It's a classic ADHD situation: You have something to say during a conversation and your brain is racing. You feel anxious because you want to get that thought out before you forget. So you interrupt someone mid-sentence, or finish their thoughts for them. And just like that, the discussion becomes a dilemma.
ADHD blurs the boundaries between what you should say, what you shouldn't, and when to speak up. Impulsive behavior, one of the main symptoms of the disorder, can make others feel angry or hurt and make you feel bad, too.
Life doesn't have a rewind button, but there are ways to build roadblocks in your brain that keep the impulse in and let the good parts out.
Step One: Awareness
Where does your impulsive behavior happen most often? At work? At home? In stressful situations?
"The first step is always to build awareness around the source of impulsivity," says Linda Walker, a professionally certified ADHD coach and chairwoman of the Workplace Committee at the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. "What situations tend to generate impulsive behavior?"
Once you figure out the places you're triggered most, take stock of what happens in your body shortly before you blurt something out. Maybe you clench your jaw or fists. You might fidget or shift your weight from one foot to the other. Use these physical clues as reminders to move to the next step.
Step Two: Stay Present
Think back to a conversation when you were feeling anxious while waiting to share your thoughts. Instead of focusing on how slow it was going and building tension inside, take a big-picture view of yourself instead.
"In your enthusiasm in wanting to connect, imagine that you are looking at yourself from above," says Dale Davison, a professionally certified ADHD coach. "Ask yourself: What's the purpose of this conversation? How can I get the most out of this opportunity to connect with this person? How can I contribute and really hear?"
Being present is the foundation of mindfulness, a technique that can be helpful to people with ADHD. Davison points to the STOP reminder:
- S: Stop being on autopilot.
- T: Take a mindful breath.
- O: Observe how the conversation is going, where your attention is, your urges, and what's happening in your body.
- P: Proceed by either continuing or correcting what's happening in your mind and body.
Step Three: Create a New Impulse
Impulsive speech tends to get adults with ADHD in trouble at work. "Someone presents an interesting project that the adult with ADHD finds exciting, so they volunteer to be involved without taking the time to check if they have time for one more commitment," Walker says.
She suggests replacing that "Yes!" with "That sounds interesting. I'll let you know if I can join in as soon as I check my schedule."
"To replace the old impulse of ‘yes’ with the new one, they need to repeat that exact same speech several times," Walker says. "I get my clients to practice it with friends so they can get used to using the new impulse to create a buffer."
Afraid you'll forget your new response? Jot down notes.
Step Four: Use Your Tools
Learning to curb impulsive speech isn't a one-time deal -- it's something to practice often to be one step ahead of ADHD.
Fill your ADHD toolbox with whatever works best for you. Medication can provide that pause before impulsive behavior strikes. You can also try working with an ADHD coach who can create specific strategies to offset the ways the disorder affects your life.