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Podcast #14: Let's Rehearse....

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

How do dancers, actors, or musicians become great at what they do? They practice, practice, practice! Being successful with an invisible disability means always being prepared. But how do you do this? Let's find out together.....


If there's one thing that I know about the folks with LD and dyslexia, it's that they're motivated. I can't think of any group of people--whether adolescents or adults--who try harder. For instance, many students with invisible disabilities that I interviewed over the years repeatedly talked about how they had to study two or three times as much as their peers. Employees with LD often explained to me about staying late, coming in after hours or on weekends, trying to fully understand new projects or pushing themselves extra hard to meet critical deadlines. The stress and anxiety that this extra effort took on them was unseen--but still an enormous burden.

All of this effort is based on trying to be "as good as everyone else". Do you sometimes feel that way? If so, one of the best ways to feel equal with your peers is to rehearse what you're going to say or what you going to do as many times as you need to. For instance, the word "rehearse" is based on a 16th Century French phrase that means "to go over again" (, 2023). Today, rehearse usually means to practice, practice, practice. But how much is too much? And, how much is not enough? As many folks with LD or dyslexia have told me, that becomes an incredibly personal issue.


Often, when we think about the benefits of rehearsals and extensive practice, the first image that comes to mind is getting an award. It feels so good to be publicly told that: "You did it!". But, how did that happen? Pictures of famous athletes like Simone Biles come to mind. As she explained, “I train seven hours a day [but] I do have Sundays off. So, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday I train twice a day. And then Thursday and Saturday I train once a day.” (Balance the Grid, 2022). Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, worked between 80-120 hours a week until his 31st birthday. Even Richard Branson, the famous, flamboyant entrepreneur with dyslexia, used hard work on both nights and weekends as the foundation for his international success (Norris, 2023).

So, does hard work and practice just involve making more money? While we would all like to see that in our lives, there are many other benefits as well. For instance, hard work teaches the 3 D's--discipline, dedication, and determination (Topper, 2023). As Dharshni (2021) explains: "Hard work helps you overcome procrastination, insecurities, fear of failure and bad habits, and it gives you a purpose." In short, hard work and practice are the keys to success in adulthood. Here's a great article to get you thinking about practice . . .

Connections to LD and Dyslexia

(A) It's interesting to note that when you have an invisible disability, no one ever understands how hard you are working. Adults have told me over and over that they are constantly on a treadmill keeping up with others to meet hidden--and sometimes, not so hidden--expectations. Can you read fast enough? Are you following the right directions for a critical work or school project? Why can't you ever find what you need when you need it? All of these hurdles, and many more, force you continually trying to be just like everyone else. But sometimes you can't, just because of your processing problems that nobody sees.

It's this on-going struggle that underscores the unique relationship between

learning disabilities and learned helplessness, self esteem and motivation (Wade, 2023). As Arnold (1997) explains: "Learning disabled children [becoming] learned helpless in academic settings has been supported by numerous studies. Continual exposure to academic failure has been shown to contribute to learned helplessness, withdrawal, unwillingness to approach new tasks, and a lack of persistence. . . They are capable of academic success, but think their efforts are useless." In other words, if I keep failing all the time, why bother? Such pessimism can generalize from the public school classroom into other areas of adult life; home, school, work, community, and personal relationships.

Learned helplessness is a poison that seeps into other areas of your life as well. For instance, Gavin Reed says, "This can result in feelings of failure and frustration. This can lower the child’s motivation and self-esteem in relation to learning. Effort needs to be made to ensure children with dyslexia are provided with opportunities to gain some success, as it is only through success that self-esteem will be enhanced" (Reid, 2023). Below is a great article that describes learned helplessness in more detail:

(B) Unfortunately this negative thinking is not just a one-time thing. Learned helplessness often feeds continual worry, stress, and anxiety. These quickly become "stoppers" when you're overwhelmed and unable to move forward. You literally cannot show your full potential, as you're stuck and stressed out to the max. Here's an excellent article by Schultz (2020) to underscore how common and serious this problem can be:

It should also be noted that research has revealed a new neurological connection between ADHD and lack of motivation(ADAA, 2022;Brown, 2023; Volkow, 2010).

For instance, a study has shown that there can be a dopamine disruption in your brain that can keep you from focusing on what needs to be done. It is unclear if this is also true with other types of LD, but clearly this is an issue that needs further exploration.

In summary, does learned helplessness, low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, frustration, or low motivation apply to you? If so, what do you do to dig yourself out of this hole? Read on for ways to move you in new, positive directions!


(A) Eric has aways wanted to write a book about fishing. He first fell in love with fly-fishing when he used to go with his dad and two brothers. In fact, he was so young that he could barely hold a rod and reel. Now, Eric is a successful engineer who thinks primarily in 3-D models. He travels to projects all over the world, where he is known for being innovative and very creative. What his clients don't know is that he can barely read and write, due to his severe dyslexia. His faithful--and discreet--personal assistant is in charge of all of his personal memos and correspondence. Eric's dream is to write a book about fishing, in memory of his dad, who taught all of the boys that fishing teaches profound and wonderful lessons about life. But, when he thinks about that--Eric just gets embarrassed and laughs at himself. How could a 45 year old man who can barely read his own email write a book? It just seems like a silly dream that's not worth exploring. . . .

(B) Grace is painfully shy. She comes from a large, noisy, blended family but has always been the loner who avoids others. In fact, one of her first memories from early childhood is hiding in her parents' bedroom when her cousins came to play. She remembers always feeling very self-conscious around other people at school and synagogue. She can be so uncomfortable that she becomes dizzy, nauseous, and has sweaty palms. When someone speaks to her, Grace stumbles over her words or stares at the ground. One reason why she is so insecure is her learning disability (e.g., poor attention span, auditory memory and attention, and problems decoding social cues). Her mother keeps telling her, "You're such a sweet person with a lovely smile. You just need to keep trying". Grace just stares at her. She knows that she works in a dead-end job with few friends. She would love to have her own family some day with a husband, home and children. She's always asking herself, "Is that even possible? Is this my life?"

(C) Debra really, really hates her job. After high school, she met her boyfriend and soon became pregnant. They married right away and she went to work in a steady, government job processing social security benefits. Two children and two divorces later, she really feels stuck. Her job provides great benefits and a good salary; things that have been important to a single mom. But, her kids are becoming adults now themselves and her life is changing again. Both her son and daughter are moving out, so the house will soon be empty. All Debra has left is the stupid, stupid job. Everything is always the same; spending her day having people complain and yell at her. She would love to take a breather, use some savings, and look for a job she could really enjoy. But, given her dyslexia, she can't even think about creating an online resume, much less doing video interviews. Plus, she's been so afraid of getting fired that she never told anyone about her invisible disability. So she has no idea about what accommodations she needs or how to use them. Debra keeps thinking: she's had a hard enough time reading and writing in the social security office--how could she possibly be successful in a new, different environment?

Tips and Tricks

#1: Do It Arnold's Way

Nobody--but nobody--is more motivated than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's a multi-millionaire, a champion body-builder, one of the most famous movie stars in the world and the former Governor of California. And--wait for it. Arnold did it all himself. He was born into poverty in Austria to a Nazi military police officer who abused him as a child. When Arnold came to America, he could barely speak English. Plus, he was dyslexic. But, in spite of all of this, he flourished and became one of the most recognizable figures in the late Twentieth Century. How did he do it?

As Arnold himself said: "I have found ways to make sure it [dyslexia] doesn’t hold me back. . . It’s why when I prepare for a movie, I read the script over and over in the months before until every line is memorized, and when I give a speech, I do at least 20 practice reps so I can get my brain around the words. I give myself a second to complain and ask what I got myself into, and then I tell myself it was time to deal with it. . . I did constant reps to prepare. I broke it into small pieces instead of trying to bite off more than I could chew... (Ellis, 2023). For the whole story, click the link below. . . .

Arnold's advice is Tip #1. If you have a challenge right now that fills you with dread, be like Arnold. Complain first and then start moving right away. Break the task into smaller, easy to achieve steps. Rehearse like crazy. But, most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A great way to illustrate this is to look at Scenario A above. Eric has become a successful adult, just like Arnold, despite his dyslexia. However, whenever he thinks about his dream to write a book about fishing, he just can't do it. He quickly becomes discouraged and overwhelmed. If he can't read or write, how can he possibly become an author?

Here's where he can also be like Arnold. He could share his frustration with a trusted friend or family member and then get to work. He could start with Chapter One and dictate it one page at a time to his Personal Assistant--or hire someone else to help him organize the material. He could consistently practice, practice, practice by daily or bi-weekly dictation of another page or section. Slowly, but surely, he will have a chapter--and then a book. Eric's started on accomplishing his dream; one step at a time with lots of rehearsing his new skill of dictating his ideas for others to read. If that can work for Eric, will it work for you? Try Tip #1 and see for yourself.....

#2: Ask for Help

As you can see from Tip #1, a big part of being a successful adult is practice, practice, practice, However, that goes hand-in-hand with another important idea; knowing where and when to reach out for help. It's an interesting paradox that folks who have learned helplessness due to their invisible disability will often be the last ones to ask for help. Given their perceived sense of failure, they quickly become less and less motivated to change and more and more stuck. There's no light at the end of the tunnel--in fact, there doesn't even seem to be a tunnel.

Those feelings of defeat and depression, along with just being overwhelmed, soon become a self-fulfilling prophecy--I can't do it so I won't do it, I can't do it, so I won't do it. The cycle goes on and on. So, how do you break out of that? Good news! It's just as simple as asking for help. While it's a simple solution, it can often be hard to find the words to do just that. While the article below is about chronic illness, I think it equally applies to invisible disabilities. Check it out for a few insights into this stubborn, frustrating problem:

As Andersen (2021) shows, there are some real, concrete steps that you can use to move forward and ask for help. She encourages you to be prepared and figure out exactly what you need. She also suggests that you look for someone to ask who has the strength, experience, and abilities to support you, while also being careful not to strain the quality of the relationship itself. Once you figure out who that person is, you can then follow these steps: a) Honestly, tell the person how you're feeling and define the problem for them, b) Make your request as specific and clear as possible, c) Figure out what you are comfortable sharing with someone else, and d) Give them as many details as possible to help them help you. Perhaps, of most importance, go easy on yourself--taking a risk like this can be scary and exhausting at time.

All of these suggestions are not just theory, but real tools that can change your everyday life. For instance, look at Grace in Scenario B above. Her life is clearly shaped by her shyness and problems socializing with others. All this is aggravated by her learning disabilities. Grace has seen this as her reality since she was a child; passivity is all that she knows. To break that cycle is more than she can even imagine--that's why she needs to ask for help.

The wonderful news for Grace is that she may not need expensive materials, tutoring, or years of therapy to break out of her shyness. With Tip #2, she can do it for herself. For instance, Sherman (2020) gives 5 suggestions that Grace could use right away: a) start small with people you know, b) think of some conversation starters, c) rehearse what to say, d) give yourself a chance, and e) develop your assertiveness. If you notice the threads that run through all 5 ideas, it's practice and asking others for a little help when you need it.

So, Grace could start by explaining to her mom, another family member, or a trusted friend that she wants to try something new to address her shyness. She can go online (see References below) to find a few conversation starters and then practice, practice, practice them in front of a mirror or with someone else. She could reward herself whenever she rehearsed her new skills, especially when she's "just a little assertive" once a day. With help, she could finally try out her new skills in a real, social setting.

And, that's exactly what she did! Grace asked her sister to help her out and practiced for over a month, with ice cream sundae rewards for both of them. When she felt ready, she volunteered to work one afternoon a week at the local animal shelter walking the dogs and taking phone requests for new pets. She felt so successful that she started helping out on weekends, where she met Toby. He was looking for a Labrador retriever--and Grace found out that she'd been looking for Toby all along. They now are engaged and share a wonderful dog named Sophie. Grace is still shy at times, but she has Toby, her sister, and Sophie to help her out.

Is asking for help sometimes too much for you? If so, now's the time to be like Grace and try something new. Asking for help may just be the first step.

**Note: If you have a serious issue like Grace that may need more support than provided in Tip #2, please consider some form of personal counseling or other types of professional assistance. Asking for that type of help may be just what you need.

#3: Jump-start Your Motivation

It's probably clear right now that if you're not motivated, you won't practice. As a kid, it was one thing to have your mom nag you to clean up your room or your coach to rag on you to practice pitching if you were on the softball team. It's totally another animal to keep avoiding looking for a new job or dropping classes because you don't turn in the assignments on time. As seen above, motivation can be a real issue for some people with invisible disabilities. Hence, my ideas for Tip #3. The folks at ADDA (2022) have some great, practical suggestions to jump-start you in the right direction:

While these ideas focus on ADHD, they could work really well for anyone with LD or dyslexia. A wonderful example is Debra in Scenario C. She is clearly stuck in her misery and really needs to be motivated to start looking for a new job. She just wants a positive direction in her life. The ADDA folks would offer the following advice: 1) Break the overwhelming task into smaller goals, 2) Make a "to-do" list with specific ideas, 3) Ask for help, 4) Celebrate milestones with rewards, and 5) Use body doubling.

Debra had truly run out of options, so she decided to give Tip #3 a try. She wrote a list of first steps, such as: figuring out what job/career I want, looking into further education, writing a new resume, etc. She then started a "To-Do" list (e.g., take a free Career Interest Survey online, pick 3 new jobs, check out the educational requirements for each job, consider working remotely, start using her social network for ideas, etc.). She asked her friend Janice to be her support person as she broke out of her rut to take new risks. She and Janice went to dinner every week to review her progress and celebrate the new goals she accomplished. At one point, she and Janice actually sat at the computer together to look at a few new jobs and decide if they were worth pursuing or not. When she was ready, she rehearsed a video interview with Janice online. After 3 initial interviews, Debra decided on an online, part-time position with a group of private retirement consultants. She's now making twice the pay and going on a singles cruse with Janice to celebrate.

You many not get a cruise, but you can get a lot of motivation by using Tip #3. Give it a shot and see what happens......



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