The Academy Award Experiment for Better Performance


Have you ever really seen yourself? I don’t mean checking yourself out in the mirror as you shave in the morning or try on a new outfit. I mean:

Have you ever really looked at yourself? Like – watched yourself, as you go about your business in a normal day?

I suspect not. Most ADDers are not keen observers. Sure, we’re great at noticing new and unusual things. We pick up on seemingly irrelevant details or quickly draw lines between dots, to find connections that other people don’t see. In some situations, our ability to observe these kinds of obscurities is an asset. It can certainly lend to creativity and divergent problem-solving.

In general, though, we are not great observers of the mundane and ordinary. Unfortunately, most days tend to fit this description. It’s why we repeatedly misplace keys, start multiple tasks but finish none, or show up late after trying to fit in “just one more thing”. We don’t observe our ordinary selves.

And that leads to poor performance or – at best – performing below our capabilities. Poor performance can show up anywhere – during tasks at work or at home, during conversations, during self-talk, even.

It’s common to have difficulties recounting the events of our days to family members. We know that we were busy, but we can’t really say why. On the outside it appears as if we accomplished nothing.

Wherever we are in the world, we’re never really there. And more often than not, that’s how things get messy. Have you ever left a toddler unattended for 10 minutes? When you come back to the mayhem, he’ll act as if he has no idea what happened. It’s a mystery how all the books ended up on the sofa, the lamp got knocked over, or the soda got spilled… on the ceiling.  He really doesn’t know – it was so 5 minutes ago!

Sometimes, we are kind of like giant toddlers. Life gets out of control because we aren’t really supervising ourselves.

So let’s say that, in the pursuit of better performance or just having less stress in your life (perhaps by eliminating the need to clean soda off the ceiling?), you started to supervise yourself a little bit better. How exactly would you go about doing that? Doesn’t that involve paying better attention? And isn’t paying attention difficult to begin with?

The answer to those questions are yes, and yes.  It does involve paying better attention, and attention is scarce.  But… it’s also abundant when things are interesting.

We know that our brains are hardwired towards new and interesting things. Maybe you, in your ordinary day, are more interesting than you think.

So, for the sake of experimentation, and in the spirit of curiosity, I suggest you try paying attention (aka supervise yourself) in a way that you have never tried before.

In Neuro-linguistic Programming, there’s a little trick you can use to detach yourself from emotionally charged situations. It helps you adopt a more objective perspective of the situation. It’s called The Observer perspective. When you adopt The Observer perspective, you see yourself from the outside.

What if you tried to observe yourself in an ordinary moment in your life? Imagine yourself as an actor or actress in his or her own life. Wherever you are in that moment becomes the stage. Whatever you are doing becomes the scene, and your awareness becomes the audience.

In this kind of perspective (though it sounds a bit kooky), you become both the actor and the audience at the same time. Of course this requires a little imagination, but essentially, what you are trying to do is to see yourself from the outside, as you are going about whatever it is you were doing. Breaking it down to the nuts and bolts, what you are really doing is witnessing yourself.

I admit, it sounds a bit odd as I write it out. But let me make it simpler. All this actor/audience viewpoint does is to give you another tactic for finding more presence and thereby improving your performance, with almost any task.

People with ADHD don’t naturally witness themselves. We bounce around from moment to moment, being extremely busy but completely unproductive because we don’t see ourselves being pulled around at the mercy of distracted and tangential thinking and ungoverned impulses. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the multiple things we are doing, or lost in the multiple thoughts we are thinking, that we can spend an entire day being extremely busy but accomplishing nothing. This is the essence of a less-than-stellar performance. In fact, it’s kind of a doozy.

With a little supervision, though, we find it easier to keep on task or to take a thoughtful and insightful change of direction, if we assess that we need to change our performance. Watching yourself in action, as if you are your own audience, is one way of supervising yourself. And it will help you to notice details – such as when you are starting to get off-track – that you would otherwise be oblivious too.

Through the “audience perspective”, you become a more informed Director. You can direct the actor to making changes that will enhance his or her performance. Without feedback from “the audience” and a director’s supervision, your effort might be sloppy or lack lustre. Try adding this novel perspective, however, and you might find your efforts become Academy Award-worthy.

At the very least, it certainly makes the ordinary day a little more fun and interesting. Have you ever tried this technique? Let us know how it went!