Trouble with Transitions

Fade In – Fade Out

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

We start small

We begin with the tedium of to-dos – because the lessons learned will generalize to the bigger changes and transitions that we all must face.

Meanwhile, we must all learn the ways in which we, uniquely, “chop wood, carry water.”  ~ mgh

Transition Trials

As we work our way from dawn to dusk — multi-tasking, time-slicing or hyperfocusing — we face many moments when we realize that we must begin a particular task, usually before we have completed what we are currently doing.

THAT is the very stake in the heart of “trouble with transitions.”

But WHY are transitions so difficult?

Wait! Let’s ask a better question: who claimed that transitions were supposed to be easy?  

ADD/EFD/TBI/PTSD or “vanilla-flavored,” most of us have some degree of trouble with transitions —  a big-time reason why most of us reach the exhausted end of many a busy day with so many undone to-dos.

It is merely a trick of language that promotes the fallacy that we will – and should – be able to transition from one task to the next with the ease with which one image on a movie screen dissolves into another — or the way a really great cross-fade between tunes seems to sneak the volume of one song down just as the other comes up.

Easy? NO WAY!

How many times have you been late to the next item on your agenda because you were still in the middle of the item before it?

How many times has an activity taken longer than planned because it was more complicated to BEGIN than you had envisioned?  How many times has organizing the bits and pieces of a to-do taken half the time allotted for the entire task?

And  the rare times you are able to get right to it, you began tweaking pieces of the project and entered what I call the transition time-warp: one minute you are right on schedule, and when you look up “a minute later,” you’re way behind, and still need just another “minute” to reach a point where you feel like you can put it away for the day.  Unfinished.

And so it goes.

Poor time-management gets blamed when trouble with transitions is often the culprit.

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One of the primary reasons that transitions are so tricky . . .

Artwork courtesy of Phillip Martin

. . . is that we use only one word to describe
two completely different processes

• Completion — transitioning out of
i.e., “putting away your toys”


• Preparation — transitioning into
– i.e., “getting out the pieces of the new puzzle”

If that weren’t tricky enough, THEN we have to deal with
the dreaded gap!

The Gap?

Yep! Unless you deliberately plan things another way, between the period where you “put away the toys” you used in the prior activity and get out new puzzle pieces, there almost always a brief period that is toy free:  THE DREADED GAP.

For some people, the gap is where transitions break down. 

  • They get stuck in that between-task “space of nothingness” far longer than the few moments it takes for others to move through it.
  • Some experience so much difficulty transitioning from doing nothing to doing something, that even the few brief seconds of most gaps might as well be quicksand.

Hang tight about the gap

Another article in this series will offer more help to you gap-challenged folk.  We’re going to begin by looking briefly at the transitions process, focusing on the simpler of the two transition challenges — not to be confused with easier.

Transitions 101:

There is a way to teach yourself to navigate transitions. They may never be a piece of cake, but they don’t have to be life-stoppers either.

Regardless of where the process breaks down, you can tame transitions, but not until you understand what you’ve got working for you and what you are going to have to avoid, ignore or overcome.

And you won’t be very successful figuring that out until you stop beating yourself up for your “lousy time-management skills.”

The most important thing for you to hold onto:
Folks who have never struggled rarely understand folks who do.

  • Trust Fund Babies don’t understand poverty;
  • Math geniuses can’t really comprehend the struggles of those with dyscalculia;
  • People with perfect pitch will never appreciate the reality that “ear training” is impossible for the tone deaf.

The privileged unenlightened REALLY don’t get it.

Phillip Martin - artist/educator

Phillip Martin – artist/educator

We can tell because they preface statements with words like “just” and “only” — as in, “Just set an alarm, put away one project and go on to the next thing!” or “It’s only a matter of setting your priorities)

They will never in a million years be able to understand what it takes for the rest of us to cope.

Yes, perhaps they had to put in more than a little up-front time and effort to master those tasks that now seem so simple to them.

What they don’t get is that it does not compare to the amount of time and effort that those of us with executive functioning struggles have to spend to manage at, by their standards, even the most rudimentary levels.

Few of the clue-free intend to be shaming or cruel when they use that “you’re-not-really trying!” tone of voice – and they REALLY don’t get that that’s exactly how they come across.

They also don’t get that, since they are over-represented in the comments section of our lives, they leave us with a sense of disempowerment, rather than the opposite.

They can’t teach what they don’t know

Those who have never struggled have nothing to offer to those who struggle still.

The best teachers are almost always the ones who broke through their initial struggles to experience ease of accomplishment (at least some of the time).  They tend to be motivated by a mixture of relief and empathy to improve the lives of those who are still struggling.

In other words, as you work through your challenges, do your dardest to ignore the comments of the “just” and “only” crowd.

Smile, thank them for sharing, dust yourself off, and keep your eyes and ears open for models who seems like they have been there, done that.

Meanwhile, keep reading this blog!

Anyone who knows me well can assure you that, not only have I been there, done that, I still go there regularly.

The difference now is my willingness and ability to keep “getting back on the horse” — along with a quarter of a century’s worth of experience with ADD/EFDers (and a frightening amount of brain-based information, that some would say borders on the obsessional).

As the late Thomas J. Leonard (the founder of the Coaching Profession and my first professional coaching mentor)
was fond of saying:

Information is the booby prize.

Still, I share what I’ve learned in the hopes that it will help most of my community at least some of the time – and that you will put it into ACTION in your lives.

Not everything will work for YOU, but simply knowing that you are not the only person who struggles in areas that seem to be relatively easy for many others will help.

You will feel a great deal more positive about yourself, armed with enough self-esteem to take what works and continue your search for solutions.

Your best bet would be to work privately with a highly ADD-literate ADD Coach who can help you uncover the implications of your particular flavor of ADD/EFD to your particular functional profile.

THAT kind of coach will help you acquire the tools to allow YOU to keep getting back on the horse.

However, if you will keep reading (and DO the exercises suggested), you will probably be amazed at the improvements in your functioning, your sense of well-being, and your ability to accomplish what you set out to do.

You can also get a great deal of follow-through help by learning how to work with a Peer Coach.  Check out some of the links at the bottom of the article linked to the previous sentence.  It’s the lowest-cost way I know to enroll support.

So What IS a Transition?

Most of the people I asked to define the term said something like the following:

Transition?    It’s about going from one thing to another
 – getting from point A to point B!


It’s more accurate to say that during most transitions we are moving from A to Z – passing a whole lot of tempting distractions along the way.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines transition as:

passage from one state, stage or place to another: change;
a movement, development or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.

Did you notice that “change” word?

Humans aren’t particularly comfortable when things change. Oh sure, as a therapist I know often said, everybody wants things to be different, but nobody wants things to change.

From a brain-based standpoint, change activates the “Danger, Will Robinson” part of our brain, the amygdala.

  • The brain is a specialized pattern-matching organ: have I seen this before?
  • When the answer is no, the amygdala prepares for something about the new and different that might be a threat to survival.

The neuroscience crowd has recently discovered that amygdala activation strongly correlates with a deactivation of the seat of our executive functions.

Those are exactly the areas we need to be on board and working well to be able to cope effectively with change — exactly the areas ALREADY implicated in the challenges faced by those of us with executive functioning dysregulations.

No wonder we struggle!

Still, not all of us struggle with change to the same degree.

In particular, some of us seem to navigate transitions pretty darn well.  I’m guessing that anyone still reading is probably not a member of that particular tribe, however.

EVEN SO, those of us who struggle with transitions don’t always find the same parts of the transition challenging.

In fact, if you will pay attention (between now and when you read the next article in this series), I’ll bet you will find that you tend to have a tougher time with one of the “coming out of/going into” transitional tasks than you do with the other (even if you already realize that you are seriously gap-challenged).

Coming up in this series, in addition to the promised gap content, we’ll take a look at the kinds of transitions that tend to Boggle those of us on team ADD/EFD, as well as some that might be making it tough for you to master tasks.

You will be asked to choose ONE of the non-gap phases to work on first, so DO make it a point to remember to notice which of the two is most problematic in YOUR life.

If you’re flying coachless and REALLY want to get this bear behind you, read the linked Boggle and Taskmaster posts in the paragraph above, and do the work suggested there.

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.  There’s a lot more to come.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Transitions Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), scroll down to click the Brain-based Coaching Link below, with a contact form at the bottom, or click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page). I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles here on

MORE Transition Articles on the way . . .

The Transition Series
(links turn red on mouseover, ONLY when they’re ready to go)

Other related articles on this site:

Transition related articles ‘ round the ‘net – different meanings of the term

BY THE WAY: I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

23 Responses to Trouble with Transitions

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  12. Jennifer Peacock says:

    This really has me thinking about my fat loss efforts and why I can’t get past my comfortable weight. I think it has something to do with this fairly recent anxiety and ADD, which I swear is hormonal. Just turned 41. I attribute it to perimenopause. Anyway, I lost 15 lbs, and am looking good, but want to really get ripped. But SOMETHING is blocking me from doing it. Self sabotage. It’s been a cycle for 2 years of losing to this point, then fighting a battle with myself until I give in and give up, then gain it back. I swear this has something to do with it, but I haven’t pieced it together yet. Either way, great article. It helps to realize I’m not lazy. I know I try hard to get things done, but it just never materializes some days, despite my efforts.


    • Thanks for your acknowledgment – and for taking the time to leave it. I frequently feel like I’m leaving messages in bottles that are never found – so I really appreciate hearing feedback (on the older articles especially!)

      Congrats on your weight loss – not that I see anything “wrong” with healthy weight, regardless of size. I say congrats because it was a goal and you attained it. It sounds like you’ve skipped the next logical goal – keeping it off – as you aimed straight for “get ripped.” No wonder you’re struggling!

      I don’t know you, but the way I work with ADD/EFDers is to ask that they begin by giving up psychological frames (conflicts-blocks-resistance-self sabotage, etc.). Check out If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t blame the foot for why.

      The NEXT thing – (counter-intuitive, I know, like MOST of what works with ADD/EFD) – is to lower your expectations. That doesn’t mean give up your goals, by the way, it means take the gun out of your own back! Take baby steps.

      For NOW (only) stop focusing on “ripped” and make each day about NOT gaining that weight back! Weigh daily (again, against the vanilla advice) AND if you gain a pound, re-focus on whatever you did to lose your weight to begin with (assuming it was healthy) until you lose that pound. One measly pound – you can do that (and it won’t take so long to do that you will give up before you get there).

      The point is that we tend to give up (especially with diets!) when we get to the “Oh, what’s the use?” point (neuro-protective to reduce chronic anxiety) – so don’t let yourself get to that point! If you fall off the one-pound horse, get back ON. Baby steps. The goal is to be able to trust yourself to keep the ground you’ve won.

      Meanwhile, exercise (or whatever you would do to get “ripped”), just give up that particular expectation. Do it as part of your “keeping it off” goal. It most certainly will have other positive effects, just don’t focus there right now.

      Two other quick points:
      1. The median age for an ADD dx. in women is 38 – you are only 3 years beyond that. The hormonal connection you suspect is actual – but not in the “typical” manner in which you are probably thinking.

      Estrogen and dopamine work in consort, and your estrogen levels drop during perimenopause, uncovering EF issues that may not have been overt while you had more estrogen in your system to facilitate dopamine transport. (BTW – estrogen is fat-stored and you also lost 15 pounds, remember) Dopamine is a major player in ADD/EFD struggles, in case you were not already aware – so don’t chalk your recent ADD/EFD struggles up to “just hormones.”

      2. I have never met a lazy ADDer. And I have met hundreds of hundreds of ADDers.

      Hope this helps.


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    • Before approving and responding, Javier, I edited your heading to comply with my comment policy (see right sidebar) – just in case this is a legitimate acknowledgment. With over a million linkspam attempts TO DATE, I manually spam most of the comments of this sort that slip through. (So make sure you comply if you return to read and comment in the future. You will be welcomed.)

      I can’t take credit for load speeds – the .com WordPress platform handles that. I DO take credit for my articles, however – I spend a great deal of time supporting for free – so thanks so much for your endorsement.


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  20. annie ellerbusch says:

    So busy copying and posting the priceless Madelyn-isms from your articles (i.e.”over-represented in the comments section of our lives”) . I don’t always have time to finish them, i am going to get a separate note book! OM you never fail to crack me up. (it helps too!)


    • Thanks, Annie, both for your comment and for taking the TIME to leave it here. Everybody loves feedback – especially when it is positive.

      I have always enjoyed our chats and, reading your post, I think it’s because we always laugh a lot. Our senses of humor seems to be very similar. I tend to get so hyperfocused on advocacy, etc. that laughter frequently gets short-sheeted.

      I’m flattered that you are printing articles from the blog and saving them. EVENTUALLY, I will get around to compiling a sort of “best of the blog” as an book or (at least) an eBook. BUT giving my long list of to-dos and my own ADD affect, it probably won’t be anytime soon :|, so your notebook idea is a great one!


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