Recently, I met someone for the first time, and as usual, I explained that I was a coach working with adults with ADHD. As happens so often (far more often that simple coincidence would account for, I’m convinced, but that’s another story!), he declared that he’d been diagnosed with ADHD. His biggest issue, he mentioned, was that he found it impossible to stick with any routine. He felt he simply didn’t have the necessary self-control.
Take Charge With Self-Control
I smiled, although somewhat sadly. His response, and his evaluation of his own abilities, is one I hear frequently. It can be hard for anyone to set and achieve goals, but one of the ways to make it easier is to create a structure using habits and routines that help you achieve goals almost on autopilot. If you’re convinced you don’t have the self-control necessary to create habits or to stick to routines, it becomes far more difficult to achieve your goals and realize your dreams.
You Think You Have No Self-Control
Recently, I had two participants in my group coaching program, each of whom swore they had never been successful reaching goals because they had no self-control. They both felt powerless, resigned and completely at the mercy of their adult ADHD. If you have no self-control, how can you take charge of your life? Without self-control, you must be at the mercy of some outside controlling force, and in this case, they were turning that power over to their ADHD.
However, just as people have varying degrees of strength, there’s no one who doesn’t have any muscles. Some people have a naturally larger body frame and so are stronger initially, but regardless of your size, you have muscles, and a lack of strength does not mean you’re destined to always be weak. No matter how strong you are when you start, you can train and exercise your muscles and grow stronger. With the proper training, you can grow to be immensely strong.
There’s Some Good News
There’s some very good news about self-control. Research shows that self-control can be exercised and strengthened. Regardless of how much (or little) self-control you feel you have, you can train yourself to have better self-control. Some people may wonder why they would want to improve their self-control through training and exercises, but your level of self-control affects your level of success in your career, your relationships, your finances and your environment (would you like to live in a clutter-free home). Working out will build your muscles, but not everyone is interested in becoming a bodybuilder. However, building your strength will also let you lift your child in your arms, load your luggage in your car to head off on an adventure or move the couch to find the TV remote! So if you want to take charge of your life, you WILL need to develop your self-control.
And There’s Even Better News
The even better news about self-control is that just as working out in the gym to improve your strength has positive repercussions throughout your life, develop self-control in one area of your life and it will spill over into other areas. If you choose, for example, to abstain from eating sweets for a period of time, you’ll soon find you’ll begin to exercise more self-control in other aspects of your life as well. In his research on the effect of self-control training on overall self-control performance, psychologist Mark Muraven discovered that after two weeks of strengthening willpower (by abstaining from eating sweets or performing a challenging hand exercise), participants also tested higher in a difficult concentration task that required a large amount of self-control. Other studies show that starting and sticking with an exercise routine can help you improve your finances, your focus, control your temper, reduce clutter and more.
Look for Opportunities Instead of Problems
So, rather than focusing on the areas of your life where you lack self-control, consider where you do have self-control. We all have habits and routines (and they’re not all bad!), just as we all have muscles. Take charge of any aspect of your life that you can. Practicing self-control will build those muscles and you’ll soon be able to apply your new-found strength to other areas of your life, areas where, in the past, you may have felt completely out of control. You might just be surprised where the ripples spread.
Enjoy the Ripples!
Remember those two Maximum Productivity Makeover participants who swore they would never be able to get into a routine? Though they started small, as they worked through the program, they were able to successfully introduce routines in their lives. Building on that success, it wasn’t long before they also noticed that they were able to greatly improve their time management skills and have a significant positive impact on their performance at work. They’re enjoying the ripple-effect of taking charge of their lives, and you can too!
What You Can Do:
1. Work your self-control muscle by taking on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d rather not do. For example, cut out sweets, sit up straight, take the stairs, or whatever you choose that’s a little outside your comfort zone.
2. Plan for how you’ll deal with those times when you feel you want to give in, give up or just not bother. When Duane quit smoking, every time he felt like having a cigarette, he kissed me instead. I always made sure to comment on how nice it was to kiss him without his breath smelling like an ashtray.
3. Give yourself a self-control break. After challenging yourself, you sometimes feel depleted, so don’t try to do too much at once. Give yourself a chance to bounce back.
4. So now, go ahead and take charge!