Opening Doors to Growth
Jo Ann Skinner

4 Thoughts about Holiday Stress



Tis the season to be jolly!   If this statement were only true. For many of us, the holidays can bring on stress and overwhelm. How might we change the dynamic so that we can enjoy this time of year?


Notice what brings on your stress. Is it the constant doing? Buying more presents, making the house perfect, baking gorgeous and delicious cookies, attending every holiday party or participating in all school and work activities.


Once you notice what elevates your stress, you have choice. Where do you want to spend your time? What brings you joy? Remember, if you say, “yes” to one thing, you have to say “no” to something else. Set priorities.


Let go of impossible expectations. If you need help, ask for assistance. Don’t be a perfectionist.


Take time to be present. Wiggle your toes. Feel your connection to the earth. Look around and appreciate what you see. Maybe it’s the holiday lights in your neighborhood or the decorations at the mall. Allow yourself a few moments and observe. And remember to breathe!


Take this year to stop, look around and decide what makes you feel jolly. Pay attention and give yourself the gift of less stress! Seasons Greetings to you and yours!

Observe Your Internal Speech


I had the pleasure to see Chalmers Brothers, the author of “Language and the Pursuit of Happiness” speak at a conference. His ideas about language got me thinking.   Rene Descarte said “I think therefore, I am”. Does this mean that if we think bad things about ourselves that we are actually bad? What messages do we send ourselves in our inner dialogs?


Humans start out as toddlers speaking out loud to themselves.   We gradually learn to talk to ourselves so others don’t hear. This is called internalized speech.   Our language lets us create our thoughts and stories. We have the ability to interpret, create explanations and build internal narratives for ourselves. It’s important to recognize what we actually are saying to ourselves.


I have noticed that many of my clients with ADHD come to coaching saying things like, “I am lazy.” “I am not motivated at school.”   “My boss does not like me.” “I will never be successful at my job.” “My teacher is mean.”   Is this the truth or is this the story that we believe? When we believe the explanation of what happened is the truth, we often stop listening to other perspectives.


What do these negative thoughts mean for coaching? I believe that the first step is to work with my clients to help them observe and become aware of that inner dialog. This means taking the time to notice what you say to yourself when something goes well or doesn’t go well. Look at yourself with new neutral eyes.


Before you can produce positive action steps, you must shift your beliefs to a more positive way of being. If your interior world is negative, how can you believe that you can be a success or even be motivated to try something new? Without changing the self talk it will be hard to produce new results.


What do you observe about your self talk? What do you notice about your interior world? Is your language creating barriers to your success? If you notice that negativity is draining you, try something different. Empower yourself with hopeful, optimistic and resilient language. My appeal is for you to talk with a coach to explore how you can shift your inner language. It can make a difference in your success.



What’s Up with Procrastination?


Oh no! I wanted to have this article written last week. What is getting in the way? Is it fear of writing an article that no one will read? Is it too boring? Am I distracted? Where is my motivation? Am I lazy?


There are many different types of procrastinators. If you have ADHD, you may have poor management when it comes to time, planning and goals. Russell Barkley, widely considered to be the leading research psychologist on ADHD, would say that procrastination is a problem with self-regulation. He states that “self-regulation involves 1) any action an individual directs at themselves so as to 2) result in a change in their behavior in order to 3) change the likelihood of a future consequence or attainment of a goal.”


I like to use Thomas Brown’s model of executive functions to help my clients understand more about self-regulation. Dr. Brown is Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders and is the Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.



Initiating a task takes a complex set of skills. Many people want to start a task but aren’t able to motivate themselves to start. In simple terms, they procrastinate. These undertakings can be simple routine, boring jobs like homework, laundry or expense accounts but they can also be important endeavors like doing tax returns or writing a research paper for school.


Setting up and beginning a task can be very complex as it involves focusing, organizing the work, setting priorities, and planning. For people with ADHD and challenges with executive functions, this course of action can feel unattainable. The toll on procrastinators can mean embarrassment, poor self-confidence and anxiety. This vicious circle can keep students and adults from meeting their full potential. Nobody wants to be thought of as lazy or undisciplined and there can be a high price to pay for procrastination.


Coaching can help students and adults recognize the challenges that get in the way of starting.   Exploring the steps that are needed to proceed can motivate the client to take action.   Rather then muddling around alone, try working with a coach who understands how the ADHD brain functions. Change can be made at any age. Give it a try and experience initiating and completing a task skillfully, without a hitch and with exceptionally good performance!

October is ADHD Awareness Month!

Here are some ADHD aspects that might interest you.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder. Its about how your brain works. Its not about poor parenting or eating too much sugar. ADHD is thought to be caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters in the brain, dopamine and norepinephrine. Inadequate levels of these chemicals make it difficult to get messages from the control sections of the brain in the pre-frontal cortex to the appropriate activation area.

ADHD is highly genetic. If you have it, somebody else in your family most likely has it too.

According to researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, adolescents with ADHD, have brains that mature in a normal pattern but are delayed three years in some regions, especially the pre-frontal cortex.

ADHD is present in all aspects of life, not just in school.

ADHD is not about trying harder. It’s about using strategies that work for the ADHD brain and the way the brain processes information.

A study ending in 2010, by researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan, demonstrated that coaching services using the Edge model, were highly effective in helping college students improve self regulation, study skills, confidence and well being. Participation in coaching resulted in improvement in the students approach to learning and overall effectiveness..

Thoughts about Staying Positive


Positive psychology is the science of well-being, success and happiness. Its about what is right with people.


What is right with you? How can you learn to stay joyful? Carol Dweck says mindset is a way of thinking to determine your beliefs. Mindset determines your behavior, outlook and beliefs. A belief in growth and change is needed for happiness.


Coaching is about growth and change. If we believe that we are more like putty then stone, we will be more willing to try to change. Positive emotions broaden our awareness and encourage new and varied thoughts. As we broaden skills and resources during coaching, we can become more open to a mindset that gives us courage to try new actions.


Simon Sinek talks about knowing our “why”.  What motivates you? What inspires you? What drives you? What is your purpose? Coaching can help you focus on these age old questions. Once you pay attention to your attitudes and intentions, you are taking a step towards well-being. Coaching can be key in this process.

Is Summer a Good Excuse?

I have noticed that I lose my normal sense of structure during the summer. For example, I haven’t written a blog post since July. September starts the new school year and it is a start of a new year for me too. My intention is to continue writing my blog.


My mother always said that I was a good writer. I used to enjoy putting pen to paper but somewhere along the way I lost faith in my ability. Perhaps I procrastinated because planning was tough. Or maybe because there was a bit of perfectionism?   It always was difficult to initiate the first sentence but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason for my resistance.


I am older and wiser now and I have more confidence. I can challenge myself and not be afraid of failing. Becoming a coach has given me a better foundation and a good education about working towards a goal.   My objective is to write more so it becomes a habit.


Summer is not an excuse. Summer did get in the way of writing my blog. I accept that and I am fine with it. I am ready to move forward and stretch myself. It’s September now and I am ready to return to a more structured environment.   The transition to autumn has begun!


ADHD in the Workplace

The American Psychiatric Society and US Department of Education recognizes ADHD as a real and legitimate diagnosis that affects over 15 million Americans.   It is a neuro-biological disorder, is highly genetic and lasts a lifetime. CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) maintains that 4% percent of adults experience symptoms and some disability. These individuals are highly susceptible to depression, anxiety and substance abuse. They often experience career difficulties, legal and financial problems as well as troubled personal relationships.   They are apt to feel incompetent and lack self-confidence because of all of the negative feedback they have received throughout life.

How can ADHD present? Dr. Thomas Brown, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, describes six clusters of cognitive problems associated with ADHD. They are problems with organizing, prioritizing and initiating work; difficulties with focusing, sustaining and shifting attention; challenges with sustaining effort; inability to manage emotions; memory issues and complications with self regulating actions.

What are some of the challenges at the workplace?   ADHD is on a continuum and presents uniquely in each individual.   There could be issues with organizing paperwork, prioritizing tasks, estimating the time it takes to complete tasks and getting started on projects in a suitable manner.   It could also impact the ability to sustain and shift attention from one project to another, staying alert, sustaining effort and processing information in a reasonable amount of time, remembering facts while actively processing other information and regulating impulsivity and picking up nonverbal cues from others.

What are some of the strategies that can improve functioning? People have the ability to grow and change.   Self-awareness is the first step. Understand your strengths and challenges. Keep a planner, maintain a realistic “to do” list, exercise to relieve stress and provide focus, break up tasks into small manageable chunks, take breaks to regain focus, keep your work space free of distractions, use Post It notes to prompt recall, and maintain a structured, predictable daily routine.

Recent research provides strong evidence that AD/HD is a perplexing condition that extends throughout life. It does not have to be debilitating. Programs to improve self-management skills such as coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, and meditation have shown to be successful. Approach the process in a positive manner as change is possible.

I urge you to educate yourself about ADHD and executive functions. Check out the CHADD website. Read up to date articles and books by experts in the field such as Russell Barkley, Dr. Tom Brown, Ned Hallowell, and Ari Tuckman.  Knowledge is power.




When is a Teen Ready for Coaching?

Parents often reach out to coaches because they are worried that their child is negatively impacted by ADHD. When a young person is not flourishing, it impacts not only the child, but the entire family. The parent is often desperate for help.


ADHD coaching is not just about working through a to do list or learning to hand in homework on time. ADHD coaches help the client learn about ADHD and how it uniquely impacts his or her quality of life. The client and coach set reasonable and attainable goals to work through during the process. The coach provides a non-judgmental, supportive environment where the client feels comfortable enough to share his strengths and weaknesses. Coaching is about the coach and the client (the student) working together to discover and explore what is getting in the way of success.  Once the client becomes self-aware and understands his own unique needs, strategies, skills and tools can be put in place to enhance quality of life. The ultimate goal in ADHD coaching is for the client to become independent and to be able to learn how to take appropriate actions on his or her intentions.


What is Needed for Coaching to be Successful?


  • The teen should call or meet with the coach to introduce himself. If he shows willingness and curiosity, he is ready for coaching.


  • The teen must be open to learning about ADHD and how it affects her. She must be ready to explore what makes her tick and want to try to manage her ADHD effectively.


  • The teen must feel comfortable in a partnership with an adult. The coach is not the boss in this relationship. The teen is in the driver’s seat while the coach can help navigate. Remember, the coach is not a therapist or a tutor.


  • The coaching process is based on the teen’s goals, not the parents. If the teen has goals for herself, she is ready for coaching.


  • Coaching is not just a weekly conversation. The teen must be willing to take action steps between the coaching sessions.   The client agrees to action steps to try out during the week. No matter what happens with the action steps, the teen should be ready to explore the outcome.


  • The teen must be ready to take responsibility for his actions. Coaching is not a place where the teen receives instructions to be a better student. Rather, the teen must be ready to take ownership of his thoughts and actions and be willing to reflect on available options.


  • The teen needs to realize that to be successful, it takes hard work and effort. It’s not about taking the easiest route; it is about investigating options and resources that will propel the client towards her desired outcome.



Coaching is about clients learning how to effectively work through their challenges so they can lead healthy, happy and productive lives. As parents, we want our teens to find success, but they are the ones who must be ready to take those steps.


Sometimes life deals us a tough blow and we don’t know how to pick ourselves up. For students, it could be failing a test, not getting into the grad school of their choice, not making the team or bad results on their SAT. For adults, it could be a life altering event like a death in the family, loss of a job or a sick child.


How can we get past this trauma and live our lives with loving kindness? We feel anguish when we face disappointment, fear, and embarrassment.


Resilient individuals are those that have a mindset that allows the to cope with problems as they arise. Dr. Robert Brooks and Dr. Sam Goldstein, in their book “The Power of Resilience”, state that resilient individuals are influenced by a set of assumptions that include:


  • Feeling in control of one’s life.
  • Being empathic
  • Displaying effective communication and interpersonal skills
  • Possessing solid problem solving and decision making skills
  • Establishing realistic goals and expectations
  • Learning from both success and failure
  • Being a compassionate and contributing member of society
  • Living a responsible life based on thoughtful values
  • Knowing how to manage stress


Possessing a resilient mindset does not mean that we are free of emotions, stress, conflict or pressure. Rather it means that we have a coping mechanism to help us through the tough times.


I write in my gratitude journal a few times per week. Each morning when I walk the dog, I try to listen to the singing of the birds and lock out perseverating thoughts.   I value my connections and try to touch base with friends and family, even with a short text or Facebook comment. I am not afraid to fail, its just another challenge.


Life is not a bowl of cherries. Sometimes we take detours. Notice what happens when you take a diversion. Don’t be judgmental, be willing to learn. Remember, life is a journey.



ADHD Overview

ADHD is a neuro-biological affliction that can impact both children and adults. This disorder is highly genetic.


According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM 5), there are three subgroups of ADHD. Here is a summary.


Predominantly Hyperactive – Impulsive



Inappropriate running around or inability to stay seated

Always on the go/inner restlessness

Talks excessively

Blurts out answers

Impulsive: trouble inhibiting behaviors

Interrupts conversations

Emotional Disregulation


Predominantly Inattentive



Focusing issues: can not select and hold focus

Can not sustain attention


Difficulty with persistence towards goals

Can’t resist distractions

Can’t re-engage after disruption

Doesn’t follow through on chores, schoolwork or job

Impaired working memory

Loses materials/Forgetful

Careless Errors/poor attention to detail


Combined Type


A majority of people diagnosed with ADHD have the combined type.


What is needed to be diagnosed with ADHD?


At least six inattentive and/or hyperactive/impulsive symptoms listed above

Symptoms must have been present for at least 6 months (to the degree that is not consistent with the developmental level) and must be persistent over time

Some symptoms since childhood

Symptoms must be in more then one setting (ex. home, school or work)

Symptoms that greatly interfere with school, family, work or social interactions

Symptoms that are not better explained by another cause