It has been two years, almost to the day, that I wrote a blog about being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Still to this day, I don’t like writing that label and it’s not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed by it but because the title itself seems to be a wildly inaccurate characterization. For example, under the proper circumstances, people with ADHD don’t have a difficult time paying attention but rather, we can hyperfocus which has been described as a superpower. And as for for the “deficit” and “disorder” component, I don’t relate to either. While it may be true my mind works differently than others, it’s not disordered, or lacking in any way. In fact, I consider my uniquely-wired mind to be my greatest strength.
It has taken time to come to this understanding of my myself and how I best function in a world constructed for those with normative minds. When I look back at how I’ve grown over the past two years, I’m grateful to be in the place I am today. Early on, I was riddled with conflicting emotions: anger, relief, frustration, fear, clarity, confusion, sadness… the list goes on.
During that challenging time, running was becoming a bigger part of my life. Running has always come naturally to me. It had also always been a source of calm but for the first time in my life, I was experiencing difficulty with it. I began to hyperventilate during harder pace efforts. Unable to catch my breath, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I saw numerous doctors and ruled out physical possibilities like exercise-induced asthma before we determined that I was experiencing panic attacks on the run. My psychiatrist, and ADHD coach, were confident the panic attacks would pass as I grew through this challenging time – and they were correct – they did. But that wasn’t without a lot of patience and hard work.
Today, I’m excited to share one of the tools I used to help me through that difficult time, and that I still use to this day. It’s a technique I believe everyone can benefit from during stressful times in their own lives. It’s called The 3X3 Method: a simple mindfulness tactic created by Phil Boissiere, a San Francisco-based Cognitive Performance and Leadership Expert.
Phil reached out to me after reading the blog post I wrote about my experience with ADHD, and asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him on some of his work. At that time, The 3X3 Method was still quite young, and I was the first competitive athlete Phil introduced the method to. He was clear he wanted my honest opinion and feedback of how it worked, and I was committed to doing so. He describe the method to me and I started using it on my runs, and practicing it regularly. It was a success from the get-go and became increasingly effective the more I used it.
The beauty of the method is that it’s basic and can be used at any time, anywhere. All you do is pick an object in your environment – a lamp for example. Then you close your eyes and say, “that’s a lamp”… take a deep breath in … and a deep breath out. Then you pick another object and do the same, and then choose one more object for a total of three. It’s important to make sure you don’t project any opinions or judgement onto the objects. For example, you don’t say “that’s a pretty lamp,” or “I like that lamp.” It’s simply just a lamp. This takes the emotion out of it and acts to reset your state of mind.
To use the method while running, I don’t necessarily say the objects out loud or close my eyes. For example, if I feel my body getting tense at a faster pace, or my breathing getting shorter as I work to hold that pace, I simply pick out an object: a person walking, a tree, a bench or anything that I pass really. From there, I begin The 3X3 Method. When Phil first introduced me to the method, I practiced it many times throughout the day, whether I was on a run or not. This helped it become more automatic and effective.
To best learn The 3X3 Method, I recommend watching Phil’s TEDx Talk above, which he did last month. In it he describes more about how the method works, and how to use it.
The 3X3 Method has proven to be an invaluable tool for me as a runner and as someone with ADHD, and I believe it can help anyone feeling overwhelmed at any given moment. Give it a shot this holiday season as you face those more stressful times. You may find yourself with a more joyful mindset, trust me.