The ADHD Blue Print to Your Best Year Ever

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)!

Here’s How I Fixed My ADHD Husband

By Linda Walker

Duane-Linda (3)Yesterday, my husband, Duane, and I celebrated 29 years of marriage. I would like to say it was all blissful but I’d be lying, and I’m a terrible liar.  (Not the anniversary!  That was wonderful!  I mean the 29 years of marriage!)

Until Duane received his diagnosis of ADHD in 1996, neither of us knew what the problem was.  Duane and I struggled with dividing household chores (the struggle was not in dividing them, I did it all despite his best efforts and promises to do better), with our finances and the added pressures of Duane’s frequent job changes as he became bored with or lost his jobs.  Under so much pressure, we fought… a lot.  Duane’s impatience and emotional outbreaks affected our relationship and his relationship with our daughters. The entire family was dysfunctional.

After his diagnosis, Duane began his journey toward embracing the positive and overcoming the negative aspects of his ADHD.  Duane and my youngest daughter, as is quite common, received their ADHD diagnosis around the same time – Kyrie was diagnosed first and as we read about her situation, light bulbs went on about Duane’s struggles.  And while only Duane and my youngest were diagnosed, I think of us as a family with ADHD.  We could only solve this problem working together, and so this was as much my journey as theirs.

Today, as an ADHD coach, when I work with an adult ADHDer, some of our biggest challenges are with the spouse.  And I get it.  Been there, done that!  Being a member of family with ADHD can be exhausting, nerve-wracking and absolutely frustrating.  And I think what I found most frustrating is that I thought I had no control over anything.  Once I learned that there were some things I could do to make life with ADHD better for all of us, the building process began and the frustration diminished.

Here’s what I did to fix Duane:

 

  1. First, I changed my mindset. I realized that I wasn’t the only one suffering in the family.  I know Duane had it worse than me – he was living it 24/7.  He wanted to be a better partner and a more patient father.  Our daughters suffered too.  They saw their parents constantly worried, fighting or impatient.  Kyrie struggled with her ADHD and learning disabilities, and our oldest daughter, Jennifer, felt neglected as all our efforts were directed at helping Kyrie and Duane.  Duane wasn’t the only one who had some work to do, I did too.  As parents, we feel for our children and would do anything to make their hurt stop, after all they didn’t ask for this.  Oddly enough, we don’t always feel the same empathy towards our spouses with ADHD (even though they didn’t ask for it either!)  I let go of my martyrdom and embraced empowerment, realizing that at any given moment, people do the best they can with what they know at the time.
  2. I learned all I could about ADHD.  I didn’t just learn so I could help my daughter (which as a mother, I would do without question) but also for my husband.  The more I knew, the more empowered I felt.  I read books, listened to webinars and went to conferences on ADHD.  Attending our first ADDA Conference as a couple was a life-changing event.  We both learned so much, met other people coping successfully with what we were going through and left empowered.
  3. I became part of the solution.  Duane struggles with several aspects of ADHD, but the worst is his short-term memory, which IS an ADHD problem.  So why was I asking him to do things or to pick things up at the store when he didn’t have a pen and paper or his PDA to take notes?  I also often asked him to help when he was tired or distracted. How likely was that to turn into a positive situation?  It was only when I was willing to let go of the way things were done and turn responsibility over to Duane that we began to make progress.  He told me he’d take over certain tasks, if he could do it his way.  He took over the grocery shopping.  I offered my help if he needed it (secretly thinking we’d probably starve to death waiting for Duane!)  To my surprise, he created his own system for doing it (don’t ever tell him I said this, but it’s much more efficient than the way I did it!) and we’ve never looked back.
  4. I took care of myself.  I lowered my standards on things that didn’t really matter much, especially in the beginning.  So what if I didn’t clean the house EVERY week and cook ALL my meals from scratch?  Instead of chasing dust bunnies, I spent time with friends to relax and return to my family a lot more ready to laugh as freak out at the wacky situations most ADHD families encounter regularly.
  5. The most important thing I did was to notice any positive changes.  As Duane began to work with his physician and his coach, I avoided nagging about what wasn’t yet addressed – change takes time – and made sure to notice what was moving in the right direction.   And I was sure to let him know how much I appreciated it.

There are several other things we did to improve life as an ADHD family.  We learned to communicate better how we felt rather than blaming, and we shared our dreams and aspirations.  We started dating again; no, we didn’t have much money back then, but using Duane’s vivid imagination, we found fun things to do that cost little or no money.  We didn’t get bogged down by social norms of gender roles and what constitutes woman’s work and man’s work, opting instead to take on the jobs around the house that we were better at or liked more.

We even created our own secret language to use discretely in public (I could provide Duane with cues to appropriate behavior in social situations, for example. And he could signal when he couldn’t take another minute of the 47 family members sharing a cabin in the woods for Christmas anymore and needed a break for some peace and quiet.)

And so now 29 years later, here we are still married, and much, much happier. We laugh a lot more and fight a lot less. I can safely say that Duane is my best friend and I, his. Was it easy?  Absolutely not, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together and I know it was definitely worth it.