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Changing Tracks on Your Random Brain Thought Train – Tips for Cognitive Transitions

“YOU WEREN’T LISTENING” is the response I get after I ask a question I can only assume is something that has already been addressed. Shoot! I think. I did it again – more like I didn’t do it. Ugh – listening. Auditory processing is HARD. Processing… That’s it! I was listening, I obviously heard him enough to acknowledge his voice, but I wasn’t able to focus enough to process the information. My thought train was going too fast, caught up in the journey, making it extremely difficult to stop suddenly and process the next topic. 

“Think of having ADHD in this way… You have a ‘Ferrari’ brain but with ‘Chevy’ brakes.” ― Unknown

I often feel like my brain is going so fast, with a million loud thought trains on roller coaster tracks, all moving in different directions, “choo-chooing” loud as ever. It makes it very difficult for me to slow down enough to process any new information. Especially when a sudden conversation is initiated, and I am currently engrossed in something else.

Changing Tracks on Your Random Brain Thought Train - Tips for Cognitive Transitions

“It’s like being a cat with 100 people with laser pointers.” ― Jamie Hynds

Having the cognitive energy to slow down and switch my tracks fast enough to follow what other people are saying is extremely hard and can come across as not listening. (Sometimes the opposite happens when my brain is too sluggish to track information,  but I am saving that for a different blog 😉.)

Bottom line: auditory processing as an ADHDer is very difficult. This is often a struggle when working with people, in a job or school environment, in social situations, and even at home.

This “ah ha” moment made me realize how important it is to give myself time for cognitive transitions. Time to prepare for a change in subject when having a conversation or starting one. When I was able to add time for cognitive transitions, it made being present and focusing much easier, as well as improved my relationships. But what does that look like?

One strategy is to incorporate mindfulness. Noticing when your brain is getting off track and intentionally shifting focus to the present moment or conversation. The ability to notice and refocus takes time as well as practice. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Using verbal cues such as “Can you repeat that?” or “I didn’t catch that last part. Can you say it again?” can also be helpful. This gives you an opportunity to pause and think about what was said, especially if you are overstimulated or in a loud environment.

Another strategy is self-advocacy. Connect with the people around you and encourage them to tap you on the shoulder or say your name first before initiating a conversation. This can be a helpful tool as a way of someone pulling the lever to help you change your thought tracks.

I’ll say it again – auditory processing is hard. It takes time to find a strategy and see what works. Think about what might be helpful for you and how much transition time you may need. Can you visualize your thought patterns? What helps you stay present? What reminders do you need? If you don’t know, I wonder what you could try. It could be as simple as listening to “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne – who knows!

Alicia Kohls, M. Ed., PCAC

Alicia Kohls, M.Ed, PCAC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach