The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: Leo Babuta

“When…” “If only…” & our quest for Somewhere Else

“I feel like you’re always waiting for something,” a high school boyfriend once told me, “and then you can be happy. But when that thing comes, you’re not happy, you’re just waiting for something else.”

Knowing me, I probably tried to argue with him.

I eventually forgot his comment, only to have it brought to the surface as I read Dr. Wes Crenshaw’s I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not“You were born with a great fondness for Somewhere Else,” Crenshaw’s words called to me, “that glorious place, person, thing, or idea that’s anywhere but here.”

Somewhere Else

Nearly 15 years post-boyfriend, as a far more self-aware ADHD adult, the words felt stark, painful, and true.

This “great fondness for Somewhere Else” really is something we’re born with, though, isn’t it? In the struggle to be content, mindful, even present in any given moment, many of us come to realize, this feeling isn’t about Here. Or You. Or Somewhere Else. Happiness, fulfillment, and love are states that we cultivate in ourselves, not feelings that come to us when we’ve finally arrived Somewhere Else.

Fred Rogers — yes, Mister Rogers — expressed his thoughts on love in a way that really speaks to me:  “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

What would it mean to apply this to loving ourselves, our partners, our homes, our lives?

For all the stereotypes (many of them true) about ADHD’ers questing for pleasure and instant gratification,  satisfying the now without regard for long-term consequences, some may be surprised that being happy in the moment doesn’t come naturally for us.

In fact, as ADHD expert Gina Pera writes in Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?“ADHD often confers a degree of neurologically based irritability, moodiness, hypersensitivity, or outright anger.” In other words, we’re not as much fun as you think we are, and we’re not having as much fun, either.

That’s (in part) because learning to achieve love and happiness in the long term takes a lot of sustained focus and effort. We know others seem to have it, but we don’t know how to get it. Before I sought treatment for my ADHD, I didn’t have a clue what that sustained focus and effort even felt like.

Learning what that work feels like and strengthening the mental muscles that allow us to do it is critical to long-term well-being. Otherwise, we’re just waiting for the right circumstance to come along — or roaming the world in search of it — so we can finally sit down, take a deep breath, and be happy.

Somewhere Else is a dangerous place, mostly because if we keeping looking for it and wishing for it, we’ll never get there. Somewhere Else is Here. We just need to stick around long enough to learn to really, deeply love it.

I’ll leave you with these words from zenhabits writer Leo Babuta:

Many of us can point to external conditions that get in the way of being present (some problem on our minds), or that get in the way of being happy and content. But actually, the things that are stopping us are all inside us. We can’t let go of problems and be present. We are frustrated with ourselves, with others, with our situation, with the way the world is, and we can’t let go of wishing they were different.

The obstacles are inside us.

And so, can’t we let them go?

And can’t the time for happiness be right this moment?


3 ways to make good habits stick

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.


Link Roundup: baseball, telling time, and mini habits

  1. watchminderAn Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit via ZenHabits
    ZenHabits’ “it’s hard, but just do it because it’s worth it” tone frustrates me sometimes because it can discourage ADHD folks. Even so, it’s one of the few blogs I can say I’ve followed for over five years. I particularly appreciate posts like this, where author Leo Babuta talks about his less-than-perfect moments — and how he found his way out of them.
  2. Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself via ZenHabits
    The title says it all. After my recent post about negative self-talk and setting a good example for our children, this is especially apt.
  3. Chris Davis & ADHD via The Baltimore Sun
    When the Baltimore Sun first broke this story about the Orioles’ Chris Davis, I was impressed all around. Davis was articulate, up-front, and mature in his response to the media after his suspension for a bureaucratic SNAFU with his Adderall. He did a great service to the adult ADHD community by clearing the air and trying to dispel popular misconceptions about ADHD and stimulant medications.Of course, reporting matters, too. The Sun’s treatment of this story turned it into a positive event rather than a negative one — an opportunity for learning rather than hype and gossip.
  4. WatchMinder
    When I discovered this product on Penny Williams’ ADHD parenting blog, I was shocked I hadn’t seen it anywhere before. The WatchMinder is a vibrating wristwatch that accepts up to 30 preset alarms per day. Users can also program custom on-screen text reminders to accompany the vibrating alarm. As I mentioned in my recent post about time blindness, ADHD’ers of all ages struggle with time: being late, misjudging how long a task will take, even gaining an accurate perception of time passing at all. Alarms often fail to help with transitions, leaving on time, etc., because they are so easily snoozed, turned off, and/or ignored. I’m intrigued by this watch because it doesn’t just give task reminders, it reminds us that time exists. I imagine setting the watch to vibrate every hour could go a long way to teach time-blind ADHD’ers what the passage of an hour actually feels like.
  5. Mini Habits & the One Push-Up Challenge via Deep Existence
    Stephen Guise promises “lasting change for early quitters, burnouts, the unmotivated, and everyone else, too.” The surprising thing is, he actually delivers. We’ve been testing our own mini habits at The ADHD Homestead with unprecedented success. I’m cracking open my novel manuscript almost every day. My husband reports that he’s stuck with the One Push-Up Challenge for “longer than [he’s] ever stuck with anything.” Forming habits is hard. Setting reasonable goals is even harder. These concepts can help you achieve success you never thought possible.I encourage you to read up about the mini habits model, but here’s the core idea, in Guise’s words: “If you commit to losing 87 pounds, it’s a huge decision and a constant burden until you accomplish it (or fail). You’re overcommitted. But the commitment level of doing one push-up or crunch is almost zero, so there’s no pressure and you’re free to do your best and take life’s unpredictabilities in stride.”

Saying goodbye to Facebook

On January 1, I said goodbye to Facebook, ostensibly for a month-long hiatus.

I won’t be back anytime soon.

Go ahead — try it with me. The thought may make you uncomfortable, but a social media break may do more for you — and your brain — than you think.

Facebook signal noise

Unplugging…and missing out

First of all, let me be clear: quitting Facebook wasn’t easy. Our family and friends make a constellation over the entire globe. For some, the internet is the only way we remain connected. While I’ll fill in the gaping holes with more direct and/or less cluttered services like Google Hangouts, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, and personal blogs, I will lose touch with people as a result of leaving Facebook. This is something I’ve had to accept.

I also worried about my platform as a writer. Could I continue to build an online presence sans Facebook? I searched for a few bloggers and authors I respect and found that not all have built their success via social media. In fact, Leo Babuta even wrote a detailed post on zen habits about leaving Facebook. The costs don’t always outweigh the benefits.

Surprising side effects

Quitting Facebook didn’t just give me more time. I’ve had more creative energy. Surprisingly, I’ve actually spent more time thinking about my friends than when their names populated my news feed.

During my first weeks without Facebook, I often caught myself viewing life through social media’s lens: encapsulating my experience into status updates, even when I was nowhere near a computer. That habit has gradually fallen away, freeing up mental real estate for meaningful, intentional writing and reflection.

I feel less distracted on a daily basis, and I’ve resumed work on a major fiction project after taking more than a year off.

Perhaps most important, I have a better handle on my social relationships. I find if we’re “friends” with someone on Facebook, it’s easy to absolve ourselves of any other responsibility for that relationship. I’d stopped connecting one-on-one with too many good friends — even those who rarely use Facebook.

Try this at home: my advice

I’m not telling you to delete your Facebook account tonight. However, there’s a lot to be learned from disconnecting, even temporarily. Consider taking a time out and observing the effect on your productivity, creativity, free time, and distraction level. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Check your calendar first.
    If you’re part of an upcoming event that’s being organized via Facebook, take your break afterward.
  • Don’t make it too short.
    It took a few weeks for Facebook to work its way out of my daily thought processes. Take the time to break the habit. Returning to your old ways will feel less appealing.
  • Transfer responsibility.
    If you manage or co-manage a group or page, make a plan for maintaining it in your absence.
  • Use an app.
    If you can’t disconnect completely, only check Facebook at certain times of day or set a timer to limit your use. Avoid taxing your self-control by using an app like the Productivity Owl, which regulates internet use based on your rules.
  • Contain it.
    If you don’t cut Facebook out completely, make your usage more intentional. Try removing the app from your smart phone so you can only check in when you’re sitting at a computer.
  • Facebook might not be the problem.
    What corner of the internet is hijacking your brain, even when you’re offline? Take a break from it to gain perspective.

Whatever you do, I wish you luck on your quest to reduce distractions, improve social relationships, and get more done. Feel free to share your stories and suggestions in the comments!


Link roundup: unbroken chains & ADHD-friendly environments

I haven’t adopted link roundups as a regular feature here, but every once in a while I find myself with too many browser tabs left open to share later. Here’s a selection of this week’s web wanderings:

  • Environmental Strategies for Living with ADHD via
    “Environments that are noisy and unorganized (e.g., a playground or shopping mall) can be overly stimulating for people with ADHD. It may be harder than usual to concentrate in places where too much is going on.” Since chaos tends to follow us naturally, this can be easy to forget. Check out these quick tips for creating a more ADHD-friendly environment.

  • Don’t Break the Chain – Jerry Seinfeld’s Method for Creative Success via The Writers Store
    Regardless of whether or not you’re a writer, this is a great article on creating habits. I’m considering trying a more tangible/literal approach with an actual paper chain in my office. More on that later.
  • Are you an unclutterer or a cleaner? via ZenHabits
    “The main difference between being someone who is just clean and someone who is an unclutterer is that unclutterers look for permanent solutions. An unclutterer will invest the elbow grease into organizing her home and office so that she saves time and energy in the future.” This sums up my approach to household maintenance: reduce your resistance to doing chores by making them easier.
  • ADHD and Organization: Clear Clutter from Your Workspace via ADDitude
    Says one ADHD’er of his desk: “It’s an embarrassment, and I know I should do something about it. I just don’t know where to start.” This article follows one couple’s attempt to get a shared desk cleared off and organized, complete with handy tips from a professional organizer.


Minimalist blog roundup

Less means you spend less. You need less storage. You need a smaller house. Less means you worry less. You search for things less. You are less bogged down by clutter.

— Leo Babuta of zenhabits

We ADHD’ers have so much going on in our heads, often that clutter and chaos extends into our physical surroundings. Organizing our things takes too much time, too much focus. We cave to the excitement of buying new stuff. Our lives become so messy, we buy duplicates of tools and supplies because we forget we already own one — or we just can’t find it when we need it.

I know. I’m about to buy what I think is our third pair of office scissors.

In a household where true calm is hard to come by, the only path I’ve found to a more satisfying life is through less. Doing less. Consuming Less. Owning less.

My husband once told me, “we don’t have enough storage space in this house.” I told him, “there’s no way to know that until we’re using it effectively to store things we use and love.” We’re not there yet. We have a long way to go. But we’re in a much, much better place than where we started, and that feels lovely.

If you stress about being short on money and time, about not being able to find things when you need them, about constantly feeling behind — give minimalism a try. Take a look at what these bloggers have to say about how simplifying has freed them to live a richer life.

My favorite minimalist blogs:

  • Unclutterer
    I already mentioned this one in my review of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, but it belongs at the top of my list. Unclutterer is full of practical, reasonable, simple, and challenging advice for living an uncluttered life. New content is posted regularly, and you can catch up on old content via regular “A Year Ago on Unclutterer” posts.
  • The Minimalist Mom
    While it lacks the raw quantity of Unclutterer, The Minimalist Mom makes up for it in quality. Parents will love Rachel’s genuine approach to blogging about minimalism. She admits it’s not always easy and talks about the challenges of living with less while also living with young children. It’s tough, but she’s doing it, and she paid off $80,000 in debt in just under two years. That’s enough to catch my attention!
  • zenhabits
    I would be remiss not to include this one, as it’s been with me since my earliest Google Reader days. It’s packed with great philosophies and the posts are short, sweet, and well-edited enough to digest in one sitting. ADHD buyer beware, though: many of Babuta’s challenges will be especially hard for us. Don’t beat yourself up if it feels like way more than just a paradigm shift for you to “inhabit the moment” or “overcome instant gratification.” These are cornerstone ADHD struggles, and our work to overcome them will look different than the average.
  • The Minimalists
    While I don’t frequent this blog for practical tips the way I do Unclutterer or even The Minimalist Mom, Joshua and Ryan have some lovely essays up here about their path to minimalism. Don’t worry, you’ll find practical help, too, like the obvious-yet-easy-to-forget advice to “start with the easy s***.”

Do you have a favorite minimalism- or organizing-themed blog? One place I don’t skimp is my Feedly account, so send it all my way!


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