Jackie Woodside is a USA today and Amazon bestselling author, TEDx speaker, trainer, and coach. She is the founder of the Curriculum for Conscious Living and the Conscious Living Summit and trains coaches around the world.
Her expertise is widely sought-after as a speaker and teacher. Jackie is certified as a coach and licensed psychotherapist with 30 years of experience in both fields. Ink magazine selected her book, Calming the Chaos, as one of their top 10 motivational books, Jackie offers special development training, keynote speeches, and retreats around the globe.
There’s such a need in our world for people to be talking about this space. Everything about neurodiversity was gloom and doom. Woe is me. It’s so hard. There’s so many challenges. And meanwhile, I’m meeting all these people who are successful. They’re like, my ADHD made me a millionaire. My autism made me a millionaire. My dyslexia made me a millionaire. I’m like, where are these stories for the kids who get their autism or ADHD diagnosis in school?
So that’s what we’re doing there. Dyslexia is another, another big one. The dyslexia, ADD, anxiety disorder triad comes with a lot of kids who have neurodiversity. Not only is Jackie neurodiverse, she’s raising a neurodiverse teenage young man. She has a 17 year old son who goes to the Landmark School in Beverly, Massachusetts, which is a school for kids with neurodiversity, language based learning disabilities, and ADHD or ADD.
Jackie was diagnosed with adult attention deficit disorder by the man who wrote the book about adult attention deficit deficit disorder, Ned Hallowell, who has the Hellowell center in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In her thirties, Jackie’s friends were teasing her about the fact that she probably had ADD, so she got in touch with Hallowell to prove them wrong. She had already, in her 20’s, been diagnosed with PTSD, chronic depressive disorder, and recurrent depressive disorder. Trying to heal herself from her neurodiversities led her into addiction, which she has since recovered from.
At this point, Jackie is managing her neurodiversities without the need for medication.
She was so diverse in her presentation at one point that she even had a clinician write and publish an article about her treatment because it was so unusual. While her path has led her away from medication, Jackie is a huge proponent of psychotherapy, psycho-pharmacology, and alternative therapies. Her son has participated in a wilderness therapy program, which turned out to be life-changing.
Jackie was a psychotherapy clinician for 30 years, but now she takes her healing message to a much bigger stage. She says her mission is to educate, empower, and enlighten our world. Jackie has found that her ADD contributed to a need to understand, unravel, and overcome her neurodiversity. That, coupled with a strong need to contribute, led her to study psychotherapy and then to take her knowledge to the rest of the world.
Why vs. How
Primarily what she teaches is how to use your mind to train your brain. She says that ‘mind’ and ‘brain’ are not interchangeable. Your mind is your capacity to observe and direct what your brain is doing. It’s about creating the habits, systems, and structures to self-manage what your brain is doing.
As was mentioned in my interview with Olive Hickmott, Your brain is the computer and your mind is its operating system. When you let your brain have the same thought over and over and over again, it becomes automatic, habitual. In order to override those unhelpful neurological patterns like, “I suck,” “what’s wrong with me,” “I should be more organized,” you have to use your mind to reprogram your brain
Some people work well with affirmations such as, “I’m competent,” “I’m organized,” etc. Others don’t because their brain sees that as a lie and disregards it. Instead, Jackie teaches people how to assimilate those positive thoughts as part of their identity. She has a bunch of steps and strategies for helping people change the way they think.
One method is replacing the thought “I can’t” with “how can I.” Another is replacing “why” with “what am I going to do?” It’s about replacing “why” questions with “what” or “how” questions. She says our culture teaches us to ask why we are “this way”, but “why” isn’t the question, it’s the ego. “Why” is the ego’s mechanism for keeping things the same. It makes us ask “why” but not “how” to change the problem we’re facing.
So, stop asking why and move on to how to create a different pattern or experience. Since you’re changing the question, you are giving yourself permission to come up with a constructive solution. It’s kind of a complex thing to change your identity.
What happens when you go from why to, how is then you get confronted with all of the fears and insecurities and beliefs that you have that don’t support behavior change. Even though you’ve changed the question, your brain may be coming up with new limitations. Now, you are asking how to change, but you don’t know the answer. That’s where coaches come in. Coaching is such a powerful process to help people walk through that process of changing their behavior by changing their thoughts, by changing their thoughts by changing their beliefs.
Talking to Jackie about this, I was reminded that, for a large portion of the 19th century, nobody knew how the steam engine actually worked. They knew how to build them and that they worked, but since they didn’t know why they worked, the technology plateaued for about 40 years. The entire railroad system and the Industrial Revolution were built on a technology that they knew worked, but they didn’t really understand how.
Many amazing systems were built on this technology, even though they didn’t understand it in depth, just because they didn’t need to dive into the why, but at the time, making the machines do what was needed was more important.
Eventually they figured it out because they wanted to improve on its efficiency and efficacy, but that wasn’t necessary in the beginning.
Sometimes you don’t have to figure out the why to get to the how. There’s time for that later. Start with a program that works and dive back into it once you have a firm foundation. Get to good before you try for great.
Gratitude and Meditation
Another of Jackie’s methods for managing her neurodiversities is to write a daily gratitude list. It sounds kinda niche, but there’s science behind it. Writing down just a few things to be grateful for each day can improve your general sense of happiness, clarity, and progress. The usual idea is to just write a short list, but she likes to write a whole journal page.
Her depressive ADD mind tries to tell her what she’s not doing right, but the routine and conscious positivity helps ground her and reorient her mind around what is working and the blessings that she has rather than self-criticism.
She also uses simple meditation. The neurological benefit of one minute of meditation, three or four times a day, is equivalent to the neurological benefit of 20 minutes of seated meditation. A lot of people have a hard time with periods of meditation because they say they can’t clear their minds for long enough. But if you can sit and count your breaths for a minute or so a few times a day, the benefits are the same as if you were sitting for 20 minutes of meditation. It provides improvement in focus, mood, concentration, and even immune and stress functioning.
It works because, since our world is always ‘on,’ we never take the time to unplug from our phone, our TV, or our radio. We’re constantly engaged, but our brains aren’t really built that way.
Our brains are probably built to spend 60, 70% of their time inactive and 30% of the time active, versus 99% of the time active and 1% inactive.
When you run a machine intensively it’s going to have some issues. Regular short meditations give our brain the chance to put some of the mess away. Just like in retail, if you’re bombarded with customers, you never have the chance to clean the store. Eventually the mess starts slowing you down and you run out of the supplies you need to keep your store going. But, if the customers stop coming for a few minutes, you can resupply and clean.
Anxiety and Planning
The other thing meditation did for Jackie early on is help her to observe the quality of her thoughts. She knew that she had a lot of depressive, self deprecating thoughts, but what she didn’t know was that she also had a lot of anxious thoughts. The early phases of meditation helped her realize that she was just as anxious as she was depressed
In my own life, I’ve found that my anxiety occurs mostly with things I’m not looking at. Usually unresolved events and tasks. If I can look at those, I can figure out what’s been done and what still needs to be done, I can manage my anxiety. Anxiety is painful and our instinct is to avoid pain, so we avoid the stuff that causes us anxiety, which just causes us more anxiety because we’re aware we’re avoiding stuff.
One of Jackie’s books, Calming the Chaos, won awards by teaching people to cope with anxiety with daily and weekly planning sessions. By setting time aside for planning out the day, she clears her mind of the “what-ifs.” She knows when she’s going to be walking the dog, running errands, seeing clients, etc. Jackie does planning each day, each week, and she does a major end-of-year and beginning-of-year session where she closes one year and sets up for the next one.
If you don’t plan it out, get it out of your head and into your schedule, it’s clogging up your head with all of the messiness of “oh my God, I have so much to do. How am I gonna get that done?”
For each week she makes a to-do list for the week, categorized and prioritized with the understanding that she may not get through it all, but she starts with the important, top-of-the list things. She also sets up her calendar, prioritizing meetings and allowing herself time around those to do her other tasks.
Some people like to schedule out their entire lives, which can be problematic if something doesn’t go to plan, but the most important thing is to set up an order of importance so that the most important things always come first.
For me, as for so many others, ADHD comes with poor memory. I forget things. I’ll actually tell people “I wanna introduce you, but I don’t have anywhere to write it down, so I’m going to forget. So if I don’t do it by tomorrow, remind me.” It helps take the judgment off me, because I’m being upfront about it. So if you want me to do it, remind me, and if you don’t care, don’t remind me. Maybe we both forget and everyone’s happy. But, instead of worrying about why I’m this way, I’m working with it.
What Jackie Teaches
Jackie uses a smart combination of the mystical of daily meditation, the spirituality of gratitude practice, and the practicality of planning sessions to manage her ADD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
Jackie doesn’t feel as smart as people tell her she is. As a neurodiverse person, that was not her identity. She knows humans. She understands psychology, neurology, human functioning, the role of the ego, and addictions. She doesn’t care what the problem is, you bring it to her and she will give you a coaching structure to resolve it. The only question is, will you use that coaching structure?
Jackie really only teaches one thing but she has to write about it as it applies to different topics. Fundamentally what she teaches is how to live more effectively, how to use your mind to train your brain, to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, changing how you think and perceive the world. That’s the only thing she really teaches, but because nobody wakes up in the morning thinking I just wish I could raise my consciousness, Jackie had to find ways that she could make the topic sexy and appealing to people.
So time, money, change, personal growth, the younger-self letters. Those are the things that people worry about. And those are the things that She’s written about. It’s teaching the same lesson four different ways.
Most of Jackie’s work goes into fixing the underlying structure that is making people ineffective. Just like with her sciatica, if she goes to the chiropractor, but not the physical therapist, her muscles are just going to drag her spine right back out of alignment.
Unfortunately, everyone wants their 3-Step Magic Cures these days. You can apply quick tips, but if you don’t fix how you think and feel underneath, you’re going to go right back to the original behavior.
If you don’t deal with what’s underneath, the issue will reoccur. People usually want the behavioral shortcut, while Jackie looks for the systemic shortcut. It all goes back to rather than asking “why can’t I,” instead asking “how can I.”
Asking people to memorize 10 Steps to Control Your Schedule doesn’t work because very few people (and especially not the people who need it most) can remember all of them. Instead, giving a person a systematized setup that they don’t have to remember works better. Like exercise routines programmed into the phone. You don’t have to think about the order or what’s next. Just open the phone, pull up the app, and start exercising.
Everybody wants a new life, but nobody wants to change. Everybody wants to feel better and have more money and be sexier, but nobody wants to change, go to the gym or start working, thinking differently and being masterful about your thoughts and feelings and schedule. If you want a different life, you may have to invest a little bit of time and energy and effort into creating that.
Advice for the Newly Diagnosed
Be careful not to believe everything you think. If you start creating an identity that says I have this problem and you create your identity around that, it’s going to become a bigger problem.
Instead of asking “how am I impaired,” start asking “how does what I’m doing work?” “What about this condition makes me unique and strong and capable” because there’s a flip side to every condition. Being neurodiverse has its blessings. Learning disability is a misnomer. You have learning differences. When you’re in settings that match how you learn, you will thrive. Focus on “where’s my superpower,” not “How am I broken?”
My daughter probably has ADHD, but the teaching method at her school is very progressive. They move the kids around every 40 minutes and give them an outlet for their energy, keeping them from getting bored. ADHD isn’t a learning disability unless the school has a teaching disability.
Our neurology has changed incredibly over the last hundred years and our teaching methods in schools have not.
Jackie’s son wasn’t diagnosed early in life because he went to a Waldorf school. They’re creative and imaginative with art and movement as part of their everyday experience, so his differences just weren’t noticed much. As he got older, it started becoming more pronounced. When the schools adapt properly, everyone learns better. Jackie fully endorses Waldorf education for the developing neurology of children, their self esteem, and their learning.
Jackie can be found at www.jackiewoodside.com
The website has a slew of free resources, eBooks, courses, and audio. You can also send her an email from there if you’re interested in contacting her for a consultation.