Episode 110: The Hyper Mind

March 31, 2017
Episode 110: The Hyper Mind
Episode 110: The Hyper Mind

Mar 31 2017 |


Show Notes

Economic future

Sherry and Rob talk about ADD/ADHD and its prevalence in the founder community. They help inform people on what it looks it and when its considered a disorder versus just a behavioral profile.

ADD Symptoms:

ADHD Symptoms:

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling: How are you doing? How’s your Monday treating you?
Rob Walling: So far, so good.
Sherry Walling: Despite starting the day with water dripping down the ceiling of our kitchen?
Rob Walling: Yeah.
Sherry Walling: Or pouring. Pouring, I should say.
Rob Walling: Out of a light, a can light. It was just coming right between the bulb, so you’re waiting for something to start sparking but it never did. Yeah. There was that. There was dropping of my car at the mechanic to get the side mirror fixed because it got smacked by a car when it was parked on the street. And then so far, so good today with our email queues. Monday mornings are always the trickiest days because a lot of sending happens, and so far we’re holding up well. So some pluses and some minuses, I’d say.
Sherry Walling: Hey. Good deal, man. At least no one was injured in the kitchen flood of 2017.
Rob Walling: I know. And the nice part is I walk in the door from dropping one of our kids off at essentially science, math … it’s like a STEM program before school. And I walk back in, and you’re at yoga, and our six-year-old who was here with your parents, but he had seen the water come down and had grabbed a bowl and had put it underneath it. And I was really proud of him for his kind of quick thinking and doing the right thing. He didn’t just let water pour all over the wood floor. It’s pretty cool.
Sherry Walling: He’s a smart kid. I think we should keep him.
Rob Walling: Yeah. Indeed.
Sherry Walling: So I thought we might talk about ADHD today. How do you feel about that?
Rob Walling: Yeah. I think that’s good. I think we can probably start by talking about why this might be relevant to someone listening to this podcast.
Sherry Walling: Talking about why we’re talking about it?
Rob Walling: Right.
Sherry Walling: The meta level.
Rob Walling: Yeah. Just kind of the justification of why someone should spend the next 20 or so minutes kind of listening to us delve into this, what they might be able to take away, or what this could teach someone.
Sherry Walling: Yeah. So one of the reasons that I think it’s important to talk about is Michael Freeman who is a clinical faculty … he’s a clinical psychiatrist and a psychologist out of UCSF. He was a guest on episode 68 in the podcast, but he is, to my knowledge, please correct me if I’m wrong, but to my knowledge he is really only the reputable scientist that is doing high quality research on mental health in the entrepreneur and in the founder community. So again, if there are other resources, please send them to me. But as far as I know, Michael Freeman is the guy. And one of his findings … he did a survey looking at over 200 entrepreneurs and comparing them to a group of normals, a group of people who are not entrepreneurs. And one of the most significant differences that he found was in the reports of ADD or ADHD type symptoms.
  So he found that 29 percent of the entrepreneur sample met the criteria for ADD or ADHD, and that was compared to five percent in the comparison sample. So that is a pretty stark difference.
Rob Walling: Yeah. That’s crazy, what a huge difference.
Sherry Walling: And I think it’s important to talk about because I think it’s a very misunderstood diagnosis and especially when the way that it’s applied to children. There’s certainly lots of debate about whether it’s a real thing or not and there’s some complexity to some stigma around it in particular. So I think it’s important just to kind of inform people about what it looks like and when it’s a disorder versus when it’s just sort of a not disorder, but maybe behavior profile. And I think in the entrepreneurs I know, you do see this pattern of a really fast moving mind, a hyper mind, so to speak, which does not mean pathology, but it can mean pathology. Wow, that was really poorly worded whole situation. Save me from myself!
Rob Walling: By pathology … because some folks may not know the colloquial definition of that, but it means that it is something that is, what, negatively impacting your life? Or that it’s something that would appear in the DSM, your manual of psychology and that could be treated or should be treated? Am I summarizing that correctly?
Sherry Walling: Everything that we consider a disorder or pathological exists on a continuum. So depression exists on a continuum. ADHD exists on a continuum. For some person they might have this really fast moving mind and they may look like they have ADHD but not actually experience any negative outcomes. It’s not a problem in their life. It’s a disorder when it becomes problematic like when someone is unable to function, when they’re unable to work, when they’re unable to maintain their relationships because the way that their mind is functioning is so intrusive or out of sync with their community and what the expectations are in their life.
Rob Walling: Right. So when it’s disrupting their life. And that’s when you say, “You can have ADHD and deal with it and it may not impact you negatively or just have minimal implications that you kind of learn to deal with and structure your life around or it can kind or have a major impact on you and those around you.” And that’s when … I think, in both cases, those are the reasons we’re talking about it today. But if it is something that is impacting you, today may be a discussion of a way to kind of identify it in yourself and net worth someone around you whether it’s your kids, or a spouse, or a co-founder, and then trying to figure out some strategies for coping with it.
Sherry Walling: Yeah. So let’s take a step back and talk about what it is. So we talk about … there are two cousin diagnoses, I should say, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So there’s an attention component and then a hyperactivity/impulsivity piece. So when we talk about problems with attention, we’re talking about folks who have so much difficulty attending to their activities that they might make careless mistakes, have a lot of difficulty attending to details, problems with sustained attention, so begin something but can’t finish it, can’t follow through on a task that lasts longer than 20 minutes, might have difficulty following through on instructions because they can’t attend or remember all of the steps, don’t seem to listen when you’re talking to them. And I think this is a particularly frustrating component for parents who have children with some of these symptoms.
  You might be looking right at them, talking to them, giving them an instruction, and it just looks like there’s nobody home, like they’re just not all listening. Attention can also look like difficulty organizing tasks, so putting things into a sequence of tasks and being able to follow through. Practically, this looks like losing things, losing your keys, losing your homework, losing your wallet, losing your phone, and then lots of forgetfulness in daily activities. Forgetting trash day, forgetting, I guess on the outer edges, forgetting to pick your kids up from school, forgetting to follow through on things that maybe you planned to do.
  So if we could sort of categorize or summarize the attention component, it looks a lot like a brain that’s just not fully tuned in to what’s happening around them, to what’s happening in the moment. Does that make sense? Or any questions or comments about that?
Rob Walling: No. That definitely makes sense. I mean, I’ve know people, both children and adults, who I think probably fit this pretty well, and I can imagine that it’s pretty frustrating for the person and for those interacting with them and trying to kind of give instructions and then feel like maybe you’re not heard. And I can see this being something that you’d really want to figure out some systems, whether those systems are just things that you can implement yourself to kind of not be forgetful because you just use your calendar really well and you know that you’re going to forget things or systems for … I don’t think I have ADD at all, but I will often … I forget a lot of things.
  I don’t keep a lot of stuff in my head that I don’t really need to remember and so I will … I have entire systems for leaving the house where I have a checklist of always bring this stuff because otherwise I’ll walk out without a laptop, or without sunglasses, or without something like that. So I’m imagining developing systems like that could help to a certain extent. And then I’m sure there are cases that are just more severe than that that require some type of medical intervention, so to speak.
Sherry Walling: Absolutely. I mean, this is a phenomenon that’s treatable with behavioral systems in place, sometimes medicine. We can talk about that more in a minute, but I want to maybe finish explaining a little bit of what this looks like by talking about the hyperactivity or impulsivity component. So this can co-occur with attention difficulties, or can be the sort of primary problem. So we see a lot of hyper body movement, a lot of fidgeting, sort of difficulty sitting still in a context where sitting still is expected or is normal, lots of restless movement in the body, difficulty being quiet. You can see how this would play out in a classroom or even in a workplace.
  It looks like a body that’s really on the go or sort of driven by a motor, lots of movement, sometimes repetitive movement, difficulty controlling movement. And then somebody who is experiencing some hyperactivity or impulsivity may talk excessively, may have difficulty kind of filtering their thoughts, may have sort of a stream of consciousness, always flowing that’s not filtered very well. There’s a lot of interrupting of other people, difficulty taking turns, blurting out answers or responses before a question’s been completed. So behaviorally, it looks a lot like on the go, on the go, on the go, and lots of difficulty filtering both physical movement and speech.
Rob Walling: Yeah. I can see this feeling like … especially if you were working with someone, whether it’s co-founder, or a co-worker, or a boss, or something, feeling like someone’s not listening to you and talking over you all the time would feel rude and dismissive, but it could very well just be that the circuits in their head are running wild, in essence. And they’re not noticing or intentionally doing these things.
Sherry Walling: Right. Not meaning to be a jerk, but just not being able to filter very well. So a couple of other things that are important in kind of understanding this and whether or not it kind of crosses over into problematic. These symptoms are supposed to be present across two domains of life, so difficulty at home and difficulty at work. If it’s just one context in your life, then it’s really important to look at what’s going wrong in that context. If you’re totally on top of things at work, but at home you’re really forgetful and disorganized, that looks more like sort of a lack of fit between how that context or situation is organized and your brain is functioning rather than some kind of abnormality in your brain function that’s more specific to you.
  So we’re always looking at context and person and how that sort of difficulties show up across domains of life. These symptoms are also supposed to be present before age 12. So this is something that’s developmental. If we’re talking about quote unquote a real disorder, it’s usually developmentally pervasive. Sometimes there are adult onset cases, but usually you can kind of see this pattern across the life span. And then here’s an important one. For this to be diagnosed as ADD or ADHD, it has it exist for more than six months. And I think that’s important because on a day when I’m really stressed, I have a lot of difficulty paying attention. So this isn’t a stressed day. You want to consider whether your anxiety is high, whether you’re experiencing some depression, whether you’ve had too much caffeine, whether you’ve not slept well,  lack of exercise, a poor diet. Any of those lifestyle things can affect the functioning of your brain and your life.
  So again, always look at the most obvious things first. Is there a way I can take better care of myself? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I caring for my body? Because focus and attention are the first things to go. That’s higher order cognition, and they go quickly when the body is not being nourished and cared for the way that it needs to be.
Rob Walling: Got it. So if someone heard this list of symptoms, which we should include in the show notes because there’s a lot of bullets and a lot of information being thrown out. But if someone hears that and they think, “Oh, my gosh. I have 90 percent of these.” You’re saying the first thing they should do is get more sleep, ease off the caffeine, kind of try to eliminate these things first to figure out if it’s just they’re jacking with their own body chemistry. Is that the idea?
Sherry Walling: Yeah. I mean, I think the first question is how long has this been a problem? And if it’s been a problem for a long time and you’re just having this aha moment, that’s different than, “Oh, man. Today, or this week, or this month, I’m really out of it. I can’t focus.” Then if it’s a more acute problem or temporary problem, then we want to look at all the lifestyle things and mess with those first, really make sure that you’re ruling out any other probable cause that would be affecting your capacity to pay attention.
Rob Walling: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. There’s a how much is it impacting you in the two domains of life, as you said, and are there some easier fixes? Because if you go see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, there’s obviously drugs you can take to help it, but if there’s a way to fix it without that, it certainly seems like that’d be a better option.
Sherry Walling: Yeah. I think ADD, ADHD gets a really bad rap in some circles and probably rightfully so. Because there’s another component that goes into making a diagnosis and that’s that these problems have to be inconsistent with the developmental level of the person. So when we’re talking about kids, there’s often this debate between, “Man, maybe this kid just needs more exercise, needs more recess, needs more big body movement,” and most six, seven-year-olds really don’t have bodies and brains that are set up to sit at a desk for five or six hours a day. But sometimes our schools have expectations that are not really developmentally informed. So then we have kids that are not functioning in school because the expectations aren’t really in line with what most six, seven, eight-year-olds should be doing with their minds and their bodies.
  So some people will critique this diagnosis and say, “We’re just diagnosing every kid with ADHD because they can’t sit down and behave.” And I think there’s really something to that critique, and I think there’s something to be said about the kinds of things that we expect children to be able to do that are really not at all in line with normal expectations. And then of course they can’t attend, of course they can’t sit still. They’re not meant to sit still at that age. So I guess for people who are listening who are kind of like, “I’m with you on the concern about overusing this diagnosis and sort of pathologizing both grownups and people who are having a normative reaction to unusual or unreasonable expectations of sitting still in a cubicle or at a desk all day. That’s not really how our bodies are meant to behave.”
Rob Walling: Yeah. That was going to be my next thing was it’s not just kids in school. I feel like it’s grownups at work. How natural of a state is that for everyone? And I wonder if the stat you mentioned earlier where there’s a five percent occurrence of ADD, ADHD at least in Michael Freeman’s comparison samples. Let’s just assume that’s across the U.S. I know that’s probably not completely accurate, but five percent, and then it’s 29 percent for founders. Is that adaptive behavior? If you’re trying to work at a cubicle for five years, you go through five jobs, and you’re thinking, “Boy, I really don’t fit in. I’m gonna bounce and do my own thing because then I can be in control of how I work and how I arrange things. And I can work from home or I can work alone.” I mean, do you think that’s part of it?
Sherry Walling: Absolutely. I mean, I think there’s some … yeah. There’s self selection here that some of these characteristics make it, like you say, sort of intolerable to do the nine to five, sitting in a cube, follow someone else’s expectations lifestyle. So if you are smart and have great ideas, you can take your big, active brain and do something entrepreneur with it and then it can be quite adaptive because, again, you can sort of make your own schedule, you can switch places often, you can change up the routine in a way that works better for how your mind functions.
  So there’s self selection here. I think there’s also some adaptiveness to some of these quote unquote symptoms. I think when we talk about this on-the-go drivenness, not necessarily the excessive talking, but that sense in which there’s a mind that’s moving really quickly. I think those are some entrepreneurial traits that a lot of folks have because they’re just a very active mind. So I don’t, in anyway, want to pathologize those traits except to say that sometimes they go too far over the spectrum and cause a lot of trouble in relationships and in functioning.
Rob Walling: Yeah. That’s the thing. I could see … I mean, any number of kind of disorders or pathologies I could see being adaptive to being an entrepreneur, meaning that the ADHD could allow you to kind of bounce around, do a lot of things, which is often required. Right? It’s the ability to kind of switch back and forth quickly. I think of the movie The Big Short where one of the characters has Asperger’s, but it allows him to be … or is it autism. It’s on the spectrum basically, and it allows him to be extremely, deeply focused on numbers and as a result, he’s a phenomenal hedge fund manager.
Sherry Walling: There are all kinds of different ways that brains are made. There’s certainly is not one norm that we should all aspire to. I think the reason that we talk about this is is it causing distress? Is it causing deep feelings of shame? Is it causing difficulties in life functioning? That’s when we want to say, “Okay. Maybe it’s time to go see a psychologist and practice some of these behavioral interventions, practice some different organizational strategies. There are non-medical ways that can be learned to help mitigate some of the downsides of ADD, ADHD.
  And then there are medicines. There are medicines that do help the brain kind of calm down a little bit. And I’m very, very practical, sort of Occam’s razor about medicine. I say if it helps, use it. I’m cautious about medicating children. I like to look at all of the other options before medicine, but when you get to the point where you’ve tried lots of things and you’re still really suffering, I think medication exists for a reason and it can be helpful. So that’s all I say about it. But again, if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking like, “Oh, my gosh. This is me. I’ve been struggling with this my whole life. My spouse is about to kill me because she feels like I’m not listening to her or feels like I don’t follow through on what I say,” then it might be worth digging into this deeper and having a conversation with your doctor or going to see someone for a more formal evaluation just to see if this is something … there’s some tools and skills that you can gain that might be helpful.
Rob Walling: And just to wrap us up here, this episode is going live shortly before MicroConf in Las Vegas, which is happening … we actually have two conferences. There’s a starter edition and a growth edition. If you go to microconf.com, you can see … think about whether or not you might want to go. Sherry and I are attending the conferences, and Sherry will actually be available for one-on-ones if you’re interested in speaking with her. You can email her at [email protected]. It’s spelled like the wine, S-H-E-R-R-Y. And if you’re there, be sure to approach sherry and I and say hi. We always love talking to listeners. And those dates are April 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th in Las Vegas. And there are still a few tickets available for the conferences.
Sherry Walling: Vegas, baby, Vegas!
Rob Walling: Yep. It’s going to be fun.
Sherry Walling: Speaking of hyperactive.
Rob Walling: Oh, Vegas?
Sherry Walling: Yeah. Vegas.
Rob Walling: It makes all of us ADHD?
Sherry Walling: Yeah. That is what it feels like to have ADHD, to be in Vegas.
Rob Walling: Yeah. It’s like the volume’s up to 11.


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