Habits: you have plenty of bad ones. How many good habits have you sustained over the years?
For ADHD adults, the answer is often none — or at least very few.
I find this aspect of ADHD particularly demoralizing. Even fun habits that make me feel great — playing a musical instrument, practicing yoga, reading fiction for pleasure — eventually fall victim to entropy. I want to continue my daily habits, but I don’t.
Are you feeling similarly discouraged? Here are three tips that work wonders for our family:
Break it down…way down.
I know, I know — people harp on this all the time: just break it down into managable pieces! Everything will be easy! But what does that really mean for ADHD adults struggling to organize our time, behavior, and thoughts?
We need to break new habits down until they feel insulting.
I want to work on my manuscript every day. How am I doing it? By opening the document. That’s it. No page or word count goals, just open the document.
It feels obvious, but it’s not. We want goal-setting to feel exciting. Our stimulation-hungry brains crave the rush of saying “I’m going write 1,000 words per day, five days per week.” We want to stand at the base of the mountain, gaze up at the top, and say, “I’m going to climb that today.”
While this works well for hiking, it doesn’t work at all for life goals. Blogger and bestselling author Stephen Guise claims aiming high actually decreases your motivation and focus. “If you slip up and fall behind,” Guise says, “the pressure of catching up and meeting the goal is going to crush you. When a goal seems out of reach, it’s only natural to give up completely.”
Imagine your most unfocused, frantic, tired, and/or demotivated day. Now imagine you’ve forgotten your daily habit until you’ve already climbed into bed. Can you hop out of bed and do it quickly so you still have a confidence-boosting success? If not, you need to go smaller. (In the case of my manuscript, I can open the document from my Dropbox smart phone app.)
If you’re truly interested in lasting change, I recommend checking out Guise’s essays Take the One Push-Up Challenge and How to Change Your Life Permanently With Small Steps.
Stop short of the summit…for now.
I call this the “one more thing” cycle: when you keep striving for just one more thing before you move on. In ADHD terms, we call it ‘hyperfocus.’ Hyperfocus exhausts our cognitive resources and steals our focus from other things.
Blogger Leo Babuta of ZenHabits recommends that we always leave ourselves wanting more.
“When you’re on the computer, shut it down before you’re done with everything,” Babuta recommends. “You’ll never be done with everything, and shutting down early means you’ve reserved some of your mental energy for other pursuits offline. You’ll be raring to go tomorrow. You won’t be as spent.”
This is easier said than done for most ADHD’ers. Ask someone to help you shift your focus at a predetermined time, set a timer for your work, or set a goal with a defined end…and stick to it.
Get comfortable with imperfection.
Remember Monday’s post about moving forward little by little, even if you don’t have a perfect solution? Don’t let fear of failure trip you up.
ZenHabits’ Leo Babuta recommends embacing the “fail faster” mantra so beloved by the software development community: “you’ll only gather the real-world information you need to make the habit stick (exercise, diet, meditation, reading, creating, non-procrastinating, yoga, etc.) by actually doing the habit.”
Try your habit. Make mistakes. Fail. But don’t beat yourself up. Try to figure out what went wrong and work around those obstacles in the next iteration.
Perhaps that’s the most important habit-building advice of all: don’t let another failure convince you that you’re a failure. Set tiny goals to build your confidence. When you fall down, get back up again and keep walking. Dedicate yourself to modeling resilience and persistance, not perfection.
In short: never stop learning from mistakes, and never be afraid to start over.