spectacular putts without lots of it. Even he misses on occasion and so will your child. Mistakes will happen – you can bank on that. But, your child will be reassured when you let him know that there’s always another chance to try again later.   

STEP I: Together with your child, identify and record a couple of the most common triggers to your child’s outbursts (i.e. parents say “no,” plans don’t work out as anticipated, your child is told to stop doing something fun to do something less enjoyable, your child thinks things aren’t fair).

STEP II: Together, list and record your child’s “can’t do” behaviors that he often uses when he is frustrated (i.e. yell, hit, throw things).

STEP III: Together make a list of your child’s “can do” behaviors to replace the undesirable ones that occur when he is beginning to feel upset. This list is most effective when your child’s personal interests are represented so that his choices are engaging and interesting to him. (Examples of “can do” strategies follow after Step IV).

STEP IV: Now that the board or chart has been designed and your child is invested in the process, it’s important to keep it going by implementing the following concepts.

  • A good way to get started is to have your child choose one of these strategies (that follow) and practice the technique with your child for a few minutes each morning and after school. During each practice have your child pretend he is getting upset, describe the body sensations he feels when he is angry and rehearse his calming strategy. Expect to practice these strategies many times before seeing your child using them successfully. Research tells us that it takes 21 days to make a new habit.
  • You and your child might want to develop a special signal, a visual or verbal cue, that is a reminder to use one of his calming strategies. Remember, when your child chooses one of the positive behaviors on his “can do” list, it’s time to offer up enthusiastic praise and even tangible incentives such as stickers, rewards or special activities. Everyone loves a prize for a job well-done! 

Here’s a sampling of “can do” strategies for calming and redirecting behavior. Personalize this list by creating names that resonate with your child.  

  • Happy Birthday:  Teaching children to take deep breaths when they begin to get upset may seem simplistic, but it’s a lifelong skill for managing stress that has emotional, behavioral and physical benefits. Explain to your child that we all have warning signs that tell us we are getting angry. Help your child recognize the signs his body is sending out that lets him know that he’s getting angry (i.e. face gets red; fists clench; heart pounds; breathe faster). When he feels the warning signs, have him take three deep breaths. Next have your child hold up his hand, palm toward his face with fingers spread. Coach your child to blow on each finger as if he is blowing out five birthday candles, one at a time and very slowly. When you see your child getting frustrated, you might say, “Now might be a great time to blow out the candles.” In the beginning you might want to do the breathing along with your child. Set the pace, modeling for your child and letting your calm presence soothe him. 
  • Cozy & Cool:  With your child’s help, create a “safe spot” where he can go to regroup. This special, positive place in the house is where he can go to calm down, sort things out or just chill out when he needs to be alone. It could be a teepee, a beanbag chair, a hammock, or any space your child sees as comfortable and inviting. In the “safe spot” include soft items like blankets, stuffed animals and a basket of quiet time activities that he can play with while relaxing (books, puzzles). Encourage your child to go to his “safe spot” when he feels himself becoming upset. Teach him that sometimes in an angry situation it is best to walk away, go to his “safe spot” and cool down.
  • My Never Never Land:  Use relaxation visualization to design an imaginary place that makes your child feel calm. Help your child create a mind picture of a special place that makes him feel peaceful with all of the colors, sounds, textures, and smells that go with the memory. For example, a child may have a happy memory of a time at the beach. When he feels upset, he can take a “trip to the beach.” He can close his eyes, smell the ocean air, feel the sand between his toes, and feel the sun shining on him. Given the opportunity to run with this, your child may add props to further enhance the experience. One child I know took his towel and sunglasses to his “beach retreat” whenever he needed a “beach break.”  How clever is that!
  • Picasso’s Playground.  Build a spot that includes an array of art materials that can be used independently as a calming and quieting activity. For some children, working with clay, drawing, or doing crafts is soothing and distracts them from the dilemma at hand. As time goes on, try adding new items to keep up the novelty and high interest of the center. Parents, keep a ready supply of items to have on hand so that you can change and rotate art supplies as needed. Keep your eye out for those treasures that might hold your child’s interest.
  • Shake, Rattle & Roll:  Your child can take a walk, shoot baskets, jump rope, swing on a swing, kick a soccer ball, bounce a ball, or dance to his favorite music. Some children get calming benefits from physical release. 
  • Beatles & Beethoven:  Create a listening center with a CD player and earphones where your child can go to listen to music, books on tape or sing a song into a microphone. Dust off that old karaoke machine!
  • Splish Splash … Takin’ a Bath?  For some children, water is soothing and comforting and gives distance from the problem at hand. Try bubbles in the sink, sprinklers in the yard or an old fashioned bubble bath.

There is no single strategy that is good for every child and every family but with lots of practice, role playing, and simulations, children learn new calming techniques that can help them think before they act. Over time, the goal is for your child to develop both the skill and confidence to handle difficult situations on his own without getting upset and losing control. Remember the best way to teach kids how to manage upsetting feelings constructively is to model calmness through your example. Together, and with a lot of patience, much love and lightheartedness, you and your child will find a calmer and more joyful path.

  Doreen Fay EdD

A New Way to Help Change Your Behavior

May 1, 2010

David told me he needed help getting things done on time, but when I started talking with him about how he managed the details of his life, he stopped talking about changing and started talking about how he had always been late and would never change.

“I always say I will get a project done early, but I never have. I always just end up feeling like such a loser and then I do it again the same way next time. I can’t change.”

Ron came into our first meeting and said his wife was about to leave him because he was never on time.

“I promise to be home before the kids are in bed, but then I just get caught in a project at work and it’s 9:00 PM before I get home. I’ve tried everything, but I’m just not going to change.”

Sheila and Ted were referred by Ted’s doctor for couple’s coaching. When I asked, “What would your life look like if it suddenly improved?” Sheila’s frustration just burst forth.

“He keeps telling me that he’ll do better, but it’s been fifteen years and he still never gets anywhere on time. Am I supposed to act like that’s normal?”

Ted looked up sheepishly and reported, “I feel terrible and I know I’m impossible to live with, but no matter what I try it doesn’t work. I’m just a mess; what can I do?”

Each of these clients ended up making changes that made life easier for them and for their spouses and work colleagues. And where did I suggest they start? By forgiving themselves.

A study by M. Wohl et al, detailed in a paper entitled, “I Forgive Myself, Now I Can Study: How Forgiveness for Procrastinating Can Reduce Future Procrastinating,” gives some interesting evidence that forgiving yourself for messing up can help free you to give a better effort at trying again.

In my practice I’ve seen that an increased ability to implement a new approach, along with an effective technique and the support of an understanding ally can make a huge difference. I encourage my clients to pay close attention to the fact we’re talking about forgiving themselves. And while it may be helpful for their spouse to forgive them, it’s the self-forgiveness and then a sincere new effort that is key.

Did you know that old dogs can learn new tricks? And people of all ages can and do learn new ways to act in their lives, especially if they can forgive themselves for past mistakes.

Give a call if I can help, 978-446-9600.

Jay Livingston

Telling Stories

April 5, 2010

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”

I surprise many of my new coaching clients when I tell them we’re going to skip the rest of the story. Many of them have been encouraged in therapy to tell these “war” stories. And I can imagine times it might be helpful, but most of the time I don’t want or need to hear them.

My coaching takes a forward pointed approach – “Where do you want to go from here?” not so much “Where have you been?”

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of passion and even blame that underpins most disagreements with partners, I just barge right in and call a stop. I’m interested in only one aspect of the story. What could the speaker have done differently to have a more effective conversation, to reach their goal, to create an alliance with their partner, to change their behavior?

I know life is hard and conversations with partners can be very difficult, but the chances of changing your partner are slight if you haven’t changed yourself. So, I start with the most interesting part, how to change your behavior – the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories allow us to rehearse our past mistakes and support our old, tired way of seeing things. Looking for new ways to redo the same old situations lets us practice new behaviors and ways of seeing things. Start your new behavior by imagining how to redo the old patterns.

What to do with your feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to is trickier. But you have to be careful that you don’t just fan the flames of your feelings by telling the story.

Growth and change, that’s what’s important. When I see my clients changing, I know we’ve hit the right balance.

Jay Livingston

Contact Jay

One Approach to Procrastination

February 26, 2010

If you tend to procrastinate until a deadline is on top of you and forcing you to get things done, and you know this is hurting the quality of your work, causing stress to you and probably to your clients, boss or family, then how do you stop procrastinating about dealing with your procrastination?

This might be a fun puzzle if it weren’t so crucial that you find a way to get started changing your approach. One of the common side effects of procrastination is that people in your life lose trust in you and get angry. As you well know, this is usually matched by your own anger at yourself. But this pressure usually doesn’t translate into motivation to get started.

If life were a sport and you were critiquing yourself for missing critical shots because you didn’t keep your eye on the ball, I’d be pointing out that your focus on past mistakes is taking your attention away from the current situation, taking your “eye” off the ball again. Drop the self-critique, get a bit of help with your technique and try again.

The best hitters in baseball look for, and can see, the stitching on the ball as it comes at them at up to a hundred miles an hour. They know that they need to look for this detail to pull their attention to the ball; just looking in the direction of the ball doesn’t allow them to see the tiny changes in directions that they need to see in order to connect with the pitch. Golfers watch the dimples on the ball as it sits on the tee.

To get started on a project, focus on the details of getting started. What project will you start? Schedule it in your calendar. What small, discreet aspect of the project will you do? Define it and plan on doing just that much. What exactly will your next action on the project be? Write it out very simply as a task.

Think about teeing up the project – choose which one you’re going to work on.  Keep your head down, your eye on the ball and hit it just well enough to move it down the course and keep it in the fairway – do a small piece of it.  Now you’re ready for the next shot – concentrate on the new swing no matter whether you’re in the rough or on the course.

For you baseball fans, what you’re looking for is a single, not a home run; don’t over reach. Just connect with the pitch. Basketball aficionados, take one step and move the ball down the court. Every foot closer to the basket increases the odds of a score. Tennis players, make a solid smooth hit and get the ball across the net and into the court. Now set up for the next shot.

What do you need to get done? Right now schedule a time to work on it, and resolve to treat it like an important meeting. What is the first little step to getting the project started or moving it ahead? Write it down on your task list.

Procrastination can be head faked that easily.

Contact Jay Livingston

Couples Coaching

January 21, 2010

What is “Couples Coaching”?

Many of my clients who have ADD have exasperated spouses who are upset with them about starting too many projects and finishing too few, interrupting mid sentence, being late, losing keys, cell phone, etc.… I’m sure you can add to this list.

When I suggest the option of couple’s coaching to them, they’re surprised. Couple’s coaching is a relatively new offering for couples struggling with the affects of ADD or ADHD in the family. Couples’ coaching has similarities to, but is quite different from couples counseling, marriage counseling, and psychotherapy.

A traditional coach will work with you or your spouse. A couple’s coach works with you and your spouse. This person is not a life coach, and may or may not be an ADD implementation coach. Couples’ coaches that I recommend have a deep knowledge of relationships, ADD and ADHD, and some training in family work.

Many issues that couples contend with are completely unrelated to ADD. Expectations, communication styles, different ways of figuring things out, needs for intimacy and connection, and money can all create challenges to smooth and comfortable relating. Then there are the ADD-related issues like disorganization, losing focus, clutter, a different sense of time, starting and not completing tasks, impulsive communication and/or decision making… You get the idea.

Partners (non-ADD or less ADD) may contact the coach because they are frustrated or annoyed. People struggling with ADD symptoms may also initiate the call because they really want to please their partners, are trying very hard to make things work better, don’t want to have conflicts, and want to make positive lasting changes.

Coaching can be helpful for both newlyweds and couples who have been together 25 (or 45) years.

At Cerulli and Associates, we have a variety of professionals, including a couple’s coach; Jay Livingston does executive coaching and ADHD coaching, alongside his skillful couples coaching. He and I work closely, sometimes seeing couples together. I’ve found this blending of skills and approaches to work really well for certain couples.


On Second Thought…

January 14, 2010

Some interesting research shows that on first impulse we usually tend to overrate but occasionally underrate our abilities, and it’s only after a moment’s reflection, in which our brain gets a chance to bring its full cognitive capabilities to the evaluation, that we estimate our skills accurately.

You’ve probably heard of the study where almost all drivers rated their driving as better than most other drivers, a clearly unrealistic self-evaluation. Although I’m pretty sure my skills do put me in the top tier of drivers.

Clearly, we sometimes don’t do a good job of evaluating ourselves.

When studies ask self-evaluation questions a second time, after a moment’s pause, the answers are a more realistic assessment. How good are you at estimating time? “Excellent?” How excellent? “Oh, the “pretty ok when I’m paying attention” kind of excellent.”

This information may be particularly important for those with ADHD who have a tendency toward impulsiveness and over-optimistic projections. Think of quickly answering a question about when you will be home with “Half an hour!” After a minute of slowing down and working it out, you might agree that the most likely correct answer would be an hour or more.

By waiting you’ve allowed yourself time to tap into your ability to compute details and mathematically figure out answer to questions, and you’ve allowed your intuitive side time to process unconscious information and experiences you have stored.

“Can you take on this new project?” If you answer “Sure!” without a pause to allow realistic concerns to bubble up, you’re trying to function at your best by using only part of your ability. It is clearly in our long-term interest to pause long enough to give our brains time to bring their full potential to bear on our response.

I’d suggest you pause, breathe, say, “Let me check my schedule and task list.” Do anything to allow your full intelligence and experience time to evaluate your answer.

Jay Livingston

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