ICON: Self Awareness

It is not unusual for people with ADHD to need more time and effort to build their self-awareness (metacognitive) skills. These are the skills that allow you to see the big picture, evaluate yourself, and self-monitor. Being able to recognize and understand your own thought processes can be a lot more difficult than it sounds.

Self Awareness, from an executive function lens, is the ability to recognize when you are stuck and it is therefore the first step to making change. As such, it is also the foundation of all of the other executive function skills. People with ADHD often have brains that move very quickly which can lead to lower levels of self awareness. The good news is that with a more conscious effort anyone struggling with executive functioning skills can learn to slow down and focus on observing their thoughts and feelings so that they can increase their self awareness. 

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Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness exercise example: Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.

Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback from others is a key component of increasing self-awareness. It is a very effective way to gain awareness of your skills, strengths, improvement opportunities, and blind spots. Knowing how to effectively receive feedback is a great skill to learn - here are a few suggestions to get started.

Join Counseling's Understanding Self & Others Group

Groups and workshops provide opportunities for you to:

  • Receive emotional support
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Enhance self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improve social skills
  • Gain new perspectives
  • Talk with other students who have similar experiences

You can find information on how to join on the Counseling website

Emotional Regulation

ICON: Emotional Regulation

Emotion dysregulation refers to difficulties in managing and controlling one’s emotions effectively. Emotion dysregulation and executive dysfunction interrelate; individuals with ADHD experience heightened emotional responses, difficulty modulating reactions to stimuli, and hypersensitivity to criticism or perceived rejection. They may be more prone to impulsive outbursts, frustration, and mood swings. This can impact relationships, academic performance, and well-being. 

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Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness exercise example:

Pay attention. It's hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.

Step back and identify your emotions

Before reacting, try the following:

  • Take a break from the situation. Step outside; take a walk; go to the bathroom; or get a glass of water. 
  • Identify the physical signs of your emotions. Is your heart racing? Is it difficult to breathe? Are you sweating?
  • Name the feeling and try to describe it as clearly and specifically as you can. 
  • Try writing your thoughts down.

This exercise can help decrease the intensity of the reaction by shifting into analyzing the emotions rather than being overwhelmed by them.

Impulse Control

ICON: Impulse Control

Impulse control refers to the ability to pause and think before one acts on a thought or a feeling. It often involves making decisions that minimize harm to self and/or others or that prioritize deferred gratification. It is often a struggle for people with ADHD. Examples of impulsivity include: trouble waiting in line, frequently interrupting people, jumping into tasks or making big decisions without planning, taking risky chances, and binging on snacks.

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Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness exercise example:

Focus on your breathing. When you have impulsive, negative, or stressful thoughts, sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help. This can help disrupt the momentum toward an impulsive action.

Plan ahead and use other executive function challenges

Plan ahead and using other executive function challenges in your favor by placing them in between a future impulse and action, thereby making it more difficult to act impulsively. 


  • Add in extra steps. Making a task more complicated can decrease your likelihood of acting impulsively. For instance, if you are trying to cut down on drinking, try not keeping alcohol in the house. That way next time you have a craving for a drink, you have to go all the way to the store or out to a bar. 
  • Write it down. If you have trouble interrupting people while talking, write down the thoughts that pop into your head while they are talking so you can bring them up when they are finished. 
  • Limit your opportunity. If you know you have a hard time saying no to certain things, you can always give yourself a hard limit before the temptation arises. For instance, if you are trying to spend less money, leave your cards at home when you go out for the night and bring only the amount of cash you want to spend.
  • Add a waiting period. Don’t be afraid to institute an enforced waiting period for yourself when it comes to commonly problematic impulses. For instance, if you have a tendency to say yes to invitations and then regret it, you could institute a rule that you always say “thanks for the invite! I’ll check my calendar and get back to you later this evening” so that you can think it over before you commit.