Jane Massengill is a master certified coach and licensed social worker. She found coaching over 20 years ago when she was working with a group of psychiatrists who were exploring and expanding treatment for adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A new profession in its infancy, coaching was exactly what Jane was looking for to bridge the gap between the internal personal growth work she was doing as a therapist and the external restructuring her clients needed with daily challenges such as getting to work on time, keeping a daily schedule or creating an exercise routine. She quickly fell into being among a small group of professionals in the country who had experience as a therapist with the training of a coach, plus years of work with adults with ADHD in a clinic setting. It put her in a unique position to write a chapter on ADD Coaching in Dr. Daniel Amen’s New York Times bestselling book, Healing ADD, and to participate in creating the first set of guidelines for ADD Coaches for the newly formed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
This article is an excerpt from Carrie Ann’s March 3rd, 2022 Instagram Live conversation with Jane Massengill. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Everyone can have issues with attention and focus – ADHD diagnosis or not. Our attention is constantly being pulled in every direction, and it’s never been harder to center ourselves and clear the clutter surrounding us. It’s no wonder that the wellness and self-help industries are at their largest, and that meditation has become part of mainstream culture. However, the saturation of the self-help market inevitably leads to confusion. Which tools are the best? How do I find what works for me? This is where coaches come in handy (check our are latest article on health coaches here – link Jim Curtis), because they know how to navigate the waters. If you’ve been feeling like it’s been difficult to focus, ADHD coach Jane Massengill has tried and true tools for you that you can implement right now.
Carrie Ann: What are some of the tools that can help ADHD? Because everybody says meditate, but what else is there? And why does meditation really help?
Jane Massengill: You don’t actually have to have a diagnosis of ADHD to benefit from the things that we’re talking about. Everybody can benefit from this, especially with the onset of the internet and so many distractions. Whether you have ADHD or not, our attention is constantly pulled, so it helps to know how to focus it. I think it’s no surprise that there’s been such a rise in meditation and mindfulness, because it absolutely helps us come to the present moment and quiet down some of the other things that are going on around us.
Meditation helps because it’s a practice of shifting your attention – taming your gremlin and quieting that monster of the mind. A book that I use all the time is “Taming Your Gremlin” by Rick Carson. Love it. For me personally, it really helped me understand that I can actually shift my attention. When I first got diagnosed with ADHD, I used to think my attention was like a fish on the bottom of a boat, just flopping around, and there was nothing I could do about it. I mean, that’s what it feels like oftentimes, right? But with meditation and with quieting the monster, you’re bringing your attention right back to your physical body, to your breath.
Carrie Ann: Oh, I see. I like to call it discipline. I’ve realized that if I’m not disciplined in the way my mind works, then it will go all over the place. Since working with you, I’ve realized that I need to be more disciplined without putting pressure on myself. Is that kind of what you’re saying, that with mediation we are learning how to build those muscles that support a better life with ADHD?
Jane Massengill: Absolutely. And then there are other tools. My clients will tell you that I’m a timer queen, I always have timers around me. I have a little timer in my office that I oftentimes set for 30 minutes if I’ve got something I want to keep my attention focused on. One of the things that happens with ADHD is what they call “time blindness”. I was actually talking to a client last night and he said, “my wife used to always say, if you loved me, you’d be on time”. And that makes me want to educate people all the more about what ADHD is all about, because it’s not about not caring about somebody and their time. It’s not being able to really understand what 10 minutes feels like, or what 15 minutes feels like. So I’m a major proponent of a watch that has a timer on it. Just this morning already used it half a dozen times, just to help me stay on track. So timers are a big one. Meditation is a big one.
Carrie Ann: What about lists? I’m a big list person.
Jane Massengill: Yeah, absolutely. Making lists, having something physical to help remind you, are what I think of as having homes for things in your mind. If you’ve got 15 things you’re thinking of all at the same time, making a list helps you do a brain dump. Any kind of tool that help you get a sense of time, like a big wall calendar, will help. I always have a poster sized calendar for the whole year, because it lets you stand back and see an entire 12 months at a time.
Carrie Ann: Yes, especially with autoimmune conditions, if you have a bird’s eye view of what the month looks like, you can schedule in time to rest. And you can you can make better decisions, because personally, I have a tendency to overbook myself. I get super excited about things, but then I can’t do them because I’ve said yes to seven things at the same time.
Now, one of the things that you taught me that I thought was so fascinating was the VARK test. You said that this can help anybody, whether you have ADHD or not. It teaches us about our learning style, which I thought was really interesting. How does that help somebody with ADHD or somebody who doesn’t have ADHD?
Jane Massengill: Well, we’re constantly learning and it helps to know what our style of learning is. And so whether you have ADHD or not, I recommend this test, especially for parents and their kids. VARK stands for visual, aural, read / write, and kinesthetic. It helps you communicate with not only other people around you, but understand how you communicate with yourself as well. And you, Carrie Ann, are actually are four-part learner. For example, one of yours is writing things down. So anybody that is working with you on your team needs to know that.
I’m also working with a college student right now who is a four-part learner. He really struggled with trying to get a project done, until he started realizing, okay, I need to make a diagram about this, I need to talk with somebody about it, I need to have a live example of somebody actually doing this, and I need to take notes. Then he can get it. But without knowing that, you struggle and you start beating yourself up. So I think the VARK test is a brilliant contribution that is super affordable, and can help anybody.
Carrie Ann: As somebody who’s also a four-part learner, that just means that in order for me to learn something, I kind of need to do it four different ways for it to sink in. And that did frustrate me because I was like, why am I such a slow learner, yet I’m also so fast? I pick up things so quickly, all the nuances in a room, and I can just feel it all. That’s what makes me good on live television. I feel like it’s my superpower. I’m aware of everything all at once, and I can respond to it or not. And the VARK test has helped me to know that it’s going to take me a few more steps. I actually learned patience with myself, which is something that you have really helped me with.
Jane Massengill: Yeah, not beat yourself up. Because that monster in your mind is always going to be right there at the edge to take you down.
Carrie Ann: I know there’s people who just think ADHD is BS, right? So what do you say to people like that? How do you help them to understand, or do they even need to understand?
Jane Massengill: Well, I do always want to reiterate that ADHD is not a belief, it’s not like a religion. It is a brain based set of issues set of challenges. Which by the way, it can really be improved. In fact, last week I saw a brain scan that was 20 years old. And we compared it to a new scan, and it was so hopeful to see the neuroplasticity of the brain, and how you can really improve your prefrontal cortex. So it is real. I think the most important thing to understand is that it’s invisible, and everybody has certain traits or characteristics that can look like ADHD. But if you have ADHD, you’re going to have more of a lifelong challenge with attention, distractibility, and focus. So it’s important for people to just have empathy, and educate yourself or stay open.
Carrie Ann: Stay open. That’s one of the things that I was surprised about in my work with you. Because it does require a certain level of discipline to get your ADHD in a manageable form for your life. And I’ve noticed that you have so much compassion when you help me, and that we often get into much deeper issues about things that I’m afraid of. When I tell you I’m struggling with something, what I love is that you don’t just go, oh, that’s just ADHD. You’re always like, well, what are you afraid of? What’s happening there? What are the possible outcomes? And I find that to be so nurturing. And so very healing. So if somebody were to go and seek out the help of a coach in their lifetime, what would the what advice would you give them in what to look for?
Jane Massengill: I think it’s really important to make sure that you connect with somebody. I always tell people it’s helpful to interview two or three coaches and make sure there’s a bond. So interview some people, and make sure that you are working with somebody that has some background and knowledge on what ADHD is all about.
Carrie Ann: You have been coaching for a long time, so I’m very curious to know if there is an area of life that people struggle with the most?
Jane Massengill: Absolutely – self-confidence. It’s probably top of the heap. If you’ve been told your entire life that you’re a square peg in a round hole, and you don’t fit in, you’re going to start to question yourself. And not give yourself credit when you do achieve great things. So I think the process of coaching is about helping you find your unique shape, you know, to get out of that square peg in a round hole mentality. There’s also healing to be done from some of the scars of the past. So that’s always a big thing.
Organization of time and space is always a big thing, and just struggling with getting the mundane things done on a regular basis. In fact, one of the things I started a couple of years ago is a three hour time management workshop. It’s called the Get Er’ Done Workshop and we do it on Zoom. Everybody starts with this list of things to do that’s very typical, like getting the dishes done, making phone calls, etc. It’s an accountability group, but I’m coaching people the whole time. So everyone shares who they are, what they’re working on, and what they’ll be doing for the first hour. We set a timer, and then everybody turns their camera off. I stay behind the screens. And you go and do your work, then come back at the top of every hour for 10 minutes to check in with me. I always have people listen for their distractions and ask what got in the way. So there’s coaching, but it’s also about just knowing that you’re not alone, and that there are other people that are very successful in life and struggle with some of the same challenges.
Carrie Ann: I love that you’re building a community for people. And, you know, it’s funny, as I listen to this conversation, I can feel even more that I’m not separate. I can also tell that some people are going to read this and be like, what are you talking about? But you know what, for people who have it, that workshop just sounds so enticing. I often feel better when there’s somebody around and it’s easier to get my projects done. I know that there are people out there that this is also resonating with, so how do they sign up for the Get ‘Er Done workshop?
Jane Massengill: Yes, they can go to my website, janemassengill.com. And they can use code conversations (lowercase or uppercase) for 60% off the price!
Carrie Ann: I love it. You’re so good at what you do, and I am grateful that you have come into my life and that I have you as a resource. And I think in this world, we’re all kind of struggling – these are difficult times. So knowing that there’s people that you can reach out to and get help from is amazing. I just have one final thought. I want to know where your compassion comes from, because you just have so much of it!
Jane Massengill: Thank you. I grew up in a community in Canton, Ohio, and my dad was a policeman and my mom was a nurse. All my all my relatives were teachers or in some kind of service industry. And I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a social worker. After my father died, I had a couple of teachers that really took me under their wing. I think they were really pivotal for me in terms of helping me connect with that thing that’s inside of me that wants to do something important in the world for other people. So I just feel incredibly blessed that I’ve been able to clear out some of the clutter from my ADHD so I can connect with and help other people.
Carrie Ann: I love it. You’re following your dreams, and you help everybody that you work with follow their dreams. You’re helping me fulfill that right now with Carrie Ann Conversations.
Already planning a trip to the app store to browse meditation apps? If you’re interested, we have an article here on Carrie Ann’s favorite meditations on the app Insight Timer. In fact, Lisa Romano, a life coach we recently interviewed, has her own guided meditations on the app.
We hope this conversation gave you something new to think about. If something resonated with you, let us know in comments below! We would love to hear from you.
To watch the full interview, click here.
For more information on Jane and her workshop, follow the links below:
Jane’s Favorite Books:
Jane’s FREE e-book “7 Questions to Ask Yourself When you are Stuck”
Where to find a coach:
ADHD Coaches Organization: ACO Home | ADHD Coaches Organization(specifically for ADHD Coaches)
International Coach Federation: The Gold Standard in Coaching | ICF – Credentialed Coach Finder For all kinds of credentialed coaches. Many people who work with adults with ADHD are listed here who may or may not also be listed on the ADHD Coaches Organization website.
Attention Deficit Disorder Association: ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association – ADDA, The Only Organization Dedicated Exclusively to Helping Adults with ADHD. They have a Professional Directory of coaches, physicians, mental health professionals, educators and more who treat adults and kids with ADHD).
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janemassengill/