By Rick Green
In the years since I was diagnosed, I’ve noticed 2 things that undermine my willpower, resolve and success.
One is when a new ADHD-Friendly tool, strategy, or practice that I take on doesn’t actually work for me.
The other thing that sabotages my ability to make permanent changes and stick with new habits is when a tool, strategy, or practice does work for me. Especially if it works well. Let me explain this one…
I decide to eat healthier. I decide to exercise. I add yoga to my morning routine.
I discover that exercise, walking at least 10,000 steps, really clears my head.
And doing yoga every morning makes me more calm and clear as I begin my workday.
Eating healthier? Doesn’t seem to help my ADHD. But definitely has an impact on my stamina. And combined with Yoga and more walking, 10 pounds melt away so my yoga pants start falling down when I do a Sun Salutation. So this is a good combination.
Success Breeds Forgetfulness
I start feeling better…More fit, clearer, more energetic, and I think, “Well done, Rick! Kudos to me! I am awesome. I deserve an award! A treat! To celebrate and acknowledge my self-discipline!” And since we happen to be driving by the ice cream stand, I find myself with a medium hot fudge sundae in my hand. Ten minutes later, I’m scraping the sundae bowl of the last streaks of chocolate sauce, the sundae is in my stomach.
A few days later it will be on my waistline but within about 30 minutes of licking the last of the fructose-filled sundae from the plastic spoon, I have the inevitable flip side of a sugar-rush, the crash. As a lay there, I realize how I have undermined my commitment to eat better. I console myself on having ordered a medium–sized sundae, rather than the large size I was craving [And would definitely have ordered if my wife hadn’t been there with me].
I’m sleepy. Dopey. My body is struggling to process all that sugar, salt, food coloring, additives, and preservatives.
My Liver. My Poor Liver.
I need a nap. And I take a nap…
So much for getting my 10,000 steps in today. I’ll do twice as long a walk tomorrow… if there’s time… Or maybe on the weekend… (Yes, sure, like that’s ever happened, ever, at all, at any time in my life…)
Worse, now that I’ve spent 90 minutes sprawled on the couch while my body tries to make sense of the explosion of sugar and fat in the sundae, I’m behind in my work… I’ll start earlier tomorrow to make up for it, I promise.
And I do start earlier, freeing up time by not doing my 18 minute yoga routine.
Which means I start the day behind, tense, not centered… I forget to check in with my coach. I’m more scattered and less productive.
I know you may be thinking, “Rick, no one is perfect. You did very well.”
Yes, that’s true. But I know me better than anyone else knows me. And trust me, I don’t trust me to have the willpower to do the right thing. ADHD can show up as a lack of will-power. An inability to resist temptation.
This is why I do so much better having a coach to check in with, and the wife who cares about my health and gently suggests I forgo the ice cream and eat one or 2 of those apples that we have at home in the fridge.
All or Nothing? I’m All In Favor of All.
Telling myself that I will only indulge in a few potato chips, a little ice cream, a few french fries, and only on occasion, “now and then,” doesn’t seem to work well for me. Half a bag of chips get eaten. A little ice cream becomes a medium sundae, or what the heck, a large.
Sometimes I can trick myself. I pour enough potato chips to fill a small cereal bowl. Rather than sit, absorbed in a movie, while I finish the entire bag of potato chips. But just as often, I get to the bottom of the bowl, wonder where they all went, and go fill it up again.
Why do I seem to take one step forward and then one step back, and one step forward, one step back? Why do I sabotage myself? Why can’t I stick with things that are working for me? Things I know and can see are making a positive difference?
Are there deep psychological issues at work?
Major psychological issues that I can only overcome if Freud and Jung tag-team me through 9 years of therapy?
Or is it just my ADHD?
I hope it’s just my ADHD. I don’t want to spend 9 years in therapy. Lying on a couch? The only time I’d want to lie on a couch is after a chocolate sundae.
Perhaps it’s a little of both. Dunno.
But I do know that very often I can resist temptation, whether that’s to have something my body wants to do, like inhale a chocolate sundae, or whether it’s something my body doesn’t want to do, such as going out on a cold and windy day like today to get my 10,000 steps.
Willpower in 30 Second Bursts
So, I’ve been using a trick that I learned at a CHADD Conference.
A doctor, and I’m sorry but I don’t recall who, mentioned that she had read, “If you can resist a temptation or urge for 20 or 30 seconds, it will usually pass.”
She mentioned this in long conversation among a number of experts about addiction. I don’t remember much else from my conversation. Perhaps because when she said it, my mind latched onto it. “20 seconds? 30 seconds?… I can manage that.”
I tried it the next time I was passing the ice cream stand. I didn’t beat myself up, run down the long list of health problems, or remind myself of my promise and commitments… I just thought about the chocolate sundae. And how good it would taste. And how, if I didn’t have it, life would go on. And it did.
The urge passed. To my surprise.
Amazing! Good For Me!
In 30 seconds the craving subsided. Common sense and logic took over. I actually remembered that my wife keeps our fridge stocked with healthy, organic, free-range, gluten-free, additive-free apples.
I was so pleased with this new strategy, and delighted at my newfound willpower that I gave myself a pat on the back and rewarded myself with a party-size bag of potato chips. (Kidding.)
I know ADHD is a very tricky thing to treat, to deal with, and to possibly even master. Many tools and strategies are complex and take time.
This little willpower trick has been a delight. There is only one challenge.
Can you guess what it is?
It’s remembering to do it. Remembering that it’s part of my arsenal. Remembering to pause and wait 30 seconds. Rather than remember as I’m finishing off the last mouthful of ice cream, and going, “Oh, right… Darn… I could have waited… I need to find a strategy to remind myself… and I need a nap.”