ADHD: How to Overcome an Inability to Understand Time
My experience of time through my entire life has been that there are basically only two times: “Now” and “Some Other Time”
Probably the most commonly-reported but totally ignored-by-the-psychiatric-community aspect of ADHD is the way Hunters understand and experience time.
My experience of time through my entire life has been that there are basically only two times: “Now” and “Some Other Time.”
“Now” hits me with an adrenaline-producing urgency; I’ve used it throughout my life to spur me to action at the last minute.
When I’m invited to give speeches, I almost always write them a few hours before I go onstage; a day before at the most. (I tell myself that way they’re “fresh,” but it’s really just a rationalization.) When I’m writing a book, the most and best work gets done in the month before the drop-dead deadline for submission when the weight of the job fully hits me. My radio program doesn’t get “real” until my producer points at me and says, “You’re on the air!”
The reason for all this procrastination is that when I’m in “now” — which is pretty much all the time — I don’t have a good grasp of or feel for a future “then” unless I go out of my way to do so. And that takes a lot of effort.
I’ve had friends and co-workers who consider this bizarre: they have no problem planning for weeks or even months in advance and don’t have to trick themselves into being motivated enough to do whatever needs to be done early. They’re the “normal” ones who I call Farmers. But most Hunters will instantly recognize what I’m saying here.
When Louise and I were first married and in our early 20s, I discovered the business-oriented self-help subculture, including the works of Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, Claude Bristol, and W. Clement Stone.
I read everything Carnegie, Bristol, Hill, and Stone had written, went through the life-transforming Dale Carnegie Course, and listened to tapes by Nightingale while driving and to put myself to sleep with a pillow speaker. The Stone Foundation used to give away posters and buttons that said, “Do It Now!” and our home was littered with them.
Every one of these writers, I’m convinced, was a Hunter like me and struggled with understanding time; it’s one of the recurring themes you’ll find all across the self-help world. They’d all figured out ways to overcome their own time-based dysfunctions, like Stone’s obsession with plastering “Do It Now!” all over his office, and I took them like a duck to water.
I learned that the most effective way to overcome my own inability to understand time or methodically plan things out was sheer persistence. An old quote that’s often (and almost certainly incorrectly) attributed to Calvin Coolidge graced a poster that was framed in our bedroom for decades:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
“Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
“Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
“Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
“Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
“The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
The reframing and new understandings that came from immersing myself in this world transformed my life. I jumped into each new business venture Louise and I started over five decades with gusto and enthusiasm; we had both spectacular successes and spectacular failures. I learned from them all.
But throughout it all, I struggled with time.
Philosophers throughout history have described time as a river that flows around the rock of one’s self: while many wrote that they could see the river from its headwaters to where it flows into the sea (from the beginning to the end of their lives), all I could see were the few feet (hours/days) around the rock itself.
Until the 1990s, that is, when I discovered NeuroLinguistic Programming, or NLP. This was a revelation as life-changing to me as had been the Dale Carnegie Course: it was a whole new set of tools to use to sculpt and craft my life and my interactions with others.
After reading numerous books on the topic, I hooked up with it’s co-founder, Richard Bandler, and took a series of courses, first becoming certified as an NLP Practitioner, then a Trainer, then a Trainer’s Trainer. On the way I also went through courses on Core Transformation, bilateral therapies, and a dozen other aspect of NLP.
I wrote a book about NLP and politics titled Cracking the Code: How to Win Hearts, Change Minds, and Restore America's Original Vision; then a book about NLP and ADHD titled Living with ADHD: Simple Exercises to Change Your Daily Life (foreword by Richard Bandler); and finally a book about using NLP to self-treat trauma titled Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being.
The field of psychology has now heavily integrated some of the best NLP teachings and insights into mainstream therapy. EMDR is a variation on an NLP strategy to “relocate” traumatic memories, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the best integrations of NLP into conventional talk therapy out there.
My favorite NLP intervention/strategy, though, has yet to be appropriated by mainstream psychology. It’s called “Timeline Therapy” or simply timeline work. It involves turning time from an abstraction into a real, tangible, visible thing that you can then essentially grab hold of and use to alter and control your own relationship to time.
The exercise is pretty simple and straightforward. It involves entering a somewhat dissociated state to experience the future, and then re-associating back into the present with lessons learned:
It starts by standing alone (or with a coach/therapist) in a room or open space and laying out a 10-foot-or-therabouts physical and visible “timeline” on the floor or ground. You don’t need to mark it; just imagine it vividly when you look down.
Then think of something you’d like to have or accomplish in the future. Ask yourself if this is something that’s really important to you, and, if you get an internal confirmation, continue.
Stand in the middle of the line and bring yourself to the current moment in your life. Imagine on the future part of the line where (when) you’ll be getting or accomplishing your goal: is it a year out, three years, five years? Mark that spot mentally.
Now walk slowly forward into that moment when you’ve reached your goal. Stop there and imagine what your life is like with it. Feel it, see it, hear it. Immerse yourself in it, and the feeling of accomplishment that goes with it.
Now turn around and face the spot where you stood when you were in “Now.” Look at the timeline and notice the various steps through which you had to pass, the things you had to accomplish, to get from that point to the future success. Make a mental note of each: this is your unconscious telling you what it knows about how you can reach your goals.
Then slowly walk back to the “Now” point and again turn around and look at your future self experiencing having accomplished your goal. Bring yourself to the present and let the feeling of accomplishment float out to the future you. (This is important: if you hang on to that feeling, it’ll undo your motivation as you’ll feel like the work is “all done.”) Note the steps you’ll have to take to get there.
Now turn around to your past and look on your past timeline for the steps that brought you to “Now” that will help lead you to your desired future. Spend a few minutes here, learning the lessons from the past that will help you accomplish your future.
Then turn around to face your future again and thank your future self for help setting the goal, and step off the timeline to “break the state” and recover your sense and state of now. Notice how you now feel inspired and guided toward your goal.
After doing this exercise correctly, most people say they feel guided over the coming months and years to their goal, almost as if by invisible hands. Of course, those “hands” are your own.
Later this year, starting in November, I’m are going to put together a series of one-hour courses we’ll run over Zoom, monthly, for our paid subscribers. This timeline work will be our first one. If you’ve signed up as a paid subscriber, you’ll automatically get an email letting you know when we’re going to do one. Or you can click the button below.
Good luck and enjoy your “Now” and your goals — and don’t forget to persist! Hopefully, I’ll see you on Zoom in a few weeks!