The beginning of a new year inspires hope for new beginnings and better outcomes. Many people will review their goals and chart a new course or make New Year’s resolutions. Other people, perhaps even you, have abandoned any hope that this year can be different than years past. While you may be motivated to change – after all, if you’re living with ADHD, you likely face major challenges in your life that you’d like to address – you’ve learned the hard way that maybe you’re better off avoiding setting goals and making New Year’s resolutions.
After all, your track record for achieving either has been poor and you can’t, or don’t want to, deal with the disappointment and guilt you feel when things don’t pan out. It’s true that one sure way to avoid failing is not to try, but unfortunately, if you want your circumstances to change, you have to change something you are doing. That change demands that you form an intention to change – that’s where the goals or resolutions come in – but it also requires effort and a plan, and that’s where things often go wrong for anyone with ADHD. However, there is another way.
How to Have a Better Year without Setting Goals
If setting goals scare you, there’s a simpler and just as effective approach. Create new habits that manifest the desired changes in your life. We’ve all heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, but there’s an even more powerful underlying truth here. A journey of a thousand miles, or even ten thousand miles, is made up entirely of single steps! Achieving long-term goals by creating new habits is extremely powerful, and ultimately, even more effective than traditional methods of achieving goals.
Your 6-Step Blueprint for Creating a New Habit
Here are a few steps to creating a new habit:
1) What results do you want? Do you want to be more physically fit? More organized? On time? More focused? Less chaotic? Have better relationships? The sky’s the limit. Pick just one that means a lot to you. Once you master the process of creating new habits, you’ll be able to take full control of every aspect of your life, but choose just one to practice on first.
2) What small but consistent actions would allow you to move closer to the results you want? Many people want to lose weight or get in better shape. They join a gym, buy exercise equipment and eat only salads. By the time they’ve been working at it three weeks, they’re exhausted and fed up! If you want to become more physically fit, start small. Create a new habit to always take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
If you want to feel more organized, don’t start a major cleanup of your whole house; create a new habit to make your bed every morning before you leave your room. You’ll immediately feel more organized and that feeling will slowly spread to other areas of your life. Once you’ve established a habit of making your bed so well that it’s automatic, add another habit, like washing your dishes immediately after using them.
Every big change in your life starts with one step, one new habit. If you want to be on time for work, start by creating the habit of preparing your clothes and lunch the night before. If you want to improve your focus, create a habit that will help you sleep better. If you want to improve your relationship, develop a habit of listening instead of interrupting.
You may need to break some changes down to even smaller steps and work your way up, especially if you’ve never purposefully created and kept a habit. (You do have some habits; how often do you accidently forget and leave your house naked? Getting dressed is a habit!) Analyze the actions you need to take. For example, what steps would help you sleep better? You will sleep better if you turn off the computer at least two hours before bed. It also helps to dim the lights in the house after supper. Don’t do them all at once, but create a habit of first one, then the next, and so on, and before long, you’ll sleep better than you ever have.
3) Improve your odds. You won’t remember to do what you’re supposed to automatically in the beginning – it’s not a habit yet! Set visual or auditory reminders. Find a buddy who is also striving to build new habits and encourage each other. Make a game of it. Anchor your new habit to an existing one. For example, when I wanted to write my first program for adults with ADHD, “Grow With the Flow” (now called “Thrive!”), I anchored the new habit of writing every morning by placing a pencil and paper where I sit to have breakfast, a habit I’ve now had for quite some time, and that has helped me create many programs for adults with ADHD, one step at a time!
4) Determine how you’re going to track your progress. Even after repeating the action for what seems like a very long time, ADHDers often forget habits they’ve created. You get distracted. However, if you also make it a habit to use tracking software like HabitBull or a scorecard, it can help you stay motivated, especially if you reward yourself as you progress, and you won’t forget to keep up the habits you’ve put in place.
5) Celebrate your progress. You need to stimulate the hedonistic part of the brain (right brain) by creating a positive experience of change. Make it fun to create habits, not something you dread. This will help you keep going and make future change easier.
6) Be OK with occasional slip-ups. It takes an average of 66 days to create a habit – and that’s only an average – but the longer you maintain it, the more solidly it’s anchored. Aim for consistency but if you fail one day, just let go of the guilt and disappointment and recommit to your habit. Chalk it up to being human. Miss one day and all is not lost. However, we tend to see little slips as failures and actually help make that true. If you cheat on your diet by having a cookie, you can get back on track by not having any more cookies, but many people see that as a failure and say, “What the heck, I’ve cheated now. I’m a cheater! I might as well eat the rest of the bag!” That’s when the trouble starts. No slip up needs to be a major crash. If you lift weights every day but one day you miss your weight training, you don’t have to start over at the beginning the next day. It’s the same with habits.
Remember, start with a small, simple change and create one habit at a time. Build from there. And please share your new habit with us in the comments section (above)!