The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: willpower

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?

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Why you need to stop putting yourself last

If you’re a parent with ADHD, it’s easy — maybe even automatic — to put yourself last.

I’m not always flush with well-focused energy. Sometimes I think I owe it all to my family. Because I’m always behind on something, I never feel like I’ve earned time for myself.

The problem is, time for ourselves isn’t an earned privilege, it’s a necessity. When you put yourself last, you’re making your ADHD symptoms worse. Taking time out for yourself will make you a better parent and open the door to a deeper, more satisfying relationship with your kids.

stop putting yourself last

Stress is the enemy of willpower

Perhaps the biggest reason to (literally) give yourself a break: it increases your self-control. Parents with ADHD aren’t born with a vast reserve of composure, and many of us have a low tolerance for frustration. Stress — sometimes viewed as an unavoidable byproduct of parenting — reduces self-control even more.

“Stress is the enemy of willpower,” writes Dr. Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct. “So often we believe that stress is the only way to get things done, and we even look for ways to increase stress — criticizing ourselves for being lazy or out of control — to motivate ourselves. Or we use stress to try to motivate others, turning up the heat at work or coming down hard at home. This may seem to work in the short term, but in the long term, nothing drains willpower faster than stress.”

Sound familiar? ADHD adults are especially guilty of the stress game thanks to our brains’ increased need for stimulation. As Gina Pera explains in her book, Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?, conflict and stress can become a subconscious form of self-medication.

Relax and step back

One of the best ways to recover from stress is simple relaxation. The human brain wasn’t built for marathons. We need short breaks — real breaks, not hiding in the bathroom while you check Facebook — to disengage our brains from whatever we’re doing. Shoot for something that lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, like meditation or yoga.

You might also want to try stepping back more often and doing a little less for your kids. It will help them learn important skills, not to mention excessive hovering can be detrimental to family relationships.

It’s easy to feel guilty about this, like you’re choosing yourself over your family. Don’t forget you’re part of that family, too. Despite abundant social pressures, attachment parenting, at least in its purest form, isn’t for everyone. Your kids need a stable, sane, well-rested parent. If you’re not giving that to them now, figure out how to get yourself recharged back to your best self.

Strive for a healthy relationship with your kids

Not only will a healthy break help you maintain your sanity, it’ll improve your relationship with your kids. After all, how would you feel if you were in a relationship with someone who:

  • Was always run-down and exhausted because of you?
  • Had no life of their own because of you?
  • Lived in constant fear of messing you up, as though you were too fragile for a real, honest relationship with them?
  • Needed you to feel dependent on them?

If you’re going at full intensity from the time you wake up to the time you collapse into bed, ask yourself: can you spare a few minutes of down time if it means you’re less likely to forget something important or yell at your kids?

Fellow parents: how do you recharge when you feel overextended? Do you struggle to create down time for yourself?

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How to stick to your list — even at Target

Some stores can make us spend more than we wanted to, every single time. For me, it’s Target.

We all know we should go to these stores with a list — and stick to it.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done. Big-box stores entice us to forget our lists and get everything we need (and more) in one convenient place.

Our ADHD doesn’t necessarily make us slaves to the retail gods. You can (and should!) practice faithfulness to a list. Here’s how.

shopping list

photo credit: ~lzee~bleu~ on Flickr

Decide not to decide

One of my favorite takeaways from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is her commandment to “decide not to decide.” Tell yourself before you even leave the house: today, I’m only going to buy what’s on my list.

When you begin justifying extra items in your cart, stop that internal dialogue in its tracks. You already decided, remember? Free yourself from the debate over “is this an okay exception to my list?” Decide not to decide.

Take a picture

It’s easy to say “decide not to decide,” until I’m pushing my cart past the indoor/outdoor area rugs and thinking, “oh right! I’ve been thinking for years that we really need one of those for the porch. I should just get it now while I’m thinking of it…”

Oh, the temptations! The thrill of seeing something desirable and purchasing it. The satisfaction of achieving something that’s (allegedly) been on the list for a long time.

Don’t wear out your willpower by resisting it completely. Take a picture. Use an app like Evernote or Pinterest to keep track of things you’d like to buy someday.

By taking a photo, you convince your brain you’ve acted upon your desire — and you have. You’ve taken steps to remember it later, and maybe even buy it after you work it into your plans and/or okay the purchase with your spouse.

Define winning as sticking to your list, not actually buying anything

You may feel especially tempted after a defeat. For example: not finding one of the key items on your list, or realizing the shirt you wanted isn’t available in your size.

It’s natural to want to recoup those psychic losses by buying something else (like that area rug you’ve been wanting). You don’t want to feel like you made a trip to the store in vain.

Keep reminding yourself that today, success means sticking to your list, not walking out with a bunch of stuff. If you walk in with three items on your list and only find one that meets your needs, it’s okay to buy just one thing. Make sure to pause and give yourself credit for making a good choice.

Eat and drink before you go

Malls and large stores make my eyes and mouth feel dry, which leads me straight to the drink section. Rather than buying a Coke or a Gatorade, I now bring a refillable water bottle.

Also, your brain can’t make good choices when your blood sugar is low. Being well fed before going to the store — any store, not just a food store — will set you up for success.

Stay aware of the game

Big chain stores are very intentional about where they place things in the store. It’s all engineered to trick us into buying something we never knew we needed.

Challenging though it may be, it feels good to be your own person. It’s satisfying to spot a trap and refuse to step into it. Best yet, self-mastery begets more self-mastery. The more in control you feel, the easier it becomes to control your behavior.

Be wise about exceptions

Despite what I just said, sometimes exceptions are okay. If you legitimately forgot to put something important on your list, don’t leave it behind and return home to a house with no toilet paper. I maintain running lists for a few different stores, and I’ll buy things from other lists if I see a good deal.

Do you struggle to stick to a list and control your spending? What strategies have you tried? What works best for you?

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