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Life Goals & Motivation vs. Procrastination & ADHD (Guess which side wins.)

When you have ADHD, building new habits, putting structures in place, mastering time and clutter, overcoming procrastination is doubly difficult because ADHD is a problem with doing what you know you should be doing. Why put all that time and energy into mastering my ADHD? 

It’s hard creating the new neural pathways that we call ‘habits.’  When I actually am on top of my ADHD, even using it to my advantage it’s either because I’m afraid of failing (Never a great motivator) or I’m doing something engaging, stimulating, intriguing, challenging, and meaningful. Basically, it’s fun. Which is always a good motivator. So I manage to power through because I am trying to avoid pain or I’m riding on a wave of pleasure. Avoiding negatives, as in “I don’t want to be fined for late taxes.” Or, enjoying more positives, as in, “Boy, making videos is fun.”

Good or Bad – What About Indifferent?

Unfortunately, often times the pain or gain are not obvious.  Or not immediate enough to motivate me. Simple example?  ‘Get into shape.’ It’s on my goal list every year.  And again the following year.  It remains an eternal and unachievable goal, a kind of Nirvana that one never achieves.  Why?

I’ll be honest.  It feels completely neutral.  Oh sure, the gain, being healthy and energetic, is a great idea. Can’t argue with that.  And yet… On Monday morning when my alarm goes off an hour early, pushing me to go for a run… my first thought is, “Y’know, I’m reasonably healthy.  I mostly sit and write for a living. 

I don’t need to be an Olympian. And sleep is important for people with ADHD.  And at my age I should…”  Getting in shape so I feel better?  M’eh.  5 out of 10. Getting in shape so other people admire my physique?  3 out of 10. Getting in shape because we’re going to be touring Paris for 10 days and I want to be full of energy? Okay, that’s a 10 out of 10!  The kids are going to join us?  20 out of 10!

Forget About Self-Improvement for Self-Improvement’s Sake

I’m going to suggest something.  And this isn’t to let you off the hook.  It’s to save you from more failure, disappointment, and self-reproach. This year, don’t worry about Self-Improvement.  Forget about becoming a better person. 

Forget about stuff like “getting in better shape.”  (Which is an incredibly vague term anyway.  Heck, if I do three sit-ups every day this week, I’ll be in better shape.)

“What?!  But Rick, isn’t ‘getting in shape’ a worthy and admirable improvement?”

Sure.  But so is learning to snowboard, reading the entire works of Shakespeare, learning a second language, taking pottery classes, earning a PHd in Military History, or knitting scarves for people starving in India.

Sure, I could learn German this year.  But why? 

If we’re planning on vacationing in Portugal, or, more likely, hanging around the house a lot, I’ll probably give up when I try to pronounce ‘Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit.’

There are a million ways to “improve yourself.”  But be honest, why bother?

We rarely stop and check in to honestly see if a New Years Resolution truly moves us and aligns with our core values, or whether it just sounds good and it makes sense and it would be nice if it happened.

When I say, “We” I mean me.

I can tell you, when the alarm goes off early that first morning, and I’m tired, it’s cold out, and I want more sleep, my Resolutions to Get in Shape and also Learn German doesn’t stand a ‘Schneeflocken Hoffnung in der Hölle.’

If It’s Good Enough, Then That’s Good Enough

In our video on Earning a Degree With ADHD, Dr. Tony Rostain talks about parents who want him to ‘fix’ their son because, “He leaves everything to the last possible moment and then pulls an all-nighter to get it done.”

And he asks, “Is it working for him?  Is he getting things in on time?  Is he passing his courses?”

It’s not pretty.  It’s not elegant.  It’s not what most people do.  It’s not what is expected.  But, hey, if you’ve got ADHD, do what works. 

There are lots of very effective and ADHD-Friendly tools and strategies to master your ADHD. 

Use them if something really is a problem. 

And no doubt, there are areas of your life that are NOT working the way you’d like.

Sure, it might feel fabulous to have your assignments done ahead of time, carefully proof-read, and honed to perfection, but if it’s working for the kid, maybe it’s how he operates.  It’s good enough.  There’s no incentive to improve.  B-Minus is still a passing grade.

Most years there was no clear incentive for me to “Get into great shape.”  And guess what?  I didn’t. 

But the year we decided to go to Paris, and the year when my wife and I did a 622 Km Bike Rally for a wonderful charity that was dear to my heart, I got in great shape.

The Key Question: Why? Then What? To What End?

I no longer set goals to improve myself.  Not that I’m a hopeless case.  (At least that’s what I tell myself.)  I just know from experience vague feel-good, that-would-be-nice, I’ve-always-wished-I-was-more-whatever doesn’t work.

Instead, with help from my coach I look for goals that excite me.

“What could I commit to this year that would have me willing to switch off the alarm, swing my groggy body out of bed, and go for a run?”  Because, I gotta tell you, our bed is very, very comfortable.

Big goals or small goals.  It doesn’t matter.  Does it turn my crank?  Does it scare me a bit?  Does it feel like something I’ll be bragging about, or remembering for years go come?  Yes?  Great!  Now, how do I get there.

More on goals and motivation next week.

In the meantime, what have you repeatedly vowed to do, what sensible, noble-sounding New Year’s Resolution have you made, year after year, and never managed to achieve? 

And what would make the difference this year? Or is it even a goal that really interests you?


Rick Green

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  1. raph009 January 14, 2018 at 12:55 am

    I love this article! I don’t really have “New Year’s resolution” but like… long-term goals? I’d say in the last couple of years, I vowed to do something meaningful. Every year, I would mostly respect that, doing great things and acquiring new skills here and there, but it was never meaningful enough for me, mostly because it was not meaningful to my mom, family and “friends”. I ditched those “friends” last year and I distanced myself from toxic family members and found out that I was extremely happy with making a difference in nature and doing arts. One could say that I vowed to graduate someday but graduating for the sake of graduating and earning a degree was just not enough for me. However, waking up at 6 AM to figure out how I can make a difference for animals in need is more than enough, even on weekends and when I’m on break. I even almost succeed in staying on top of my work (which is huge in my case)! :) I still have a hard time not feeling overwhelmed though (because I would love to already be able to do everything at once). Can’t wait to read you next week!

  2. kathyjq January 14, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    I appreciate this article because it comes at a critical time for me. I have become very motivated, a motivation which I hope is going to provide both a negative, avoid embarrassment, and a positive, this could be a lot of fun, momentum to my desire for better eating and exercising in 2018. My 50th high school class reunion is this October. I haven’t gone to any of them up to now–I was out of the country on the 5th, on my honeymoon on the 10th, and home with kids and too poor to go on the 25th. I have committed to this one, and to feel good about myself, I need to lose 35 pounds between now and October 6. I started two activities last week that I’m very hopeful will help keep me focused. One is a Four-Week Walking/Strength Training/Stretching Plan from My Fitness Pal that I intend to continue with for eight more 4-week cycles. The second is something I devised myself. I brainstormed every reason I could think of that I wanted to be in better shape and came up with twenty-one (some negative–stroke, diabetes, embarrassment; some positive–clothes, stairs, my spirit) and wrote each on a slip of paper. I put all the papers in a jar on the kitchen counter Each evening I read the slip for the day, think about how I did that day and put it in a second jar on the other side of the counter, and then I choose a new slip for the next day, read it and remember why I wrote it and decide if it still matters to me. (A week into it, they all have) , and put it on a magnetic clip on the side of the refrigerator to look at during the day and to remember why it matters.

  3. Otterbear May 8, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Thanks again, Rick.
    I really look forward to your post.
    Hearing you describe the struggle, and the ways that you have found to work with, around, or overcome and adapt to, the unique challenges we face, is encouraging. Your honesty is very refreshing, and gives me the faith that, eventually I too will able, to “pay-it-forward”.

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