Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it

Post-itsOvercoming the
Limitations of the
Post-It Note™ Brain

A Source of Struggles
in Alphabet City

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of ADD Coaching Skills Series

Dr. David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, has studied time perception for over a decade.

According to Eagleman and his lab, we humans are more than passive observers where time is concerned.

We are not merely watching the river of time flow by as if time happened TO us, or we happened IN time.

As with visual illusions and perceptions, science is learning that our brains are actively constructing time.

Re-engineering Brain Resources

In Eagleman’s words, “It turns out that [time perception] has everything to do with novelty, and with how much energy your brain has to expend.

So, when you can predict something, not only does your consciousness not come online, but [the event] feels like it goes [by] very fast.

  • So, driving to work [seems] very fast; but the very first time you did it, it seemed to take a long time because of the novelty, AND
  • the amount of brain-power you had to burn the first time you did it — before you were able to predict it.

Essentially what prediction means, if it’s something you’re doing a lot, you’re actually reconfiguring the circuitry of the brain.

  • You’re actually getting stuff down into [your brain’s sub-conscious] circuitry, which gives you speed and efficiency, but at the cost of conscious access.
  • So, if you’re learning to do something new, like playing tennis or riding a bicycle or something, at first you have to pay a lot of conscious attention
  • After a while you don’t have to, because you’ve changed the circuitry of your brain — but at the cost of being able to consciously know what you’re doing.”

Transcribed content above is excerpted from a Brain Science Podcast interview with Dr. David Eagleman;  host Ginger Campbell, MD [Episode #75, originally aired 7/8/2011].

You can find detailed show notes and transcripts for every episode at

Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

Predicting the Future

crystalBallThere are a number of directions I could go with the introduction above but, other than beginning with a couple of quick time-related points, we’re not going to focus on the time component today:

#1 – How much time you believe that something in the future might take impacts your likelihood of activation.

#2- If you never BEGIN, the likelihood of follow-through to completion is NIL!

THIS article will point out the importance of your brain’s ability to construct
the future because it can predict the future, in a number of arenas besides time:

  • Your brain’s ability to predict depends on pattern recognition,
    which BEGINS as a conscious operation:
    — What is the meaning of what is coming at me at this very moment?
    — Do I need to do anything about it?
    — If so, what?
  • Then the situation, action and result are subsequently “filed” so that future decision-making can be simplified — because it is relegated to subconscious pattern-matching:
    — Have I seen this before?
    Did I do anything about it at THAT time? If so, what?
    Did it work well enough?
    Good! Do it NOW.

Consciousness is a resource-intensive process – your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources making the same decisions over and over again.

As I said in an earlier article, The Impulsivity Rundown™DECISIONS are prefrontal cortex intensive – using the conscious pathways in our reaction/response mechanism – whether you are making a major decision or one as seemingly inconsequential as whether you want cream in your coffee.

So, whether you like it or not, much of what you do has been relegated to the control of your subconscious mind where you have very little input in the moment.  

Reinventing yourself for Success means planning

If you do what you’ve always done,
you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
~ Tony Robbins

If you want to rewire (what Eagleman referred to as “reconfiguring the circuitry of the brain”) you have to change your strategies in advance – which necessitates a conscious understanding of your processing style(s).

  • While we share a great many processing similarities, each of us has a UNIQUE processing style that we need to understand if we expect to succeed in our endeavors.

The more you understand about how you process, the better you are able to predict your “old tape” knee-jerk reactions, so that you can make NEW decisions to work around the old strategies that don’t really serve you today.

  • Processing style is a function of the way in which our brain works with the information it has stored about the individual environments in which we operate. — which brings us back to a discussion of memory.

The more you understand about memory — how your brain stores and recovers information — the easier it is for you to learn to drive the very brain you were born with™ — in the direction you want it to take you.

Your Brain’s Scratch-Pad

There is A LOT to understand about your brain’s memory process that will improve your functioning considerably, which will increase your level of success with everything you do. But what I want you to understand right now is this:

The process of getting something into and out of your brain is a function of

— which implies some kind of effective filing system to be able to make use of all those random reminders jotted down on metaphorical Post-It Notes™ – your brain’s working memory.

Similar to filing systems in the physical world, the amount of time and attention we must devote to filing and retrieving information depends upon how we have organized the filing system.

Mentally scanning the items we file takes a few extra “up-front” seconds. Stuffing them anywhere is faster at the time, but it may mean we spend even more time at the back end.  Every time.

Or it may mean we can’t locate the information from those metaphorical Post-It Notes™ at all, so we are forced to “punt.”  Uh-oh!

mindfulnessAttention and nano-seconds

The practice of Mindfulness – paying full attention to what’s going on around you NOW – is highly recommended to help those of us who are impulsive, charging off before thinking things through.

Have you ever thought about WHY it is helpful?
Because it directs our focus consciously, it it slows us down.
Subconscious patterns fire rapidly; consciousness is slower.

As with almost all of the recipes for success, it is not a black and white solution — there is an up side and a down side to each of the suggested tips and tricks, Mindfulness included.

With all due respect to the Mindfulness promoters, there are certain tasks and activities I prefer NOT to pay attention to at all. I simply want to get them over with, while my mind is focused on something more interesting or important.

  • Almost anything involving pain – most health and beauty related
    – like a shot of novocaine
    – the setting of a bone
    – or having a tender area of my body waxed
  • Almost every “treadmill task” – regular & recurring
    like regular vacuuming or scrubbing the tub and toilet
    – all stages of laundry management
    – or bagging trash and garbage and getting it to the curb for weekly pick-up
  • Many of the “in-order-to” tasks, where I desire some result
    beyond tasks on the path to achieving my larger objective –
    – like putting things away when I am finished using them
    – hanging up my clothes or putting them in the hamper when I take them off
    – or cleaning up the kitchen after a successful dinner party

The tasks immediately above don’t deserve my full concentration.  They simply must be done if I expect to have what I want in my life — for example, a clean and clutter-free environment that supports focus and concentration.

I don’t choose to zen-out and focus on the tasks themselves, because it would increase my perception of the time that goes by in the doing.

  • That, in turn, would skew my prediction-meter and make it harder for me to plan my time to get things done.
  • I would tend to avoid those tasks.  Since they are not, in their own right, high priority tasks, I wouldn’t choose to dedicate what I remembered as a hefty chunk of priority time to them.
  • Suddenly – or so it would seem to me – I would be overwhelmed, up to my knees in clutter.

For those tasks that don’t deserve my full concentration, I have learned that it is worth the time it takes to make it a habit so that I can put them on auto-pilot.  I take the “up-front” time to develop the habit, so I don’t need to spend the back-end time and attention it takes to focus and recall repeatedly.

Benefits of Auto-Pilot

With most of the activities we do repeatedly, most of us reach a point where we no longer need to focus on each individual step, each a distinct part of the whole.  We also pass the point where we must focus on remembering the sequence of the steps.

  • We may not even conceptualize the task as having individual steps.
  • If we always do it the same way, it soon becomes a process –– a well-rehearsed, choreographed dance that flows effortlessly, from beginning to end, from the moment we take that first step.
  • Once our brain is freed of the necessity of making those pesky prefrontal cortex intensive, moment by moment decisions, the brain power is available for something else – anything else.

May I use your bathroom?


How much focused concentration is involved in the process of going to the bathroom?

For those of us well past the diaper phase,
the answer is NOT MUCH!

You probably don’t recall your own potty-training, but any mother will tell you that there was a great deal of attention on the task – along with a fair amount of “policing the process” – when you were first learning how to do it.

Most adults don’t even think about it consciously anymore.

Excuse me, I’ll be right back.

Most of us conceive of “going to the bathroom” almost as if it were a singular action-step. Yet the entire operation is made up of a great many smaller activities, beginning with getting ourselves into the room with the toilet, and ending with returning to wherever we were before we initiated the approach to the activity.

How many of us focus on each of the steps of the process?  How many of us focus on ANY of the steps of the process?

  • As long as the facilities are even slightly familiar, the plumbing works, and toilet paper is on the roll, our minds are not generally on the task at hand at all.
  • They are free to wander where they will — to eavesdrop on a fascinating conversation outside the door, to replay an earlier event, to mentally tick off items on our to-do list, or to direct the process of checking our messages or updating our Facebook status on our smart phones.
  • So many of us read in that room where the toilet is housed, it is colloquially referred to as “the library” in more than a few circles.

Despite the fact that there is almost NO conscious focus on the task of “going to the bathroom,” few of us forget what we were doing or fail to recall what comes next.

In over 20 years as a coach, not one client, student or colleague has complained that s/he got so distracted s/he wandered off in the middle of that particular activity and forgot to go back to complete the task (besides the “put the seat down” part, that is).

In MANY cases, our brains don’t even consider it important enough to process for storage in our memory banks. Have you ever searched “everywhere” for a missing item, only to find it in the bathroom — with no clear memory of how it got there?

Systems Development Coaching

Systems Development Coaching focuses on helping clients discover the underlying concepts and action steps that will help them develop person-specific systems.

system is a set or arrangement of things so related as to form an organic whole.

When an ADDer (or anyone else) “activates a system,” s/he is freed from having to remember each individual step — less likely to get distracted in the middle of a task, or stopped cold by the need to make one of those pesky pre-frontal cortex intensive decisions in the moment.

I used the example above because, for most of us, the last systems development training we received was potty-training, despite the absolute effectiveness of the technique.  Almost ALL of us learn to do it – effortlessly and flawlessly.

How many of us forget to do what-comes-next when we’re going to the bathroom?
Or even give it a thought?


Systems vs Solutions

•  When we focus on solutions, we generally aim them at solving particular problems.
•  When we focus on systems, we develop templates for solving all sorts of problems.

While solutions tend to be more specific, templates are modular – we can port pieces of working systems to new situations to propagate new systems.

Neat, huh?

Systems Development Coaching techniques help us Sherlock our struggles to locate the parts of those repeated tasks that force us to use our conscious mind, in turn increasing our vulnerability to distraction, overwhelm and procrastination. When we spend the up-front time to think through each step of a task consciously, we can discover the sticking points and make some changes in how we do what we do.

When we link the new-and-improved steps into a sequence, we are than able to work on doing them the same way every time — on the way to developing an effective habit that can be filed subconsciously and put on auto-pilot.

At that point, we no longer debit the limited space on the “Post-It Note™” of working memory needlessly.  We become more effective.  We get more done.  And life becomes easier.

It’s not rocket science – it’s BRAIN science – and brain-based coaching.

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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!"

20 Responses to Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it

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  15. Jeanie Smith says:

    Madelyn, great content, as always! I have thought a lot about systems lately and how important they are for functioning. I think neuro-typicals have a lot more systems than we ADDers do, but they don’t even realize they are systems, because all of that comes so much more naturally to them. We have to work at instituting them both because we don’t do it naturally and because we need them so much more! Thanks for great content!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeanie. I have had that thought about neuro-typicals and systems many times. my guess-planation is that our brains don’t seem to pick up the related pieces UNconsciously like their’s seem to (and why so many Moms and parents complain that the ADD kids “never seem to learn from mistakes.”)

      It seems the ONLY way we get them working is to sherlock glitches and set systems in place consciously

      My chronos are a mess again, btw – but I’d like to speak with you. If you see this early AM Tues (10/12), give me a call. Otherwise, I’ll be sleeping through most of the day again, with no certainty about when I’ll be available (other than late nite).

      Miss you.


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