How to Pick the Perfect ADHD Coach

What should you look for when seeking help??

Posted Dec 16, 2018

In our last blog, we covered why having a good coach is an important ingredient on the road to goal achievement and self-esteem. In case you need a refresher, we described how a good coach can move you away from a negative cycle of failure toward a positive cycle of achievement. When caught in a negative cycle, you make the same mistakes over and over and fail even when you manage to put in great effort, resulting in decreased self-esteem. Low self-esteem makes it difficult to take advice without feeling personally criticized. An inability to make use of constructive criticism makes it hard to change your strategy -- resulting in repeated failures in a vicious downward spiral. A good coach knows how to move you from this negative spiral toward an upward cycle of success. In the positive cycle, you achieve specific goals, enjoy the reward that comes with achievement, and build up your self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, you are able to take advice, leading to further improvement and expansion of your skills through training -- that in turn leads to greater success and better self-esteem: a positive upward cycle.

A great relationship with a coach is worth a lot!
Source: Digitalskillet/Shutterstock

That’s great, you may say--who wouldn’t want to get onto a positive cycle of success?   But how do I find a coach who can help me with that?

When looking for advice, many people initially turn to those near and dear to them.  A wife may ask her husband and vice versa; a child may ask a parent, or (more frequently) a parent may offer unsolicited advice to their child. Of course, the people close to you know you well, so they may have useful things to tell you. Unfortunately, for emotional reasons it is often difficult to accept advice from the people closest to you. Long-simmering conflicts interfere with their ability to offer you dispassionate feedback; and interfere with your ability to accept it from them. This can be especially true for someone already caught up in the cycle of failure: repetitive mistakes often become the “push button” issues in a relationship. Parents of a kid with ADHD who are already frustrated may find it tempting to just give him answers rather than coach him through the questions on his homework. They may also, subconsciously or otherwise, underestimate his potential to work successfully because they have been burned so many times in the past.  So although it may seem like the people closest to you are in a good position to coach you, and although they may be willing to do so for free, they are often the worst people to help you out of a negative cycle of failure.

Here are four principles to keep in mind when picking a coach:

1.  Pick someone who is caring but objective.  Look for a coach who wants you to succeed but is not emotionally entangled with your success. Your coach should be able to deliver critical feedback without anger or irritation, so that you remain receptive to it. You need to trust that your coach understands how you feel, but also that she sees things you can’t. Having that trust in your coach will empower you to implement suggested performance improvements and get past reflexive feelings that might interfere, such as: “She thinks I’m hopeless,” or “She doesn’t understand: I’m already good at that.” Conversely, no matter how accurate your coach's insights are technically, if you don’t trust her emotionally you will never be able to implement them.  So when interviewing a coach, consider not only her 'hard' credentials, but also how she makes you feel:  Is she a good listener? Does she make accurate observations about you?  Do you sense she understands you and your overall objectives?

2.  Look for someone who makes you feel good about yourself.  A good coach has a positive disposition and gives lots of feedback along the lines of “I believe in you--you’ve got this one in the bag!”  If the coach makes you feel good about yourself, you will believe you can succeed--and be more likely to pull out a winning performance. Of course, you will fail at times--a good coach emphasizes that failure is something everyone passes through on the way to success.  A good coach always focuses on and reminds you of what you can do. This is not to say that your coach should never criticize you - a big part of successful coaching is pointing out what you are doing wrong and where you must improve through hard work (i.e. through training). But the positives and negatives must be in balance - some studies suggest a ratio of about 3:1 positive to negative comments is most effective at motivating behavioral change.

3.  Find someone who does not have uncontrolled ADHD themselves!  If you are seeking help with your own ADHD, it might be nice if your coach can identify with ADHD in some way.  However, you should look for someone whose strengths complement your weaknesses. Fortunately, ADHD comes in many flavors - so it is possible to find a coach who has personal experience with ADHD, but whose strengths and weaknesses complement (rather than exacerbate) your own.  If you are extremely disorganized and your coach is also extremely disorganized that is sure not going to work!  Ask a prospective coach how she has dealt with her own challenges. How she responds to this question will tell you about her insight into herself, her level of self-confidence, and her ability to be an objective and effective ADHD coach.

4.  Choose someone with a greater sense of purpose.  In one of our prior blogs (‘The Super Bowl of ADHD’) we described how a football game can be seen at one level as nothing more than a bunch of people running around after a ball -- of course if you think about it that way you’re unlikely to be interested in the game, let alone motivated to become a better football player though hard work. On the other hand if you see the game as a duel between two teams of people, each of which has trained as hard as possible to reach the pinnacle of human performance, then it starts to become compelling, even riveting. Similarly, if you can find a coach who understands how to elevate aspects of your daily life from the mundane to the meaningful, he will be able to motivate you to put in the necessary work for improvement.  That said, the goal of your coach should not be to elevate and improve every task you perform -- that would be exhausting -- a good coach can also help you figure out what you value most and therefore where you should expend energy to improve.  In another blog (‘From Distracted to Decided’) we discussed the importance of frequently reviewing and recalibrating your efforts to make sure they are aligned with your overall values (‘the big rocks’ in your life); we also enumerated other characteristics of achievable (‘S.M.A.R.T.’) goals.  Make sure any coach you choose understands these concepts and how to implement them for you.

For further details, check out our book ADHD and the Focused Mind, as well as, , ,  and