As a part of ADHD Awareness Month (October) I have been invited to do an interview with Tara Mcgillicuddy, a fixture in ADHD education. I’ve covered topics on urgency and awareness in the past with her and this time we are talking about the challenges of developing effective habits with ADHD in the mix.
As a part of my research I interviewed a few of my former clients who have taken habit development to heart. When I think of successful implementation of habits I think in broader terms of operating in a realm where the ADHD is not as much of a daily burden but something to be aware of and manage effectively so one can focus on bigger more fulfilling things like building effective teams, developing personal relationships and striving for meaningful outcomes. We all know how ADHD can wreak havoc on habit development.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the concept of a keystone habit in developing additional habits – the basic building blocks of success.
One former client, Sarah, is a program director for an international non-profit serving under-privileged girls. I asked her to consider the following questions:
What is a keystone habit that contributes to your success? Specificity is welcome.
“Meditation every day. I think I started it years ago out of necessity because my anxiety was so intense. Now I think it helps with ADD because it helps my inner judge quiet down. The loud inner judge plus overwhelm = shut down for me. Meditation keeps me open, helps me feel spacious instead of crunched. I do it in the morning so it helps me tap into my creativity and inspiration, which gets me excited and in action. I do 15 mins to 30 mins a day.”
“I have a new habit, so I don’t know if it is keystone yet. Hoping it will be! I am using ToDoist and have a label called “Finish.” I assign it when something is close to being done, and I either got distracted or perfectionism sunk in and I abandoned it. I sort the tasks by “Finish”, so every day I see the things that are super close to being done, and I take care of 1-2. I often imagine all those annoying open loops that you talked about, and how good it feels to close those loops. This came about because I just saw how so many of my tasks were like 70% done and so I am really trying to break the habit of hoarding projects, and get them out the door.”
What was key in making this happen? What key shift paved the way for this habit?
“Weekend fun! Planning fun and recreation. I can’t believe what a difference that makes. I am so much more energized and productive when I prioritize fun, especially in the outdoors. This came about because I was so exhausted in ‘corporatelandia’ that I was an exhausted puddle on the weekend. I didn’t have energy to create rejuvenating experiences. I recognized I have to plan the weekend *before* the weekend, when I have energy.”
“Intention. For every project I set an intention. It helps me stay energized when I can see that intention. I include emotional words, since I am motivated by emotion. Instead of enroll 100 students, I might write attract 100 outstanding creative students who are a joy to work with. I have done that for a long time, not sure how it started.”
As I reflect on Sarah’s responses I am drawn to the adept use of the AEC model:
Awareness – awareness of intention and what works
Engagement – regular engagement in mindfulness practices
Completion – a focus on completion (finishing)
Developing habits in these specific ADHD challenge areas will often have the greatest impact.