When you have ADHD, it may feel like you can’t help what you’re going to say. Talking impulsively is a symptom, but there are ways to keep yourself in check and avoid embarrassment.
Use the 'Traffic Light' System
With ADHD, it can be hard to pick up on social cues. So you have to make an extra effort to figure out what's going on in your head and around you before you speak.
First, use a traffic light system, says Teri Wright, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Cruz, CA.
Here's how it works. When you arrive at a party or enter a meeting, do a quick check of your state of mind to see if you're relaxed or overcharged. Then visualize a traffic light. Imagine a color based on your mood.
"If you're relaxed, that's a green light. Yellow means you feel a bit wound up. When red lights flash, you know you really have to watch your mouth," Wright says.
This system is a quick and helpful reminder to take care and wait your turn.
Other tips for when you want to get into a conversation:
- Don't cannonball into the conversation. Instead, mentally rehearse what you want to say. If you can, jot it down.
- When you do talk, Wright says, "Speak slow and low."
- Check yourself before stepping too close into someone's personal space. That's a big turnoff.
UCLA psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD, says role-playing helps improve social skills, too.
"Before entering a conversation, you have to watch and listen, and figure out what it's about," she says. "Because that's not always intuitive for someone with ADHD, it really helps to see it rehearsed and then practice it."
You can do this with a good therapist or ADHD coach, she says, and you can try it at home.
If you're married, "your spouse can be incredibly helpful, as long as both of you are motivated to work together. After all, who knows you better? Who can give better feedback?" Laugeson says.
Practice 'Two-Way' Conversations
Laugeson recommends that you practice conversation as a way to trade information. This is especially important for people with ADHD who tend to do all the talking.
"Look for common interests," she says. "That should be your goal."
That way, talk moves two ways. Take turns -- both of you should ask and answer questions.
"It makes it a more interesting conversation for both people," she says. "It should not be all about what you want to talk about."
And when you keep the conversation on-topic, you're less likely to blurt out personal information you might later regret sharing.
Self-talk is a simple but effective way to curb impulsiveness, says psychiatrist George Keepers, MD.
Like role play, you rehearse the types of social scenarios you often find yourself in. You’ll want to practice with someone, ideally a therapist. When you do, say out loud the behavior that best suits the situation. For example, before you mention your idea at a meeting, say to yourself, "I should write down my idea."
"That will help you remember the habit," says Keepers, who directs the Adult ADHD Clinic at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
With enough practice, you won't need to speak your reminders aloud. You can say them to yourself in your head.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
This offers a lot of benefits for adults with ADHD, Keepers says. To meditate, sit quietly and calmly. Clear your mind as you focus on your breathing. As thoughts enter your mind, you gently push them away.
It can take some time to get used to it. At first, your thoughts may distract you. But with daily practice, you will get the hang of it.
"It helps people to engage and be present, to learn to observe and not be quite so distracted," Keepers says.
Start with a how-to book or take a class, then practice on your own. You may be able to find audio online for a guided meditation where someone will talk you through it. At first, try just a few minutes at a time and build on that as you become more comfortable.
"If you are doing half an hour a day," Keepers says, "you're doing well."
Also, keep up with your ADHD treatment, which often includes therapy as well as medication. Both can help you manage impulsiveness and other ADHD symptoms. Therapy is especially helpful at building new habits and social skills.