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Willpower In 30 Second Bursts. Making Permanent Changes.

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 I 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 (our video ADD & Coaching is now free)  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.

Rick Green Negative BeliefsNegative Underlying Beliefs?

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?

Subconscious beliefs?

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.

Rick Green Amazing ADHDAmazing! 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.”



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  1. AdultWithADHD November 26, 2016 at 8:21 am

    My Dear Rick,
    This is GREAT advice!! Hell, I do most things in 30 second chunks anyway, so why not use my willpower the same way? In the really good and very funny movie “Nobody’s Fool” Paul Newman’s character tells his 10 year old grandson that he can be brave for just a 30 seconds, enough time for the kid to carry someone’s very creepy artificial leg across a room. See that movie and savour that scene because it’s a wonderfully poignant example of what Rick is advising us to do. Thank you again Rick, for helping me understand a very complex and confusing friend of mine, who just happens to be me.

  2. onthepath November 26, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    What a reminder. Since learning at age 76 the brain can only handle one thing at a time, distraction is my mantra. When I want ice cream, etc. I go into distraction by picking up any one of the 30-40 books lying around the home already opened to the next page to be read. Distraction also works when I stub my toe or some other body part. The combination of a one-track mind and my ADD to have many places to focus it, I’m in heaven. That’s if I remember that. Thanks, Rick

  3. Vanilla November 30, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Hi dear Rick,
    How much I identify with you! Thank you for passing along this good advice. I will definitely try it.
    Warm hugs.

  4. bonnie December 16, 2016 at 4:24 am

    I found your blog post on 30-second willpower bursts very calming. It’s a strategy I think I can try. To help me truly allow that much time to pass, I will try the old “cross my arms, and press my first fingers one at a time into my arm as I count in my head. 30 seconds can feel like an eternity when I am waiting for someone who needs extra processing time, but there are so many payoffs for just allowing a little time to pass.
    Again, thank you!

  5. Pallist December 24, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I heard this somewhere also! And I forgot about it, until I read your post… I will try to dump post-its around my desk and maybe use it as an alarm until it enters deep memory. Here’s hoping it works!

  6. kathwomyn January 15, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Argh! This is my first post on this awesome site and it’s going to sound weird. Your first paragraph in this blog confused me! “In the years since I was diagnosed, I’ve noticed 2 things that undermine my willpower, resolve and success.” Because you apparently don’t use the Oxford comma (I’m not only ADD, I’m also a grammar despot), I thought the two things you were going to discuss were “resolve and success.” I had to start all over after feeling at sea in the first half of the blog! LOL!
    That said, this is excellent advice and I realize that I’ve used it most of my life. Impulsivity isn’t one of my big issues with ADD and it’s probably because I was seriously “underfunded” most of my early life and had to resist many things due to no money. I hadn’t realized, until reading this blog, that poverty had actually given me one of the tools I needed to cope with ADD.

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