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ADHD and New Year’s Resolutions

Why Resolutions Don’t Work for Adults With ADHD

Let’s talk about motivation, procrastination, and strategies to manage adult  ADHD.  First a question. Have you made your list of New Year’s Resolutions yet? That’s good! Did you write out your resolutions and post them in a place you can’t possibly forget? Even better. And did you forget where that was?  Or forget you wrote that list until I mentioned it? Better still! Now you can create some NEW resolutions!  Like a lot of adults with ADHD, I love ‘new.’  And like most of us, I have a problem sticking to long term goals. Oddly enough, I LOVE setting goals!  Making a long list, estimating times, organizing them under ‘HEALTH,’ ‘RELAXATION,’ ‘FUN,’ ‘HOBBIES,’ ‘VACATIONS,’ ‘TIME OFF’. Did I miss anything? Oh, right, ‘CAREER.’  (I call it my ‘CAREER’ but like many folks with ADHD, if you look at my career path it’s not a logical, well planned, straight line.  It’s more like someone played a game of drunken hopscotch.  Luckily I found a career where ADHD can be an asset.)

My Goals For 2020

It’s fun to imagine the year ahead, isn’t it?  To lay it all out in a beautiful manifesto.  But in planning the year ahead I found some of my ‘Goals Documents’ from years gone by.  Long, thoughtful lists of 1,297 things To-Do, laid out in the firm belief, “This year will be the one.” But I never really considered what I meant by “The One.” Every year it was the same.  “Get more organized.  Use my agenda.  De-clutter.  Simplify.  Get in shape…” Noble intentions indeed. I never listed goals like, Procrastinate for days, Forget important projects, feel overwhelmed and give up.” And yet, when I’d look back at the year gone by…

New Year's Resolutions

I Failed At My New Year’s Resolution

The resolutions I used to make, year after year, were apparently important to me, or I wouldn’t keep rehashing them, right?  So why didn’t I ever stick to them?  Working with my coach, I realized why.  My resolutions never really excited me enough to stick with them—cause when I’m excited about something I can hyper-focus and complete a ton of work. What excites me, what gets me going is a fun challenge.  Something intriguing, funny, delightful, edgy, unique, unexpected, and new.  But you wouldn’t know if from those old lists of Resolutions For The Year Ahead. Most of my goals were about ‘fixing myself’.  And by ‘fixing’ I was really hoping to ‘manage my ADHD symptoms.’ Again, a noble intention.  And I’ve had great success at managing my ADHD.  When I was diagnosed I learned what ADHD actually is and is not, got a proper diagnosis, and started using ADHD-Friendly strategies. But I had no clear intention, no clear idea what life would be like or what I would do if I could ‘manage my symptoms.’

Why Do I Want to Change?

Every year I’d vow to, “Tidy my office… Declutter the house… Organize my finances.”  And for the first time I actually did accomplish those things using a range of ADHD Strategies that worked. But I didn’t take the long view.  I never paused to ask, “To what end?”  Then I started working with a Coach.  I listed my goals.  “De-clutter.  Organize.  Get in shape.” My coach asked me, “Why do you want to be ‘In shape?” “Uh… I dunno.  Cause it should be… good… I uh, I would look nice…” There was no clear purpose.  No clear payoff.  No powerful motivation. And what did I even mean by ‘In shape?’  Able to do 20 sit-ups?  Or 500?  Run a mile?  Or a marathon?  I just knew that exercise could be a powerful part a Holistic approach to ADHD. My coach said, “Getting in shape is great.  And when you are in shape, what will you do then?  What difference will that make?  What will it allow you to do?” Oh. Hmm. Flash of insight! No wonder I never had a specific and measurable definition of what ‘In Shape’ might actually look like. Let alone how I would get there, or when I’d knew I’d achieved ‘the goal.’ In fact, if I was brutally honest as long as I made it through the year without dying or getting some horrible disease, well, that was what probably a good enough ‘Health’ goal for me. Rippling muscles? Climbing Everest?  No thanks.

What Do I Really Want? Why? Then What?”

Imagine you set a goal to, “Save enough money to buy a car.”  (And lets ignore that you haven’t specified what kind of car or how much it will cost.) You vow to work hard and pinch pennies so you can own a car.  Great.  Why?  Then what? Why do you want to a car?  You’re taking on the ‘role’ of a ‘car owner,’ and the director asks you, “What’s your motivation?  What’s your ‘car owner’ character’s goal?” Perhaps it’s being able to get your kids to school.  Or visiting friends whenever you want.  Or becoming an Uber driver and raking in huge amounts of cash. Heck, even just, “I want to impress my family,” is a reason to want a car.  Probably not a terrific motivation over the long term, but hey it’s honest.

What’s The Bigger Goal?

What if owning a car would allow you to embark on a long road trip to dozens of exciting destinations, with people you love, having memorable adventures?  Okay!  Now, you’ve got a powerful motivation. The payoff is inspiring.  (Unless you’re homebody like me, but heck, go with this fantasy for a moment.) Owning a car’ is really the means to a ‘Cross Country Road Trip of a Lifetime!” But if that ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ is your real goal, it might be simpler to rent a car.  Or convince three people who love to drive to join you.  Or heck, if you’re brave, take the bus. There are any number of ways to get what you really want.  You have ADHD, you’ll come up with a dozen ideas. There are amazing ADHD strategies that can help you get good sleep, or succeed at school, or reduce your emotional sensitivity. But to stay motivated it really helps to know why you’re doing these things. “I’m doing this so that I can…” Does this make sense?  Is it as surprising an idea to you as it was to me?  Let me know below. And we’ll delve deeper in my next blog. Best, Rick ADHD Video
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  1. jorenberg1 January 5, 2018 at 1:13 am

    Thank you for the post.
    I went to school for musical theater and was taught the importance of character development. With every new character the same questions. Who am I? What do I want? How am I going to get it what I want? In all the questions asked for the characters I played I never asked the questions of myself for my own life. It has always been hard to ask myself these questions and you have brought much clarity but with my ADHD and Dyslexia the answers to the questions seem to change by the day. I think that if the statements I make don’t come to fruition then I am a failure. How do you answer the questions openly and honestly without changing your mindset?
    Thank you again and I really appreciate all you are doing

    • Thank you for letting me know how much you appreciate what we’re doing.
      To figure out who you are, or rather who you want to become, you have to look at the core values, the common threads that run through your life.
      Journalling is one way to do that. With dyslexia, that may be an issue.
      A book I was given this year has helped me clarify what I’m about and what my core values are. It’s available at thedragontree.com. It’s called The Rituals for Living Dream Book, and it’s actually quite powerful and practical. Ava and I have been working out way through it over the last week and it’s really helping us to focus on what we want to do with our lives.

  2. addeanne January 6, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Okay, Rick, this is terrible. I can’t die. Whenever I get the impulse to wish I were dead I remember that storage unit several hundred miles away full of most of my procrastination. I will have to procrastinate death until I go through that storage unit and sort the 5%of valuables from the 95% of junk.. No way could my kids make heads nor tails of it, and then any evidence that I accomplished anything would end up in the furnace with Rosebud.

  3. addeanne January 6, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Okay, Rick, this is terrible. I can’t die. Whenever I get the impulse to wish I were dead I remember that storage unit several hundred miles away full of most of my procrastination. I will have to procrastinate death until I go through that storage unit and sort the 5% of valuables and good manuscripts from the 95% of junk. Of course, I used to own a 6 bedroom house where all of that stuff was a horizontal mess rather than a verticle mess, but the bank said I forgot to, um, what was it they said I forgot to do? I think the letter from them might be in my storage unit. Gotta find that.
    No way could my kids make heads nor tails of it, and then any evidence that I accomplished anything would end up in the furnace with Rosebud. So until I set aside a few months, find a vehicle big enough to take loads to the dump bug enough to actually allow me to see actual progress, and get some of those carpenter strength garbage bags, death isn’t an option. And I just don’t have the stamina to keep this up until the storage unit crumbles in decay. What is the life expectancy of cinder block, anyhow?

    • Well, @addeanne, as far as I know cinderblocks last a few hundred years. Longer if someone doesn’t take them away to build a wall on their border. I am going to assume, but the clever, funny, flippant tone that you’re not serious about dying.
      If you are having thoughts about that, I understand, and it means you need to talk to someone. (Been45 there, done that, got help, the feeling passed, as feelings do.)
      Your plan to find a large truck struck a nerve today. You see, after weeks of cold winter weather the temperature is going up to 7 C, or 45 F, so my wife and I are seizing the opportunity to clean out the garage so we can actually park our car in it.
      Now when I say, ‘clean out’, I mean load some stuff into the car and take it to charity, a local women’s shelter, or the recycling centre, stash some in the basement, thus filling up the lovely space I’d cleared by taking stuff from the basement to charities and the recycling centre. And then whatever won’t fit in the basement will fill one half of the two bay garage. So we’ll have a lovely, spacious area to park the car. And stacks of patio furniture, cabinets and chairs I’m planning to refinish, all Ava’s gardening stuff, our bikes, push mower, etc..
      By the way, if you’re looking to declutter permanently, I highly recommend ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo. She currently has a show on Netflix, and it’s wonderful. The book explains the process better. But we’ve used it to get rid of a lot of stuff! And since we’ll be downsizing to a smaller house this year, we’ll be doing more and more of decluttering, donating, recycling, and only hanging on to the things that spark joy. Which means we can get rid of all the furniture but keep all of my model railroading stuff.

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