The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: January 2016

When ADHD makes it hard to keep trying…try smaller

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trying.

January should be all about resolutions and new beginnings, but it doesn’t always sparkle for ADHD’ers. Something I read on Penny Williams’ Keeping It Real Parenting ADHD & Autism hit the nail on the head: Penny lamented “experiencing the same crap, year after year.”

try smaller.

New Years resolutions, support systems, a new way of organizing our lives — all can remind us of failure, past or still to come.

Some ADHD’ers dread sitting down to talk about goal-setting. Some of us get all jazzed about a new to-do list app, but hesitate to use it.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trying.

Many adults with ADHD are dealing with years of accumulated failures. Even if a new idea seems great, we may say, why bother?

Obviously, this is no way to live. How do we keep going, keep trying, keep believing in our own capacity to succeed? We can start by rethinking our idea of progress.

Scale back

2015 was one of my most successful years yet. I solved more problems than I created around the house, moved forward on a major redecorating project, got rid of a ton of clutter, facilitated a monthly fiction critique group, and maintained a regular blogging schedule (among other things).

I did it all by lowering my expectations.

ADHD brains think big. When we bother to set goals, we want them to be ambitious, exciting, sparkly.

At the same time, we struggle to estimate how long tasks will take, and we often forget steps when we’re thinking through a process. Our brains don’t connect past outcomes with future ones. Wasn’t it Einstein who described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That’s us.

If we set the bar too high, we’re destined to fail. When I read Stephen Guise‘s Mini Habits last year, I adopted his too-small-to-fail philosophy. I started setting embarrassingly low goals. I wouldn’t commit to working on my novel every day, I’d just open the file. I wouldn’t do a full yoga practice every day, I’d just get into downward facing dog. I didn’t need to prep the whole dining room for painting, I just needed to touch my sandpaper to one spot of spackle.

And things started getting done like magic. Once I got a taste of success, I gained confidence, and I started retraining my overambitious brain.

Accept small progress

When I set the bar lower, I took on a whole new challenge: I had to become okay with the mundane. People with ADHD don’t like this. We like to bite off more than we can chew (when we bite off anything at all). As I get older, the binge-then-neglect style of working on home improvement projects — or any projects, really — isn’t working. I’m convinced our 30s exist to teach us the art of juggling more responsibilities with less energy and idealism.

I not only had to [force myself to] set lower goals, I had to make peace with this new idea of success. Yes, I can open my manuscript, close it, and feel okay. Yes, I can run only one mile and feel okay. I can paint a room over the course of four days instead of in one day.

A thousand small steps will get us to the finish line. One or two giant steps, followed by burnout and complete inactivity, will not.


My ADHD gives me a poor sense of time and an even worse memory. If I feel like I got nothing accomplished at the end of the week, it says more about my mood at that moment than my actual productivity.

I’ve started keeping track of small victories: writing a list in my notebook, or even on a sticky note. I want to remember, moments of low confidence, that I checked off an overdue task today, put my kid to bed on time, or invited a writer friend to attend a conference with me.

My husband, a software engineer, set up a ticket tracking server for our house. It sounds weird and nerdy, and maybe it is, but I love logging in and seeing a visual reminder that I’ve resolved more problems than the house has thrown at me. When my husband gets discouraged about the number of things still left to do, I point to it and remind him that we’re making progress.


You could accomplish the same thing with a piece of loose leaf on the fridge or, if you’re feeling fancy, a spreadsheet.

The point is, in addition to scaling back expectations, it’s important to keep track of your progress — however small. It’s so easy to lose touch and, in a moment of weakness, assume you haven’t accomplished anything.

Once you free yourself from your expectations to dream big, you may find yourself recording a flood of tiny achievements.


Book Review: ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, but all opinions here are my own.

Part of me is always looking for the perfect ADHD book, even though I know it doesn’t exist. I need a whole shelf full of them to cover every angle.

ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know may, however, be the perfect ADHD overview book. When the publisher contacted me about doing a review, the title made me skeptical. It’s a bold claim.

ADHD What Everyone Needs to Know coverHowever, once I started reading, I felt so fortunate to have found this book. It’s not all there is to know, but it is, as the title suggests, what everyone needs to know about ADHD. Not only that, it’s easy to read and weighs in at just under 200 pages.

The greatest value of ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know isn’t even the ADHD crash course the authors so skillfully provide. The FAQ-style format will prepare readers with responses to others’ questions as well as their own. Remain open about your or your child’s ADHD for long enough and you’ll know exactly what I mean. With so much conflicting information and sensationalist reporting out there, a reasonable and comprehensive layman’s overview is long overdue.

I especially appreciated the nuanced perspective on recent surges in ADHD diagnoses among American children. The chapter exploring “who you are and where you live” leaves no room for black-and-white arguments. A close read reveals no single truth: yes, accountability laws that defund failing schools are correlated with increased ADHD diagnoses, not to mention increased use of stimulant medication. Yes, diagnosis rates dropped when the carrots of Race to the Top replaced the sticks of No Child Left Behind. However, that data is open to interpretation, and while overdiagnosis is certainly possible, it doesn’t delegitimize ADHD.

This balanced presentation of facts won’t validate any battle cries, but it may be our best bet for responding to those extreme viewpoints. Like most issues, ADHD — and our knowledge of it — contains many gray areas. I found it impossible to maintain a bias while reading this book. Hinshaw and Ellison offer their own interpretations, but they also explain why certain areas remain gray. For example, sometimes ethical issues prevent the controlled studies that would answer some of the toughest questions.

That said, I struggled with the authors’ treatment of ADHD in women and girls: specifically, the suggestion that boys with ADHD outnumber girls two or two-and-a-half to one, with the gender gap closing by adulthood. But perhaps this is informed by my own experience as a girl who struggled from a very young age, suffering in increasing silence as I reached middle and high school.

I’ve also read conflicting information on some forms of behavior therapy for children. Specifically, my personal experience and research discourages the use of external rewards and punishment, sticker charts, etc. (For an excellent, concise illustration of this point, check out Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting.)

The authors do acknowledge this problem, saying “the difficulty for children is to maintain their progress [outside] the tightly managed environment.” I myself excelled in the structured environments of grade school, college, and family. Shedding these supports in my 20s, I had no capacity to cope with my ADHD as it affected my adult life.

In this behavior therapy chapter, the authors’ well-rounded approach becomes confusing. While it begins by offering behavior therapy as a possible substitute for medication, it ends by saying most of us really need both. This latter point is weakened by ambiguous language earlier on.

Overall, ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know is an essential read for any educated consumer seeking ADHD diagnosis and treatment. The book focuses more on childhood ADHD than adult ADHD, but there’s enough general information to give both groups an excellent foundation. If you’re struggling with questions about your or a loved one’s ADHD — including your response to others’ unsolicited questions and opinions — this book is for you.


What does ADHD cost you?

cost of ADHDWhen we think about New Year’s resolutions, we imagine ways we’d like to improve. Things we promise ourselves we’ll do better this year than last.

But why?

Really, why do we want to change? Specifically?

Because it’s a good idea? Because we know we’re not perfect? Because our spouse asked us to?

Not good enough.

In my experience, change doesn’t happen when motivation to do so is abstract.

One of the most powerful agents of change for me — and the beginning of my journey toward proper ADHD treatment — was an exercise from Marilyn Paul’s It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. Paul (no relation to me) challenged readers to inventory the real costs of disorganization and personal ineffectiveness.

My list looked a little like this:

  • Money
    • Late fees on bills I forgot to pay (despite having enough money in the bank)
    • Lost interest on checks I forgot to deposit (or lost money entirely if the check was so old the bank wouldn’t take it)
  • Health (medical appointments I forgot to schedule)
  • Hobbies (never have/make time for them)
  • Piece of mind in relationships (anxiety, guilt, feeling others’ trust is misplaced)
  • Serenity (no calm, orderly place to retreat to in my home or office)
  • Social outlets (never have/make time for friends)
  • Personal and professional skill development
  • Long-distance friends and family (didn’t keep on top of correspondence)

When I took stock like this, my heart felt heavy. I feared I’d never reach my potential. Worse, others would see me as aloof, uncaring, disorganized, and irresponsible.

But it was kind of like the time I multiplied the cost of my daily latte habit over the course of a year: the process necessitated an “oh, s&$#” moment.

There’s a famous Maya Angelou quote, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

It’s easy to brush off an overdraft fee here or lost check there. One failed friendship might have any number of explanations. But taken together, I couldn’t deny the pattern. My ADHD — though that’s not what I called it at the time — was costing me a fortune, in more ways than one.

And once I really knew better, I resolved to do better.

It’s been a long road, fraught with switchbacks and wrong turns, but I think I’m getting somewhere.

Have you ever tried to quantify the costs of ADHD? Has it helped keep you motivated, or just demoralized you? (I definitely experience both on a regular basis!)


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