One of the most helpful skills to be learned in cognitive therapy is what is sometimes called cognitive “reframing.” This technique begins with looking at a situation squarely in the face and then consciously choosing how to think about it in a more positive or realistic way. This takes some creativity when the situation at first look seems threatening or at least annoying. Reframing, while aiming for a more positive take of a situation, also can look like adjusting expectations.
In the previous column on ADD/ADHD the discussion reframed what is sometimes termed a “disorder” to an alternate way of processing information—a way that is not how most people do things. Living well with ADHD requires first identifying it and then beginning to find both the challenges and the gifts of it. For example, a common feature of ADD is “hyperactivity” or restlessness or the need to move around a lot. This can cause problems when the general expectation in school, for example, is to be able to sit quietly in a desk without “fidgeting” around with anything that will move or fly. I once had a young client who could not sit still for therapy sessions, so we discovered that his walking around the room during the session actually brought better focus.
One of the hidden gifts of “hyperactivity” is energy. When this energy is focused and channeled, the person who is uncomfortably confined to a space for extended periods of time may be able to work at their own pace for long hours on a project requiring sustained energy. A strong interest in a project can be the motivator that allows the person with ADHD to hyperfocus without being taken off course by distractions. I always remember the high school student who could not seem to get interested in writing a comparison/contrast essay until he was encouraged to find his own interest. The “A” paper happened when the student understood that researching the paper could include going through magazine ads and visiting dealerships about different models of cars he was hoping to someday buy!
Silver linings are often there. We just have to take a step back from negative first takes and believe they are there waiting to be discovered.