In my last article, I Have ADHD, Help Me! I wrote how difficult I found it to respond to ADHDers who write simply, “Help me!” As I mentioned as well, it’s no easier to respond to those who write their life story and everything that’s ever gone wrong as a result of their ADHD in the hopes that I can give them THE answer. Of course, ADHD is much too complex for a single clichéd answer. Instead, I thought it would be best for me to provide you with a step-by-step approach to defining the problems and then finding solutions to your unique ADHD challenges.
In the first article, I assigned you a “mission.” You were to choose the first ADHD issue you would want to manage better based on your unique needs. I even described an approach for going about deciding which challenge to start with. Today, I’ll tell you what you need to do next to be able to proceed toward improving your ADHD.
By the way, the reason you need to choose only one thing to work on is that change is difficult and trying to change too much at the same time always backfires. It’s always better to take one step at a time. When Mary-Jo decided she wanted to improve her health, she didn’t start exercising, begin going to sleep earlier and start eating right all at once. Actually, she didn’t do that this time, because she HAD tried that before and sure enough, it backfired! So this time, she started with one thing, working on exercise first. She started with 5-minute walks around the block, eventually moving to longer walks then starting Zumba classes. Soon she was “addicted” to exercise, and this provided the catalyst for her to desire to begin eating better. As an added bonus, she found that because she was keeping a consistent routine of exercise, she was soon sleeping better and it was almost effortless for her to improve her sleep hygiene. Improving her health one step at a time made the changes manageable and not too uncomfortable.
If you accepted your mission in the last article, you’ve determine what problem you want to solve. Now what? Most people think the next step is obvious, “FIX THE PROBLEM!” But no, there is one more step that is essential, in fact, it’s a step ADHDers usually miss, and when they do, it practically guarantees failure! Before you can fix the problem, you must build awareness.
The First Step to Any Change Is Awareness
Unless you do this step, and it’s a step most ADHDers miss, nothing else works. The first step to changing your circumstances is always to build awareness. Ask yourself, what are you currently doing that’s contributing to your problem? You need to do this in a non-judgmental way; name-calling, especially calling yourself names, is not productive.
Building awareness is not an easy thing for an adult with ADHD to do because you’re often not paying attention to what’s going on. However, when you create the intention to get to the bottom of what behaviors are causing your problem, you are already half-way to a solution.
When Duane and I realized we had 17 creditors and were getting into a bigger hole each year (each month!), we could point to the fact that we were spending more than we were making and so were getting into debt faster than we could get out, but we still didn’t know how it kept happening. And when we fought but were focused on trying to win the argument, we didn’t understand why the same fights happened over and over with nothing ever getting resolved.
When my clients tell me, “I get to work early and leave late, and I don’t take breaks, plus I eat at my desk and take work home”, it’s obvious they’re expending a great deal of effort trying to solve a problem without really knowing what behaviors are causing the problem in the first place. There is no end to examples of how we can expend a great deal of effort to solve a problem without achieving results unless we first build awareness of the specific behaviors causing the problem.
How Do I Build Awareness?
So, how do you build awareness of your behaviors when you can’t pay attention? Let’s pretend there’s been a series of crimes perpetrated and your team of detectives are here to solve the case. I liken awareness-building to playing the role of Crime Scene Investigator. The CSI mantra is to study the evidence without judgment or bias.
Set the intention to become aware by creating systems that will help you pay attention to what you’re doing and will capture your behavior as you’re doing it. ADHDers can pay attention – in fact, you are distractible because you often notice things before others do – but unless you create an intention to note your behaviors and give yourself a way to capture the information, you’re not likely to pay attention and if you do, you’ll forget what you noticed before you have a chance to take note of it. Here are some examples of systems to build awareness.
To determine why our finances were a problem, Duane and I decided to track our spending, all our spending big or small. At the time, smart phones didn’t quite exist so we wrote every expense in small notebooks we carried everywhere. For one month, we tracked what we spent, where we spent it and how much, from the 32 cent stamp (yeah, I told you it was a while ago), to the $1.50 coffee and big ticket items, like furniture. This exercise allowed us to see where the money was going.
When my clients go on a mission to improve their ability to focus so that they can really improve their productivity in my Thrive! Program, I ask them to track their levels of mental and physical energy throughout each day to determine their energy patterns. Armed with this and other information they need to build awareness around, such as lifestyle behaviors that enhance or reduce their mental focus, my clients are then able to plan to make better choices that vastly increase their productivity.
Create a system to track your behavior. When tracking my finances, I put my notebook in my purse with my wallet so that I was always reminded to track. Nowadays, there are apps that can help with that.
Duane and I recently joined Weight Watchers. An important step to Weight Watchers is to track your food intake and to become more aware of the nutritional characteristics of the food we eat. Just this simple step makes a world of difference and often leads to weight loss without necessarily following a diet, simply because you become more mindful of what you put in your mouth.
Your agenda can be used as a tracking tool to determine how you spend your time each day. Clients who struggle, because they seem to leave at the end of the day with an in-basket that’s piled higher than when they arrived at work, use their agenda to track how they spend their time. There are also tools like the ADDA Storylines mobile app, which is specifically designed to help ADHDers track their ADHD symptoms.
If you’re struggling with an issue, the first step is to determine the source of the problem by creating the intention to build awareness, then devising a system for capturing the information you need to become aware.
Your Mission on Your Way to Finding a Solution to Your ADHD
So this week,
- Set your intention to become aware of the behaviors that are causing the challenge you’ve chosen to work on.
- Devise a system to help you collect the information you need to create that awareness.
- Collect the information. (Yes, you’ll miss some things, but you’ll still have far more information to work with than you do right now.)
In the next article, I’ll tell you what to do with the information you’ve collected.
Share in the comments box below the problem you’re struggling with and describe the system you’ll use to build awareness of the source of the problem.