In ADD & Loving It?!, Patrick McKenna noted, “Well, I’m never bored.” Growing up I was never bored either. But I was often frustrated, furious, stuck in a confusing and disheartening morass of guilt, shame, and despair. With zero hope that it could ever be different.
And then I was given the good news, a diagnosis… adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
I’m low on Dopamine–not short of courage, desire, or good intentions. It’s neurology! Not morality!
And suddenly I could see that a lot of my bad habits were simply ways of coping with my undiagnosed and unrecognized ADHD. The challenge for me was, and still is, to create better habits and let the old habits fade.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned that at my lowest moments, despairing, I thought, “I wish I’d never been diagnosed.”
That’s not true, of course. Having an explanation for some of my challenges, an explanation that I can work with, has been hugely helpful.
My despair isn’t about being diagnosed, it’s that I tried to make changes. I tried to follow an organizing system, and I failed. Again. For a while I had hope that things were transforming, but obviously it didn’t last. And once again I’ve failed.
“I didn’t try hard enough to break my old habits”… Which I also know is not true. In fact, you cannot break old habits. You can’t just tough-it-out, and you just can’t try harder.
You can only create new habits. And then old habits will fade… slowly. It’s why people with a drinking problem will tell you they will always be an alcoholic. They know the habit is still there. It’s why they have prepared a Plan B. And a C, D and E for when they feel the craving. They’ve consciously created new pathways, new habits, so that when they’re triggered they don’t turn to the old, familiar solution in a bottle. Instead, they call their sponsor. Sometimes they attend a meeting. Others pray, and some people read.
They have better options available. They give themselves better choices. Choices that will become habits.
IT’S A DISTRACTABLE JUNGLE OUT THERE. AND IN HERE
Good habits? Bad habits? They’re the same thing. In your head, anyway.
Think of habits as pathways in a dense jungle. The more the pathway is used, the clearer, faster, and more attractive it is. It’s automatic. The go-to route. Why hack your way through the dense, distractible jungle when you take the well-worn, familiar, reliable, well-developed path? It’s fast. Easy. A no-brainer. (And your brain is using so much of your bodies energy that it deliberately creates habits to save time. Who needs to learn to tie their shoelaces every day? When you first learn as a kid it’s a struggle. You have a poem to help you, “Right over left…” Now you do it and carry on a conversation at the same time.
WHETHER YOU HAVE ADHD OR NOT…
A habit becomes the path of least resistance. But if the pathway leads you to disaster? Ah… There’s the rub.
Then, my friend, you need a better pathway. You have to create a new one. That’s not easy, to pioneer a new path, a new way forward, a fresh course for your life. It’s unknown territory. Unfamiliar jungle. Full of tarantulas, vipers, and crocodiles! (Okay, the metaphor might be stretched a bit thin.)
Replacing old habits with new ones takes time. The first step is to actually catch yourself, before you follow the familiar, easy, go-to route. You have to consciously choose the new pathway, using it over and over again until it becomes stronger, while the old habit fades away.
That takes perseverance. And patience. (Not exactly our strong suit, right?)
For all of us, whether we qualify as having ADHD or not, this is how we build new habits. We create new wiring. The wiring gets stronger the more it’s used. And eventually shows up in new behaviours.
Repeat and repeat, until it becomes automatic, and the old habits grow weaker and weaker. Still there. But less tempting.
ADHD PLANNER, I’VE GOT A BUNCH!
With ADHD, and building new habits, it’s doubly hard. Patience. Perseverance. Doing the same thing over and over again, the same way? Good luck!
We love novelty.
I used to design a whole new daily organizer every week. I spent hours creating these amazing designs. And minutes using them. And milli-seconds remembering I’d created them… and then hours creating the next brilliant daily organizer.
But creating habits is not impossible. What can make it easier? Well, medication helped me. Frequent checking in with the people I work with, and my coach also keeps me on track. Making lists. The master calendar that covers a whole wall in my wife, and partner Ava’s office. And, the white board in my office with this weeks’ tasks.
MY 3 STEP PROGRAM
All of these tools and strategies started with three simple actions. Without those, I’d still be lost.
The first key? Getting diagnosed. Knowing that there is a neuro-developmental reason for my struggles with money, paperwork, organizing, and over-sensitivity. Knowing helped me let go of the negative beliefs. But it didn’t still get my taxes done on time.
The second? Getting educated about what ADHD and ADD is, and which of the symptoms are most impairing to me. In our book ADD Stole My Car Keys, we lay out 155 ways ADHD impacts adults. The behaviours and misbehaviours. The erroneous beliefs. The low-self-esteem or misplaced confidence. The risk taking and self-medicating.
Figuring out my ‘flavor’ was fascinating, but challenging. Self-assessment is seldom our forte. Heck, I didn’t think I was a worrier. Or that I talked too much. Or that I interrupted… Hahaha!
Figuring out my flavor is actually ongoing. Now and then I recognize another way that ADHD affects what I do, or love, or hate, or avoid. And ADHD is situational. Having a thousand thoughts is great when I’m writing. It’s a problem when my wife wants to talk about something that’s bothering her, and says, “I just need you to listen.” (Would pretending to listen be okay? No? Darn.)
OKAY, I CAN SEE THE PROBLEM. WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The third step. Finding the tools and strategies that work, and this too is an ongoing process. It’s also situational. For example, using a planner that breaks my day into 15 minute chunks works when I’m doing a score of small jobs. It’s perfect.
Getting back to medication, for me medication made such a difference that I assumed it was all I needed. It wasn’t.
Yes, medication helps focus, but it doesn’t advise about what to focus on. I could be very busy indeed, and have little or nothing to show for it. And so it was easy to focus on doing trivial things. Or worse, feeling like a failure, like nothing had changed…
A year into the process I finally understood what the ADHD specialists had been emphasizing about medication in our interviews, “It helps. But you need a holistic treatment plan.” All parts of the issue. In our video, The Holistic Solution to ADHD we explain that yes, for many people medication can level the playing field, but you still have to go out on that playing field and play the game to win.
NO WONDER ‘JUST TRY HARDER’ NEVER WORKED
Of course, none of this would have happened without a diagnosis. Which is why I don’t regret being diagnosed, and I rarely if ever wish I was ‘normal’. Whatever that is. I like how my brain works. And mostly it works for me.
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