We spoke with coach and psychotherapist Sofia Souiri about her quest for finding purpose in life, and helping others do the same. Read on for an insightful conversation with lots of tips and recommendations, especially for those living with ADHD.
Thank you so much for joining our interview series! Before we get started, we would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What is your ‘backstory’, and how did you get started?
I started my quest to find my Ikigai (life purpose) after 6 years in finance. Initially, I did not know where to start, but one thing was certain: I wanted to make an impact and find something fulfilling. I had been told I was really good at listening and supporting people, and this is how I embarked into my journey of coaching and therapy.
Can you share an interesting story or anecdote that happened to you, and which you think helped direct your career?
During my psychotherapy training, I had to accumulate clinical hours and thus choose my expertise as well as clinical placements. I had applied to a few and my application got rejected by one of them because they considered that my life was ‘too sorted’. I was stunned, but I took it as a challenge, which made me apply to one of the best placements in the country, working with people referred for complex psychological problems.
In a way, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Is there a person who helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story about that?
With no hesitation, I would say my mother. She had managed to ingrain a strong belief in my head since childhood: I can achieve anything and I should never give up. A pediatrician had told her that I would excel at anything and anywhere (and she believed him). Besides, I believe she suffers from ADHD, even though never diagnosed. When I mention this to her, she replies by telling me that I helped her a lot.
Excellent. Let’s now move on to the core of our interview. For many of us, the pandemic fundamentally altered the way we work. Most notably, many teams have started working remotely, which is very different from the more traditional office environment. In your experience, has this shift negatively impacted people living with ADHD?
It has been quite difficult for people suffering from ADHD, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, as it required resilience. With lockdowns/partial lockdowns, it was difficult to find structure as well as having a work-life balance. Many of them experienced anxiety (including health anxiety). Working remotely has made it difficult to remain focused and productive while isolated from family members and loved ones.
On the other hand, what are some significant benefits of remote work for neurodiverse professionals?
There are many reports highlighting the benefits of remote work for neurodiverse professionals. Researchers have shown that remote work promotes productivity, performance, engagement, retention and profitability. Teleworkers have a productivity which is on average 35-40% higher than their office counterparts. This can be explained by the fact that they are able to spend more time working in an environment which is more conducive to deep work. There are fewer distractions at home (fewer distractions, interruptions from colleagues). Besides, employees can shape their environment: natural light, temperature, plants and artwork. These have a direct impact on productivity.
Overall, how would you evaluate the impact of these changes on the way we work? Is it mostly positive or negative?
I would say overall positive, especially in terms of productivity and performance. Employees can achieve a better work-life balance working from home. They can take breaks regularly during the day (even go outside), have clear start and end times, and interact with people regularly.
As some organizations make the move toward making these changes permanent, what are some recommendations that you would make for ADHD professionals, particularly those in positions of responsibility?
Emotional intelligence is very important for effective performance at work and in life in general, and should be developed by ADHD professionals in positions of responsibility. Successful people have a very high EI. Visionary leaders for example are empathic, self-confident, and often act as agents of change. EI can be divided into two types: personal and social competencies.
Personal skills relate to how we manage ourselves. It includes self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation. There are three self-awareness competencies. First, the importance of recognizing one’s feelings and how they affect one’s performance. Second, it is key to realize one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Third, self-confidence has an impact on performance. Self-regulation includes self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, innovation. Self-regulation means managing one’s emotions. Motivation relates to our personal drive to achieve goals. It is a key skill in order to be successful. Personal skills can and must be learned in order to succeed.
Drilling down a bit, a common quest among ADHD individuals is finding the ideal daily routine that provides productive focus without neglecting incoming responsibilities as they arrive. What do you think is a good baseline to start planning a good day at work, and at home?
Developing routines can help you stay grounded and connected to yourself. In turn, this enables you to feel more accepting of other changes happening around you. When it feels like everything else around us is in flux, finding small comforts to hold on to can make all the difference in how we process and deal with other changes in our lives. First, it is important to set a clear time to start. In addition to that, it is essential to have a morning plan. Waking up at the same time and cutting off screen-time in the morning. Having a good breakfast is also indispensable, ideally introducing physical activity and even going outside.
We are big believers in the power of prioritization. With what frequency do you think someone should review their day-to-day priorities? And what are some good tips for deciding what is your next task, when you can choose among literally hundreds of options?
The first step would be to set a time during the day to take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from adverse situations. Figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action. Know that your situation can improve if you work at it. Think about what you can do to improve your situation, and then do it. Resilient people work on solving a problem rather than letting themselves get paralyzed by negativity. Smart goal setting helps you decide how to make the change happen and to recognize your successes. Write out your goals and your plans to meet them. This should be done at a specific time on a daily basis. Checking the tasks (as well as emails) and reviewing appointments once in morning and once in the afternoon. Once every few hours, make sure to pause and collect your thoughts.
On a more personal note, how do you get yourself in the zone for productive work? Any tricks, techniques or aids that you can share?
For most people, getting in the zone requires a lot of structure and discipline. My view on this is slightly different, as allowing a certain level of flexibility is what enables me to thrive. This flexibility is achieved through prioritizing work-life balance. My brain works at its best when I am in the zone. I am able to achieve that through breathing, yoga and mindfulness. If you practice them enough, you can activate the zone.
At a systemic level, what do you think organizations can do to help employees with ADHD thrive at work, and contribute at the top of their capacity? What are some DOs and DON’Ts?
In order to help employees with ADHD to thrive and contribute at the top of their capacity, it is important for employers to be good listeners, hold their judgment but above all keep them engaged. Discuss (if any) the difficulties the employee is having. It is essential for employers to create a positive environment where employees with ADHD can work at their full potential (there are particular benefits to managing employees with ADHD). It is critical not to label employees with ADHD, and also not to discuss their medication or diagnosis.
What are some specific tools or techniques that you recommend in order to stay organized and productive? Can you give a concrete example of how to integrate them?
Before starting a busy day, try to sit down and prioritize various tasks to be accomplished. Starting with the most important one and leaving the small tasks for late afternoons. A time management chart could be useful. Creating a routine is not something that can be done overnight. A good general approach is to break goals into smaller ones (baby steps).
Getting a bit more serious now. I read about lots of people who went through their young years thinking they were incapable of great work, only to learn as adults about their ADHD. This finding is often liberating, and it enables them to understand how their mind works, and how to best deal with it. What are some red flags for someone who has not been diagnosed, but who suspects they suffer ADD/ADHD?
ADHD symptoms can be categorized into two behavioral problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most people with ADHD have issues that fall in both these categories, but it is not always the case. ADD can sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms may be less obvious. The red flags I would emphasize on are the behavioral problems that are associated with ADHD and can cause difficulties with relationships and social interaction.
For someone who ticks some of these boxes, what next steps would you recommend? Read more, or talk to someone? When is it a good time to seek professional help?
I would say both, as reading is very enriching, but nothing equals talking to someone. There is no ‘good time’ to seek professional help, but it is important to act swiftly in periods of crisis, as sometimes the damages caused can be irreversible. Indeed, ADHD in adults can occur alongside several related symptoms or conditions. One of the most common ones is depression.
Ok, we’re winding down now. Something I like to ask everyone: Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson” quote? How has it been relevant to you in your life?
‘The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed’ – Carl Jung
When speaking with others, you are also speaking with a reflection of yourself. This has made me realize the importance of self awareness, but also not to take everything personally.
Finally, my favorite part of the interview, the “rapid fire” session! (Tiny answers for tiny questions.)
- In the recent past, what book has impacted you the most?
12 rules for life by Jordan Peterson
- Coffee or tea?
- What was your childhood dream job?
I could make something up, but in reality I did not have any dream job… perhaps my dream was simply to enjoy life!
- What public figure do you admire?
Albert Rizzo and his work on virtual reality.
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be more gentle on yourself.
- What is something most people don’t know about you?
I suffered from high functioning anxiety until my late 20s.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: Pablo Diaz-Gutierrez is the founder and CTO of Appfluence, an award-winning software company that focuses on helping busy professional make the most of their limited time, better organizing emails, projects and meetings. Priority Matrix has been recommended by ADHD experts as a useful tool to help manage time, tasks and life priorities. Appfluence is producing this interview series to highlight the tools and techniques that top experts find most effective. If you would like to suggest a new topic or interviewee, please reach out to us.