Category Archives: Tips and Strategies

Things I’ve picked up while improving my situation… tips, strategies, on what works, or what does not work.

Focus Cards: How to keep focus

Focus Cards can be used by people with high level of distraction and bad short term memory to quickly regain focus when they get distracted.

The problem

Since I’m a person with a pretty bad short term memory (due to Asperger, I think), and are pretty good at getting distracted (mostly due to ADHD), I’ve found, that part from my to-do-lists (in GTD-style), I need something to keep me focused while I am working on a task.

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Getting Organized

If you are an Aspie you probably have a lot of things. Old stuff you cannot throw away.

Perhaps you collect things? I’ve heard examples of anything and everything from model airplanes, to plastic buckets, to rubber boots, to pictures of horses. Aspies seem to have the collector gene in spades!

As a consequence, you probably have a rather messy home. I know I used to. I had piles of things covering the floor, only leaving small “paths” snaking through the mess and connecting my bed, my computer, the kitchen and the hallway.

Given that an Aspie can get rather stressed out by a too cluttered surrounding or by not being able to find stuff, this is usually a problem that needs to be solved.

Continue reading Getting Organized

Mindfulness at the dentists and other “problematic” places

I had a dentists appointment this morning, and I thought it would be a nice place to try some mindfulness.

I figure you’ve basically two main strategies here. Either use mindfulness to distract yourself by focusing on some place other than your teeth (e.g. Your feet), or focus on what’s happening with your teeth here and now.

I should mention that there was no drilling involved in this visit, but I usually has a lot of tartar that needs to be scraped off, and I have very sensitive dental necks, so it’s usually not a walk in the park.

I started to focus on what the dentist (or actually hygienist) was doing with my teeth, and I very quickly noticed that it seemed to hurt more if I lost that focus. When I really experienced the things she did to the teeth with a kind of curious interest the pain became much more tolerable.

I think for two reasons: I was really there, feeling what was happening, not what I anticipated would happen, and I accepted what was happening – it was almost as if I was involved in the actual “poking around.”

So, the link to Asperger and ADHD?

Some experiences and situations might feel a bit like a dental exam to an aspie, and if using mindfulness on those situations, I think they would become much more tolerable..

Mindfulness and morning sleepiness

I’ve started a treatment (for Asperger Syndrom, and it’s actually experimental, but I am pretty sure this one’s here to stay), consisting of CBT and mindfulness (I’ll try to write more about this), and using the mindfulness I had a revelation (almost in the literal sense) this morning about my morning sleepiness.

When I wake up I am almost always “hammered” (no not drunk, but it’s not far from it). Sometimes I am so “heavy” in the body I can hardly walk straight, and I am so light sensitive even a candle makes me whine and want to hide under the cover again.

This morning, like many others, I was sitting at the toilet, almost falling back to sleep, knuckles on the floor, chin on the bathroom sink, eyes crossed. And just for the fun of it, or if it was a newly acquired instinct or what it was, I said to myself: “I feel tired…”

For those who have no idea what mindfulness is, in short it’s about learning to observe your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations from a distance, going from letting them define who you are to viewing them as separate entities in your mind. That is, going from “I AM tired” to “I FEEL tried”.

What happened this morning was pretty amazing. Imagine a bridge (like one of those you see in an Indiana Jones movie) breaking in two and collapsing. That was what happened to my tiredness. It just fell off.

I was amazed and shocked, but it made me think.

My conclusion, so far, is that I’m heavy in the body from residual sleep paralysis (what keeps us from rolling out of bed when we sleep, or perhaps more evolutionary correctly, falling out of the tree ;o) and I am light sensitive, well because I’ve had my eyes closed for several hours. However, the tiredness is something I’ve probably learned to associate with these two feelings. It may be a made up feeling …

Sure, I am probably tired some mornings, I’ve almost fallen asleep more than once although I’ve already left bed, but I suspect that might also be a bi-product of me being heavy in the body. I mean, after all, most people doesn’t faint from tiredness, they go to bed and fall asleep long before they do that, a little like eating before you get hit by “hunger panic”… kind of.

Well, knowing that I might have to deal with being heavy in the body and light sensitive in the morning instead of just being tired might help a lot when it comes to getting up (and avoid snoozing, did I mention: I’m a snoozer! :o)

Update: well, I’ve actually had mornings where I was really tired, and didn’t had the above effect, so… I guess the situation is that I can use mindfulness to lessen the effect of being tired, but what I really should have done is using it to get into bed at a good time the night before… (in spite of any thoughts about how hard it will be to fall asleep or how meaningless it is, or how strange – I mean, sleep: you lose consciousness for 6+ hours, hallucinate wildly and wake up with more or less, total amnesia…)

Mentalization

Some persons with Asperger Syndrome has problems mentalizing (although it not being part of any diagnose criteria as more than “impaired” skills in social interaction and communication – I’ll add a source if I find one!)

I’m one of them, but before I get into my personal experience of it lets define mentalization:

“Thinking is thinking. Mentalising is thinking about thinking and feeling, our own and other people’s.” – http://www.organiclemon.org/id7.html

“To understand the behavior of others as a product of their mental state” – http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mentalize

Mentalizing – the ability to understand oneself and others by inferring the mental states that lie behind overt behavior” – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychoanalysis/unit-staff/mentalization_bpd.htm

You may also find this article on Wikipedia helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentalization

Sometimes I’ve heard Aspies are supposed to have problems with empathy (which is totally wrong in my case – I empathize). I think Aspies probably have trouble with the mentalization (among other things – some people are actually too shy to talk much even when it is obvious the other person needs it – that, however, is not me! :))

If you are unable to, or having a hard time to imagine the other person’s feelings and thoughts correctly, you’ll also have a hard time figuring out the correct emotional response. And when you laugh or look serious in the wrong situation people will start wondering about your empathic abilities.

I have a bunch of examples from my past, like the girlfriend I was feeling was sliding away – and when she had her birthday without inviting me I call her to ask why, and finally breaks up with her… just to realize I did this on her birthday… but by then it was too late. Foot firmly inserted in mouth. What I’m saying here is, breaking up might have been the right thing to do, but not on her birthday… or over the phone for that matter. Sure I had an idea about what was going on, and what I should do, but I never stopped to think about how she would feel about my behavior.

Having problems mentalizing also makes you an easy target for anyone wanting to con or take advantage of you (I stopped counting the amount of money and time I’ve thrown out the window on idiots I didn’t figure for idiots until too late). If you don’t get a feel for the other person’s thoughts, needs etc, you use yourself as a reference instead, and I happen to be a pretty nice and honest person (too damn honest – but that’s another post). So when the signal doesn’t get through you start by saying – hey they have honest intentions, right? And then when you get burned and the signal still doesn’t get through, you start saying – hey this (completely different person) is probably going to do just the same thing (as the other, completely psychopathic person did)… right?

Another consequence is that you might seem selfish or self absorbed. You’re having a hard time getting the feel for what’s going on in the head of other people so you start using yourself as the yardstick. And this in turn makes talking about everything from your perspective an important part in understanding everyone else.

Lacking in mentalization also means an Aspie might say, “hey I don’t want to talk about that, it’s boring…” Which isn’t the best of conversation starters, but because you’re not so much in tune with what’s going on in the head of the other person you miss the fact that talking about what you want all day might actually be boring to them.

However, there’s some hope. First of all, like anyone else, I’ve also grown up. And as you get older things starts falling into place. I might feel a conversation is boring, but try to steer it into something else, something both parties might actually find interesting. Not just say: “boooring” right out. And since I have rather narrow interests (another Aspie thing) I’ve become an expert on not just seeming interested, but finding interesting things in what people tell me (like when they go on about painting the boat or orchids – the orchids conversation actually got me thinking about getting more flowers to my apartment… see?)

Another thing is, most people actually aren’t as complicated as you might think. They have a few things going through their heads, different fears (of not fitting in, or lacking in some way, or that someone near or dear will get hurt, or won’t like us – fear is a huge part of what goes through people’s heads on a daily basis) and needs (love, safety, self worth… well basically Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), and so on. It takes years to figure it out, but even after a short while you start understanding – on a logical level – what’s most likely going on in the head of the people around you.

I’ve found books on body language and facial expressions helps a lot (think “Lie to Me” but less fantastic and more scientific). My favorite book (which unfortunately doesn’t exist in English) is called “The art of Reading Minds” (translation of “Konsten att läsa tankar” by Henrik Fexeus, there’s also a German translation, but I have a hard time thinking there wouldn’t be equivalent texts in English or other languages.)

What I like about this book is that it’s scientific (in spite of the title), it does not claim to contain any truth or only way to do things, and it’s pragmatic. Instead of tons of theories on rapport (to mention one of it’s subjects) you get; try to speak and breathe in the same pace as the other person, and you’ll start creating rapport, and when your body is on the same level of alertness as the other person, it might be pretty easy to figure out what they feel and think – simply by looking at your own thoughts and feelings, which is more often than we’d like influenced by our breathing, alertness level and other purely corporeal factors.

So, by analyzing behavior, it is possible to do what most people does by instinct, even though it takes longer to get there, and you may sometimes come off as a bit self-centered or too analytical. The core of the problem, however, was nicely described to me by a friend from many years ago. We were having a rather philosophical conversation and she said, “you know, I can ask if you understand, and you might say, sure I do, but I’ll never be able to know for sure that you really do.”

And that’s the human condition for you 😉