081: Parent with Intention — What You Focus on Grows

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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There’s a Buddhist saying: “What you focus on grows.” Has there ever been a truer statement? Yes, this is common sense when you think about it. But have you ever thought of this in terms of parenting and ADHD and/or autism? It’s easy to focus on something painful or uncomfortable. It’s difficult to let that discomfort be and focus on something else, something you’d much rather have grow.

Let’s think about this in terms of parenting kids with ADHD. There’s a whole lot of challenging, uncomfortable, painful, negative stuff we can focus on. There’s so much we want to fix and improve to end our kids’ struggles. But, we have to be very careful, because it's easy to focus on the challenges and then the negativity grows and takes over everything.

Listen in to this episode for insights on the crucial task of shifting your mindset and focusing on the things you want to grow, and pushing ADHD and/or autism to a tertiary role.


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Penny Williams (00:00): Hey there, Parents. Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. Today I want to talk to you about a Buddhist saying and what this really can mean for our lives as well as our children's lives and just our family unit in general. The saying is what you focus on grows, what you focus on grows. What does that mean? It's really a remarkable statement that helps us to move forward with more intention and purpose because it's telling us that we have to really pay attention to what's on our mind and what is the subject of our focus. And that's because whatever we're focusing on grows it's really easy to think about this in terms of anxiety and then we'll back up and think about it kind of in everyday life. And then life with a kid with ADHD, anxiety is over thinking in a lot of instances.

Penny Williams (01:12): It's overthinking what might happen, what could happen, how something will turn out, all of the negative things that might happen. So for instance, I myself have social anxiety, which I've talked about many times on this podcast. And for me going to a social gathering where I don't know anyone is paralyzing and my whole life I have avoided it. Let's be honest, yes, we're supposed to push ourselves and do hard things and I do go into these situations in a much better place than I used to, but I still do avoid sometimes. And that's because the anxiety just gets so overwhelming even in the situation. So let's say I pushed myself and I go to this social gathering and I'm just super uncomfortable the whole time. I'm worried about what people are thinking of me, how they might be judging me.

Penny Williams (02:14): Is there anyone I should talk to? What if I say the wrong thing, what if I do the wrong thing? All of these very common issues for people with social anxiety and what happens then? It could be the most amazing party or social gathering ever. It could be something I would super enjoy, but because I'm anxious and I don't know anyone and I'm so worried about all the social things, right? I am focusing on that and it's growing and it's getting bigger and bigger and bigger until I'm almost in a panic and it has completely taken over my experience at this gathering, right? Because what I focused on, whether I chose to or my anxiety brain chose to, that's two different things. But what I was focused on would grow and it grew to the point that it's kind of a self fulfilling prophecy and that's what I really want you to get out of this episode today.

Penny Williams (03:26): That when we focus on something, it's going to grow until it becomes reality. It's a self fulfilling prophecy in so many ways. And I'm not talking about, well if I focus on winning the lottery, I'm going to win the lottery. That's not what we're talking about, right? We're talking about just the day to day stuff. So let's take another example. Just an everyday, every person example, most of you listening drive and when you're driving, let's imagine that somebody just cut you off. They just zoomed right around you, cut in front of you, cut you off. It was dangerous and it made you really angry because it would make most of us angry. Right? There's few people that aren't going to get super triggered by someone driving around them in a dangerous way and if we keep focusing on that as we're driving down the road, what happens? It gets bigger and bigger and bigger, right?

Penny Williams (04:30): We're thinking, "wow, I think it's so rude when people do that." I'm thinking about how dangerous that was that that jerk just cut me off and could have caused an accident. I'm thinking about what that might say about what kind of person they are. Then I started thinking about how much I hate other people on the road. Right? It just keeps escalating to the point that we're just angry and now it has clouded the entire day and it has taken over because we focused on it and it's not a choice to have that reaction and get angry when someone cuts you off in traffic, but it is a choice. It's a choice on how we are going to respond or react to that feeling of anger and how we are going to move forward through it. And that's where we all fall down the most is we just get on that ride and ride it all the way out.

Penny Williams (05:31): Right? We don't stop it. We don't have this mindful awareness of what is happening, of the fact that we are super focused on the fact that somebody cut us off in traffic and now we're letting it ruin our entire day. That's just crazy, right? When we think about it now, it's crazy, but in the moment it just kind of takes over and that's what we have to work on. We have to work on this mindful awareness of what we're choosing to focus on. We have to make a choice. This can be a choice. It's absolutely up to you. You just have to be aware of your reactions, your choices, your emotions as different things happen. It can be a really vicious cycle, because now you're angry the whole day and in order to not be angry, something else really stupendous needs to happen that you can focus on.

Penny Williams (06:38): The more we focus on it, the more it permeates our lives. And now we're at work and we're super angry and we're snapping at our coworkers or we're grumpy about having to do a project that we weren't really excited about doing in the first place. And so it's becoming self fulfilling, right? It's kind of wrecking everything because we focused on it in the beginning until it grew so much that it took over and now you may not even be focused on it. You might have completely forgotten that you got cut off in traffic on your way to work this morning. Now it's just angry and grumpiness everywhere. And again, we can stop and make these choices much sooner. We can prevent kind of that runaway train of focusing on the negative. And this is so important in families of kids with challenges, ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, whatever it is.

Penny Williams (07:45): To really be aware. When my son was first diagnosed, and I've told this story many times, I'm sure here on the podcast as well, but I was obsessed. I was obsessed with ADHD. I was obsessed with making things better for my kid. I had to figure out how to solve the struggles and how to fix it and I wasted two plus years of time spinning my wheels in that place of trying to fix it. And it was all I thought about. It was all I thought about guys, all I thought about was school and how that was going. Grades, testing, getting him to sit still in the classroom, getting him to follow directions, behavior at home, sometimes being really inflexible or intense with big emotions. All I thought about was how do I change all of these things? How do I fix them?

Penny Williams (08:51): How do I make these challenges go away? And it grew and it festered, right? It became this thing, this kind of elephant that was so heavy and so damaging. Our family was really struggling under the weight of that. People didn't want to come and sit at the table for family dinner with me. My husband would walk in the door from work and try to get somewhere else without me even engaging him in a conversation because he knew that conversation would be about ADHD and at the dinner table the conversation was ADHD and any conversations I had with anybody else in the world, it was ADHD and it was actually a really damaging place for our entire family. And when you're deep in the crux of it and you think that this is the thing that you do have to focus all of your attention on, it's really hard to see that it's growing and taking over.

Penny Williams (10:01): It's really hard when you are deep in the quicksand in that bottomless abyss. It's hard to see that that's where you are and that what you were focusing on is how you got there. And yes, our kids have a lot of struggles that we do need to help them with. We do need to spend time trying to help them create a way to live well with ADHD, but that does not include obsessing about ADHD and struggles. It's the exact opposite of that. You can't work on everything at once and when you try to work on everything at once, you are one making it this giant focus that's growing, right? But you're also diluting your efforts on everything that you're trying to work on. So one of my biggest pieces of advice in this area is to make a list of challenges that you want to help your child with and then prioritize them.

Penny Williams (11:09): What's the most important safety issues, health issues. Those always come up to the top as top priorities and then you work your way down. So you're working on one or two priorities at one time. This way, for one thing, ADHD is not taking over your lives. It's not everything you're thinking about. Everything you're doing, it's just a fraction of it. And that's what it's supposed to be. Our kids are so much more than their ADHD, right? Every one of us would say that if we were talking to another parent trying to defend our child, we would all say, but there's so much more about my kid than just ADHD. And so our family lives, our conversations, our thoughts all need to reflect that. We need that balance that we don't have if we're only focusing on the negatives and what's wrong and what we want to change and fix.

Penny Williams (12:16): I encourage you wholeheartedly to drop the word fix from your vocabulary because that will send you down this never ending hole of focusing on the wrong things and having them grow. And so on the flip side of this, when you're not focused all the time on the negative, what happens now you have time to focus on the positive. Now we can focus on the good stuff and the strengths and nurturing our kids' interests and talents so that those things grow. And pretty soon those can be the majority of what you're focusing on, not the ADHD, not the challenges, not how hard school is. And hear me and believe me when I say I understand how hard things are, I understand the intense, super intense drive to want to help your child, but you're not helping your child when you're only focused on the struggle and the challenges you're actually making their whole life experience worse.

Penny Williams (13:40): So I challenge you to really think about what are you focusing on? And this is not just for your parenting and not just for parenting kids with ADHD, this is really a life skill, if you will. It's a life skill to be aware of our thoughts and our responses and our reactions and to then go forward with purpose and intention. We all seem to go on autopilot and I am so guilty of this too. And when we're on autopilot, we're not controlling anything. We're just going with the flow, right? And sometimes going with the flow is great. It helps you to let go of things for a little bit and relax. But we want to go forward with more purpose and intention. We want to choose how our lives go. We want to choose what childhood is like for our kids, right? And yes, there are some things that are out of our control, but there's so much that's within our control and your thoughts and your responses are everything in this area and I have found that it's even easier for me to really focus on being aware and really catch that train when it's starting to run away by thinking about what's going on in my head every so often, I stop multiple times a day.

Penny Williams (15:24): I take a little breath and just want to think about where am I? Is this serving me? That's such a big point here is that so much of what we do and so much of that autopilot, it's not serving us. It's not doing anything for us. Yes, if you're taking a break and you're relaxing and rejuvenating, that's doing something for you. If you're perseverating on that jerk in traffic, who cut you off for the rest of the day? Is that serving you? No, it's not serving you at all. It's doing you a disservice. And we spend so much time letting our brains run away with those thoughts that end up growing and doing us just a huge disservice. So my challenge to you is to take some time to really mindfully, quietly consider where is your focus and do this right now for your parenting and your child with ADHD, where is your focus?

Penny Williams (16:35): And once you've determined what you're really focused on, is it appropriate? Is it serving you, is it serving your child, or is it just this heavy weight around your necks? It makes such a difference. And I know I keep reiterating kind of the same things here, but I really want you guys to hear me on this because it's monumental. When you can remind yourself that what you're focusing on is going to get bigger, whether you want it bigger or not, it's really kind of that barometer for you to check in with how you're feeling, to check in with where your mind is going to check in with, is this serving me or is this serving my child? We can't live in a world of ADHD and we don't want our kids to, none of us want our kids to have this heavy, negative, ADHD life, right?

Penny Williams (17:40): We all want our kids to flourish and to thrive. And that just is not possible when you're only thinking about the negative. We have to have a balance and we actually really need to tip the scales to the positive. We need more positive than negative, of course. And it just takes effort to get there, especially in this Parenthood where there's so many extra challenges and struggles, and some of it is just letting go of the minutia. We've talked about this in many prior episodes. If you let go of the small stuff, it leaves room for the positive. It creates room for more moments of joy. So this is your homework because I want you not just to hear me and learn, but I want you to implement this. I want you to benefit in your life and in your child's life from what you learn here on the podcast.

Penny Williams (18:46): So your challenge is to take some time and really think about what you're focusing on. And consider if it's something that you want to grow or not. If you don't want it to grow, let's think about something that you do want to grow. What can you replace your focus on to come out in a better, more positive way? Because this is going to create that atmosphere, that really empowering environment for your kids to thrive and then for you to thrive as well. We'd love to hear your ideas on this. Go to the show notes, parenting, ADHD and autism.com/zero eight one and leave a comment. Let me know what you have had this aha about. What have you been thinking about that's growing that you don't want to focus on me more? What are you doing to make a shift in your lives? That's it for this episode. I will see you next time.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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Share your thoughts.

  • This podcast opened my eyes that I focus on the negative and thereby encourage the behavior I want to extinguish. I’m going to focus on the am getting ready – using positive mindfulness & humor to offset the things that normally bother me. I really need to shift the negative thoughts and that guilt that follows up after.

  • Yesterday I went back to the gym for the 1st time in months and took my first yoga class then decided to walk on the treadmill for the length of a podcast. This is the episode I picked to listen to and boy did it speak to me! I could go on and on about my little journey but I wont bore you! My son just turned 15. Freshmen in high school. His math teacher said something to me a few months back that really opened my eyes and now this episode. I'm smothering him with this diagnosis. Trying to hard to ‘fix' him. He's fine. Totally capable. I need to let it go and focus on him being ‘fine and capable'! Now I just have to figure out how to do that!! LOL! Thank you for creating this podcast and Thank you to the Fuzzy Mama blog for leading me to it!

    • So glad it spoke to you! What a perceptive teacher! Such appropriate wording — “smothering your child with this diagnosis.” I'm going to remember that and use it. It's exactly what we do… out of the best of intentions and so much love, but it's not at all helpful.

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