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Part Two: ADHD and Time Blindness with Dr. Ari Tuckman

Today, we’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Ari Tuckman, exploring one of the most frustrating and baffling quirks people with ADHD deal with on a daily basis – Time Blindness. 

In today’s episode, we’ll learn more about the ways time blindness affects our executive functioning, how the pandemic and technology changed how people relate to time, plus we’ll talk about ways you can feel more successful in managing time blindness issues in your own life. 

This is part two of our conversation. We highly recommend going back to episode 134: Understanding ADHD and Time Blindness with Dr. Ari Tuckman and listening to that before you get started on this episode. 

You can also learn more about Dr. Ari Tuckman and the work he’s doing within the ADHD community through his website here

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:06):

Hello and welcome back to Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD. I’m your host, Lindsay Guentzel, and if you’ve been listening to Refocused for a while, you know the drill. Every week we dive into the incredibly complex world of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, exploring the topics most important to our community by interviewing medical providers, mental health professionals and experts about ADHD, and discovering tips, tricks and workarounds that we can mix and match to fit in our own lives and needs.

(00:37):

Last week we started our conversation with Dr. Ari Tuckman about time blindness, or the inability to sense the passing of time. Ari is a psychologist with over 25 years of experience in helping people with ADHD who has spent decades explaining this very common ADHD quirk to both his patients and their loved ones. And now he’s here sharing his expertise with us on Refocused.

(01:02):

We learned a lot in part one, like what time blindness is, the impact it can have on our self-esteem, relationships, health and careers, how neurotypicals view time blindness, and how ADHDers actions and emotions can get wrapped up in that. We also talked about how it’s possible to measure success when we start using skills and strategies to cope with time blindness. If you haven’t listened to part one of our conversation, I encourage you to press pause and go check it out. I’ve linked it in the show notes and you can also just hop back wherever you’re listening now to Episode 134.

(01:39):

We’ve got a lot to get to today, so I want to get right back to our conversation, so whether you’re all caught up or want to be spontaneous, we are getting started on part two of our look at ADHD and Time Blindness with Dr. Ari Tuckman right now.

(02:03):

I was listening to a webinar that you did for Chad back in 2019 and you talked about the different evolutions that you’ve experienced in your time researching ADHD. And I’m wondering if you can explain those for our listeners because I know that the third evolution, and this is before the pandemic, relates to the topic of time.

Ari Tucker (02:22):

When I first started out back in the late ’90s, my first understanding of ADHD was just, here are the symptoms of ADHD. I don’t know why, but they’re in the official manual, so I guess that’s what it is. Obviously then as I sort of got more and more into ADHD and started reading Barclay’s stuff and Tom Brown and some of the other biggies, what I came to understand was, oh, wait a second, ADHD is really about executive functions. It’s about a lot more than just attention, it’s about a lot more than just hyperactivity. So it’s about managing our attention, it’s working memory, it’s being aware of time and planning and impulse control and all of that. That was sort of my second evolution. I was like, oh, these executive function deficits, that’s why people with ADHD have these specific symptoms and not other symptoms.

(03:12):

And then fast-forward, I sort got to the point of realizing what executive functions are really about time, really, this is about time. I sometimes say that ADHD is really about seeing time and feeling the future. And that when someone, let’s say, gets distracted in the moment, what happens is that distraction, whether it’s something happening around you or something inside your own head, it sort of hijacks your attention. That it pulls you away from the task that would be better to do in the moment, probably by something that’s more fun in the moment and taking you away from the thing that’s probably better for your future.

(03:53):

Or the forgetfulness associated with ADHD, the procrastination, the disorganization, or not putting things away, is not about this moment. We put things away now because it’s going to be better later, either because it’s less of a mess or we can find what we need when we need it. So it’s really about time and how people with ADHD kind of relate to time. And I just find it’s a much more useful way of understanding ADHD that sort of resonates more, but also it suggests some strategies over others that are more likely to be effective.

Lindsay Guentzel (04:28):

I’m curious how the pandemic added to or changed some of the understanding that you have on how impactful time and time blindness can be for a person with ADHD.

Ari Tucker (04:41):

Yeah, the pandemic really just sort of… It took what was there and cranked it up a couple notches. There are a lot of people who we’re sort of hanging in there, at least well enough, before the pandemic, and then they’re trying to work from home and realizing, oh my God, I am dying here. I’m so distracted. I’m not getting anything done. Or trying to manage young kids through school from home, which is like, I don’t think you could design a better torture for parents, teachers, and children. I’m so glad my son was not in second grade at the time of the pandemic.

(05:17):

Again for the kids, the parents really saw and they’re like, holy moly, we got to do something here. And time, when we’re all working from home and crammed into the home, time became so amorphous. We lost some of those markers that we have in more normal times. Like, okay, got to wake up here, school bus comes here, got to get out the door by here, got this thing at this time, this thing at that time. And then when everything was online, everything was much sort of squishier, you know what I mean, and fuzzier. So it really sort of heightened, or it took away a lot of those external time markers, which then just I think revealed those who were better at their internal sense of time versus those who were not.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:02):

You mentioned the role that distractions play in time blindness, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what you’ve seen in how technology, mainly our cell phones, plays a role in adding to this issue.

Ari Tucker (06:18):

Oh, you mean those devices designed by geniuses whose entire job is to figure out how to get you back onto their service and keep you there? Is that what we’re talking about?

Lindsay Guentzel (06:30):

Yeah. Those devices that you will be holding and you’ll be walking around your house looking for them. Yes.

Ari Tucker (06:36):

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I mean it’s so hard because there’s this kind of… I mean, it’s this awesome convenient integration, but also this unfortunate integration where we’re using the same devices for working and playing. Back in the old days, I mean, I would sit in my room and I would do my homework, I’d have my books, and that was it. It was like me and my books, okay, I’d have my stereo running also, but still, I didn’t have the TV, I didn’t have my friends sitting next to me, physically or virtually. It was like me and my books. There was not that much else that was interesting at the moment. Now kids are doing homework on their devices, adults are working on their devices, and every other thing on the internet is probably more interesting than what you’re supposed to be doing.

(07:29):

So I use the analogy, it’s kind of like being on a diet and working in a bakery. I’m not saying you can’t do it. It’s going to take way more willpower. I’ve sort of come to this point after having a bajillion conversations with clients that gone round and round on this. I’ve really sort of come to a point of being much sort of recommending in a more forceful way that maybe you need to set up an internet blocker. If you can’t manage it yourself, whether you’re 50 or we’re talking about your 12-year-old, if you find yourself too often doing other things and what you’re supposed to be doing and you just can’t limit yourself, maybe you need to set up a legit blocker, not this stupid thing that comes with Apple where they’re like, oh, you spent 17 hours on YouTube. Would you like to continue? Yes, I would. Thank you. Swipe. Boy, that was… Nailed it.

(08:22):

So something that really, really actually puts a limit on, let’s say, one hour of YouTube a day, or no YouTube from this time to this time, or only three hours total on all social media, or whatever the parameters are. But if you’re really, really not able to manage it, maybe you need something stronger.

Lindsay Guentzel (08:45):

Well, and that brings up a word that I think is hard for some people to hear and it’s discipline. And it’s the reason why when that thing pops up and says, would you like to continue, I would imagine the majority of people say, yes.

Ari Tucker (08:59):

Of course. And the thing of it is also what happens is when you’re sort of in the zone, you don’t sort of pause and say, let me reflect upon how my day has gone. Let me remind myself about what the rest of my day holds. Let me think about my better self and the goals that I have for my life and how does this moment relate to them. Right now it’s just sort of this automatic knee-jerk sort of swipe, done, and away we go. Which is why stuff like limits, those are not limits, those are just sort of reminders or suggestions or something. It’s sort of like a limit needs to be a hard limit, if it does.

(09:37):

I do my first clinical rotation in an outpatient substance abuse clinic, and it’s actually really been helpful in how I think about ADHD in the sense of, it’s that old cliche, if you’re an alcoholic and you want to not drink, don’t freaking go to a bar. If you are in a bar, you’re 37 seconds away from a drink. That’s it. Hey, bartender, I’ll take one of those. Tick, tick, tick. Now I’m drinking, right? Don’t go to a place that has alcohol if you don’t want to drink. Don’t keep alcohol in the house if you don’t want to drink. It gives you much more time when you decide, I would like to have a drink, to sort of stop and reconsider, right? Halfway to the store, you can say, wait a second, what the hell am I doing? No, no, no, turn around, call my sponsor, whatever.

(10:24):

So it’s sort of the same thing with ADHD. It’s managing distractions and temptations, and if a distraction is one toggle or swipe away, you’ve got about four milliseconds to make a different choice. And because of this time blindness, once you’re in, first of all, don’t lie to yourself of I’m going to check Facebook real quick. This will just take a second. Right? No, it won’t. It never takes a second. But it’s also like don’t count on yourself to know how long have I been doing this, because history tells us often, too often, you’re probably going to spend more time there than you want.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:03):

Something you mentioned about distraction, we had Dr. John Cruz on to talk about object constancy or object permanence, which is what it’s called in the ADHD community right now. And we were talking about the use of cell phones and the conversation kind of came to the distraction side of things, and he talked about how we’ve become a society that is reflexive, not reflective, meaning you get a text message and you feel like you have to respond in that immediate moment, and then it throws off everything. If you think back, you mentioned studying without a computer. You used to have to call people, and if they didn’t want to pick up the phone, they just wouldn’t pick up the phone. I remember so many times the phone would ring during dinner time and, oh, nope, let it go to the machine because you had boundaries. And that’s something that we have really take over our lives, just becoming so reflexive.

Ari Tucker (11:58):

Yeah, that’s totally true. And that’s not an ADHD thing, that’s an everybody thing. I saw this recommendation about how to manage your cell phone a little bit better. One of the recommendations was simply put a rubber band around your cell phone. So when you just, yoink, grab it without thinking, you notice the rubber band, you’re like, oh, let’s think for a second.

Lindsay Guentzel (12:21):

Which is interesting, because that was the thing for a long time. If you wanted to stop chewing your nails, put a rubber band on your wrist.

Ari Tucker (12:29):

Yeah. Because what it does is it’s something that’s not supposed to be there, so it grabs your attention and puts it front of mind where you’re like, oh, right. So it breaks that automatic habit, that reflexive response and hopefully gives you another kind of millisecond there to ponder and consider. And that is Barclay’s response inhibition theory of ADHD. That’s sort the fundamental impact of ADHD. It’s that ability to sort of pause for a moment, stimulus, pause, before responding. And it’s kind of fractions of a second often, but it’s that ability to hold for a moment and actually consider what you want to do. I think that this is where mindfulness is generally helpful for people, that it sort of puts a bit more of a pause, a bit more awareness, and less of just autopilot.

Lindsay Guentzel (13:27):

Mindfulness and self-reflection have been huge for me I’ve realized, and it’s one of the coping strategies that I have tried to start doing. I’m not saying it’s perfect and we’re only a couple of weeks in, but I have found, let’s say I wake up and I’ve got all of this time in the morning before I have to leave for whatever the first appointment is. I used to do whatever I wanted to do and then I’d be like, oh, I only need a half an hour to get ready, which is never the case, again. Horrible-

Ari Tucker (13:55):

History does not bear that out. Yes.

Lindsay Guentzel (13:57):

Yeah, exactly. So what I’m working on is going, get ready now and then you have all of the time in the world.

Ari Tucker (14:05):

Yeah. When you’re losing track of time and then you’re realizing too late, oh, now there isn’t enough time. That mad dash scramble is not reflective, right? You’re not pausing, you’re just racing. Which is a great way to, I don’t know, forget to bring something, to forget to lock the door. It’s just like you don’t have that luxury of time to think about what you’re doing, so it sort of robs you of that opportunity, which then has downstream effects.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:38):

I’m curious how task initiation, and I say task initiation, and what I mean by that is one thing that I have struggled with, let’s say I have a full day open and it is full of promise and opportunity and the sky is the limit, and I make a to-do list that somebody who has a better understanding of time would look at and go, that is a week’s worth of activities. How is it that we have such a hard time understanding how long things are going to take us? Because I imagine there’s probably a couple of things playing a role there.

Ari Tucker (15:13):

Yeah. And that’s definitely a thing. Folks with ADH… Well, everybody tends to underestimate. I think the reason why is we think to ourselves, what is all the things related to this task? Okay, add those up. And that’s fine, except for the stuff we forgot and like, oh, right, actually I need to go, where are those scissors anyway? And oh wait, I don’t actually know that I have to research it. What was my password again? And then I have to do a password reset. Oh, I got another email. Oh, they emailed me back. Hold on. I’m just, really quick, I’m just going to see what they…

(15:45):

So it’s all this other stuff then that gets added in. It’s all the unexpected interruptions like, “Mom, the dog barked in the living room,” right? So it’s like you start adding those things in and it really sort of increases. So I had this conversation with somebody yesterday or the day before, which is basically, just always add something. Even when you’re like, I swear this is like 20 minutes. It’s like, yeah, okay, 40. You just know I just need to add more. Or alternatively, you take your to-do list, you start with the most important stuff and you’re just like, look, whatever I get through that, that’s a success because maybe the problem isn’t your productivity, it’s your expectations.

Lindsay Guentzel (16:30):

I’m wondering how being a people pleaser can play into time blindness, and what you’ve seen working with patients where you maybe see their to-do list or all of the things they’ve told people yes to, and how that can then impact how detrimental time blindness can be for them.

Ari Tucker (16:46):

I think that that people pleasing is definitely… it’s one of the responses, it’s one of the coping mechanisms. It’s one of the consequences of these sorts of struggles, because people with ADHD are socially aware, they get it, they understand how this whole thing works. So I think it’s a compensatory mechanism. It’s a way of avoiding yet another conflict, yet another disappointment. So it works. There is indeed a logic to it, and also it comes at too high of a cost. So if you find that you’re people pleasing, I think it’s worth, I don’t know, you might have to talk to a therapist, but certainly getting on top of your ADHD and feeling like you’ve got a bit more of a right to sort of push back and frankly to let other people take care of their own happiness. It’s your job to be a good friend. It’s not your job to make them happy.

Lindsay Guentzel (17:46):

For folks you’ve worked with who have found success in managing time blindness, what has stood out to you in those people? Is there a common denominator or similarities?

Ari Tucker (17:58):

So I think first of all, for many folks with ADHD, medication really makes a difference. And for all the hype and drama and whatever, bottom line is the medication for ADHD, meaning the extended release stimulants, they tend to work pretty well. The risks and side effects are manageable. Very few people abuse them. Folks with ADHD are actually way more likely to forget their meds than they are to take too much. So let’s all sort of calm down a little bit on that one. So certainly medication, it just sort of helps you do what you know, so that’s part of it.

(18:28):

I think a second thing is really being honest and intentional about distractions and temptations. Don’t fool yourself that you’re not going to get distracted by distractions. So to the extent that you can, sort of push away, turn off, put over there, the stuff that you tend to slide into. Put that stuff farther away, make it harder to access. I think that’s some of it.

(18:53):

I think some of it is also, I don’t know, a seriousness of purpose, so to speak, where they really recognize this is what it takes. This is what’s important to me. Here’s the person I want to be. Here’s the life I want to create for myself, so I’m doing it. I’m freaking doing it. And that they’re willing to take those steps, and I think that in that sort of feeling the future kind of way, they sort of hold that front and center in their mind and they really sort of remind themselves of this is why it matters.

(19:27):

And then I think a fourth thing, if it is number four, is I think it’s being serious about sleep, diet and exercise. I call it the New Year’s resolution stuff. Russ Ramsey calls it the Grandma stuff, which I think is also awesome. And if you’re getting four hours of sleep and you’re not eating anything until 6:00 PM, you’re not bringing your A game, right? At least I’m not. I’d be a nightmare. Again, it takes good time management and time awareness and distraction resistance and everything else to do a good job with sleep, diet and exercise. But do the best job you can and doing a little bit better is still better than not. So recognizing that that’s kind of part of the process as well.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:08):

I want to wrap up by asking you, what’s one thing people can do tomorrow to have a better understanding of how time blindness might be affecting their life?

Ari Tucker (20:20):

I think to just notice it, to sort of reflect back on your day and to recognize where are the times where I was more aware of time and how did that work out? Where are the times that time slipped away on me and what are those downstream consequences? And from that, to really try to be intentional and it’s not helpful to people to say, when you find yourself being distracted or hyper-focused, try to be less distracted or hyper-focused, right? It’s like telling someone when you trip and you’re halfway falling to the ground, try not to be falling, because things are in motion, too late.

(20:58):

But rather to try to think about, okay, so where are my slippery spots? What are the things, where are the times, places, and activities that are most likely to get sucked in and lose time? And the place to do something is before you get there. So again, it’s like back to the alcoholic in the bar. The least effective strategies are here’s how to not order a drink when you’re sitting at the bar. I’m not saying you shouldn’t also maybe have those, but I’m not betting money on that, my friend. So better is how do I not get there in the first place, and really sort of being intentional, and frankly, really being honest in maybe making some hard choices. Or at least, I don’t know, doing some hard acceptance.

(21:43):

So for example, to say, I waste a lot of time on Instagram. I know I do, I know it’s a problem, and also right now, I’m not going to do anything about it. I would respect that way more than, what do you mean? I don’t waste a lot… What? No, come on. I don’t care what you do. Just be honest about what you’re doing.

Lindsay Guentzel (22:09):

And that brings us to the end of our conversation with Dr. Ari Tuckman, looking at ADHD and Time Blindness. I hope these episodes have provided you with some valuable insights into the challenges faced by those living with ADHD. It’s important to remember that time blindness is just one aspect of ADHD, but it can have significant impact on not just our daily life, but the trajectory of our entire life.

(22:35):

The good news is there are strategies and tools available to help manage time blindness and improve time management skills. With the right support and approach, it’s possible to work toward understanding the challenges you’re going through. The first step to get there though, is talking about it. Whether it’s with a healthcare professional, a therapist, your best friend at work, opening up about your struggles with ADHD and time blindness, while difficult, also opens you up to finding something that might work for you.

(23:04):

To find out more about Ari and the work he’s doing, you can head directly to his website, tuckmanpsych.com. That’s Tuckman, T-U-C-K-M-A-N, psych, PSYCH, .com. I’ve also shared the link to his books and resources on time blindness in our show notes.

(23:24):

Next week we’ll wrap up our series on Time Blindness by sharing some real life stories from people with ADHD on ways time blindness shows up in their lives and what we are doing to combat it. I’m saying we, because as I’ve mentioned, time blindness is something I seriously struggle with, and I’m going to share some of my stories with you too. And we’d love to include you in the show as well. Share with us how time blindness affects you. Maybe it’s a lighthearted story we can all relate to, or even a deep from the heart one that we can probably all relate to as well. You can email the show directly, [email protected]. And you can also reach out to us on social media, @RefocusedPod or @LindsayGuentzel. Thank you so much for tuning in, and we’ll see you all back here next week.

(24:15):

Refocused is produced thanks to the support of a ADHD Online. Visit a adhdonline.com to get started on your mental health journey today. And remember to use the promo code REFOCUSED20 at checkout to take $20 off your smart assessment.

(24:31):

Thank you so much for listening to Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD. This episode was produced thanks to the support of Sarah Platonitis, Phil Roaderman, and John Bjorklund, as well as our incredible sponsor, ADHD online. To learn more about the podcast, head to adhdonline.com/refocused. You can also find us on social media, @RefocusedPod and @LindsayGuentzel.

(24:55):

Our show art was created by Cissy Yee of Berlin Gray, and our music was created by Louis Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39.

(25:11):

Make sure you’re subscribed to Refocused wherever you’re listening now, so you don’t miss out on a single episode. And while you’re at it, we would love it if you’d leave us a rating and a review. That’s the bread and butter of podcast life. Remember, we’ll be back here next week to wrap up our series on time blindness. In the meantime, take care of yourselves. And in an effort to reduce the unbelievable amount of stress we all carry around with us unnecessarily, please be a little kinder to yourselves this week.

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