The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: video games

Ditching video games: more than making time & space

Around the turn of the new year, something amazing happened in our house: we got rid of most of our video games. This means less clutter, and I’m excited about the benefits for our family’s energy and willpower.

Mind you, no one really played these games, but my husband wished he could play them. I call this psychic drag, and it’s one reason I love decluttering.

When we hold onto certain kinds of things we don’t use — books, musical instruments, craft supplies, even video games — we don’t just hold onto the thing itself. We hold onto the idea of the thing, and our expectations for how it should be used.

video games

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizing expert Marie Kondo illustrates how excess stuff hinders self-awareness: “We aren’t sure what would satisfy us or what we are looking for. As a result, we increase the number of unnecessary possessions, burying ourselves both physically and mentally in superfluous things.”

Video games usually harbor less emotional baggage than, say, once-cherished musical instruments or a box of old love letters. That makes them a great place to start. Letting go is a learned skill. As we practice (and start reaping the rewards), we get better. We gain confidence to say goodbye to more things, and figure out what we want to make space (and time and money) for.

As Kondo says, “the best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”

Leaving our willpower in the bank.

Removing temptation from our home — be it video games or candy — also sets us up for success with other challenges.

That’s because willpower is a finite resource, just like money in the bank. As Stanford University professor Kelly McGonigal writes in The Willpower Instinct, “people who use their willpower tend to run out of it.” Dozens of studies have confirmed this. “Trying to control your temper, stick to a budget, or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength,” explains McGonigal. “Because every act of willpower depletes willpower, using self-control can lead to losing control.”

Knowing this, I don’t bring cable television or candy into our house. Getting rid of the video games was another big step in the right direction.

Visible, easily-accessible temptations give us a choice. Choosing not to indulge spends a precious resource. I’d rather use that self-control elsewhere: not yelling at my kid, for example.

Everyone can benefit from learning about the science of willpower. I’m especially mindful because people with ADHD start with a lower balance in our willpower bank. We can thank the prefrontal cortex: the part of our brain responsible for “controlling what you pay attention to, what you think about, even how you feel.” In the end, it controls what you do.

This area of the brain — the home of our so-called executive functions — is also where ADHD wreaks its havoc.

The big takeaway for me: more than the average family, it’s critical for us to define our priorities, then systematically remove distractions. Remove the option of channel-surfing or using the television as background noise. Remove the option of playing video games instead of board games with friends. Make sugary snacks unavailable. Strive, as much as possible, for a minimalist lifestyle.

Remove temptation, but also clutter, noise, and distraction. Make choosing the right thing just a little easier.

Science, not edicts.

When it comes to managing our household — setting routines, creating the weekly menu, decorating, deciding which possessions may stay and which must go — I try to back up my decisions with brain science. It’s harder to argue with science than a declaration of “I don’t want you wasting time on video games.”

The video games felt like low-hanging fruit: removing temptations and clutter at the same time? That’s what I call making room for what matters. It’s a simple change with a nice payoff, not to mention extra cash in my pocket after I sell them.

How about you? What have you let go of lately? Is it time to say goodbye to something that siphons off your time, money, or willpower?


Don’t forget to play

It’s no secret that physical exercise provides acute relief from ADHD symptoms. While it probably won’t replace stimulant medication for most people, it provides many similar effects.

So why aren’t we all in great shape?

Well, exercise can be boring. It’s another habit to maintain, task to complete, and commitment to fulfill. It requires motivation to do something that’s good for you, but not necessarily fun or easy.

That is, unless you’re a kid.

adult playground photo

Get in touch with your inner child (in a good way)

For all our foibles, many ADHD folks are described by friends and family as fun-loving and spontaneous. It’s time to (for once) use those qualities to your advantage.

It’s time to go out and play.

Yesterday morning, I exhibited some childish and embarrassing behavior that, much like bad behavior in actual children, was remedied by a trip to the playground. And coffee and breakfast, but that’s another post.

If you’re having a rough day — or if you just want to be at your best — find fun, spontaneous, playful ways to get some exercise. This is especially important if you also have active kids in your life. Follow their lead once in a while! Some of my favorites have included:

  • Climbing walls or practicing pull-ups/bar hangs at the playground with my kid
  • Throwing a tennis ball against the house and catching it until my heart rate is elevated
  • Running up and down the stairs when I feel restless (this is a variation on my toddler’s habit of running laps around an area rug, something that makes most adults too dizzy)
  • Playing Just Dance or Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii/Playstation
  • Going to the rock gym with my husband

You don’t need to join a gym to increase your overall health and mental well-being. You don’t even need to put on your running shoes. Start by remembering what it’s like to be a kid. Go out in the sun, run around, and get your blood flowing, even if you’re just jumping over obstacles in the yard.

Oh, and be sure to ignore any funny looks from neighbors. They’re the ones missing out!

How do you trick yourself into being more active? Please share in the comments!


What’s standing between you and your goals?

I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to do before I turned 30.

I’m accumulating things to do every day, but I don’t have time to do any of them.

Have you battled thoughts like these before? You’re not alone. In our quest to do all the things, we ADHD’ers risk ending our days, weeks, months, and years feeling like we’ve done none of the things.

At least, none of the things that matter most.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I love decluttering my home. Purging unneeded items has begun to feel liberating, as though every surface I clear allows me to breathe a little deeper.

But what about the other side of decluttering — the intangible side?

Cluttered time, scattered focus.

We don’t just clutter our lives with stuff. We overspend our time and attention every day. By the time we finish saying yes to another volunteer commitment, watching our favorite TV show, scrolling through our Facebook news feed, and reading our way down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, we’re on empty. It’s probably long past bedtime. Worst of all, we’re no closer to reaching our big goals.

Of course, getting organized with goal-setting and time management is a must. But just like there’s no use sorting your closet into labeled bins if it’s full of junk you don’t use, you can’t organize your time if you’re spending it willy-nilly.

Filling your hours and your days with whatever comes along, sounds like fun, or seems like a good idea at the time is exhausting. Your brain literally cannot attend to it all while maintaining a grip on your true priorities.

Unfortunately, the only way to increase your attention to what’s most important is to cut back somewhere else: weed out as much external distraction as possible. This holds true for nearly everyone in our chronically overcommitted society, but none more so than ADHD adults. Since we begin with a smaller pool of focus and willpower, we must spend it wisely.

This year, I’m examining how I spend my time and asking some tough questions: Is this worth the raw quantity of time I’m spending on it? If I used that time to work on my stack of unfinished fiction writing, what could I accomplish? 

Some of those choices will hurt.

Some of our family’s so-called sacrifices have been effortless. We cancelled our cable television subscription several years ago and haven’t regretted it for a minute. Our trio of streaming services allows us to watch our favorite shows intentionally, not by channel surfing or turning on the TV for background noise.

Others have stung a little more. When I began working on this blog two months before its launch, I quit World of Warcraft. I left behind an entire social group, a guild full of nerdy LGBT adults. I still think about my friends there and wish I had access to our guild chat, but the blog isn’t where I want it to be. Until it’s on cruise control, I can’t afford another time commitment.

This month, I deactivated my Facebook account. It’s supposed to be temporary, but I’d love to work out the logistics of leaving the site permanently. Quitting for good will require some bigger sacrifices, though. I’ll have to weigh those sacrifices against the cost to my creativity and personal goals.

Letting go of anything can be painful, but especially so if it’s a favorite downtime activity, a long-standing volunteer or social commitment, or a video game addiction. But don’t shy away just because it’s uncomfortable. Try your best to be objective. Honor your own values and ambitions, not the impulse of the moment or fear of how others might react.

Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’ve been down this road before, what tips can you share? What helped you choose which demands on your time to eliminate? When have you fallen off the wagon?


Gamify your goals with One Task, One Stone

One Task, One StoneHere’s one for the gamers among us: a way to use your video game addiction for good, not for distraction and self-medication.

Several years ago, my friend Matt Agnello of Hungry Gamer wrote about a motivational system called One Task, One Stone.

One Task, One Stone (let’s call it OTOS for short) layers a leveling system (like those used in role-playing games) onto real-life situations. Has the number of hours logged on a World of Warcraft character or a Pokemon game ever made your jaw drop? You can harness that for real-world productivity.

The idea is simple. It requires a marker, a mason jar, and a few bags of glass stones. Draw lines on the side of the jar as shown. Number them however you like, but I enjoyed spacing the levels farther apart as I went up. This mimics the increase in XP required to gain successive levels in many role-playing games.

For each task completed, place a stone in the jar.

As you fill the jar with stones, you’ll “level up” at regular intervals. This capitalizes on our pre-existing relationship with games to maximize real-life productivity.

Image via Hungry Gamer

Image via Hungry Gamer

I recommend using this system to work toward a specific goal: decluttering your home, staying on top of chores, getting out of debt, learning a new skill, or starting a freelance career. Just make sure you award one stone for each discrete task, no matter how small.

Not only should you work toward a specific goal, you should identify a prize for reaching a target level. When I tested OTOS in my own life, I promised myself a new couch when I hit level 12 at the top of my jar.

My generation is the first to have grown up with gaming. The concept of progressing toward a goal by leveling up — and of receiving XP for successfully turning in a completed objective — is a natural concept for many adults under age 35.

One Task, One Stone

OTOS inspired a huge, immediate shift in how much I got done and how many goals I achieved. Instead of gravitating toward the path of least resistance — ironically, often playing more video games — when I reached a stopping point on one activity, I found myself eager to identify a new to-do item so I could drop another stone in my jar.

I ended up getting my new couch, and it served as a tangible, prominent symbol of my personal victory.

I now use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which provides enough stimulation and motivation for me to stay on track most of the time. This is not true for everyone. If you’re looking for an extra push, and especially if you enjoy playing games, I highly recommend checking out  Matt’s original post for more details on the concept and execution. He invites you to tweak it and expand on it, and so do I. Share your results, keep working toward that prize, and don’t forget to put recharging time on your to-do list!


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