By Rick Green
Which aspect of your ADHD do you dislike the most? Which trait, or if you prefer, ‘symptom’, does the most damage?
It’s a valuable question to ask. For several reasons.
One payoff for identifying the trait that undermines you the most? It requires you to focus, and you won’t drown in good intentions, trying to manage every symptom at once. (A recipe for overwhelm as I found out after when first diagnosed.)
Another payoff? Mastering the bugaboo that most sabotages you makes it so much easier to take on the next symptom you want to eliminate. (Or more realistically, that you want to reduce to insignificance. Hey, everyone loses their keys now and then. Wouldn’t losing keys once a month be far better than 4 times a day?)
And if you want to get a sense of the many ways ADHD impacts your life, our book lays out 132 surprising traits, behaviors, and beliefs that we struggle with. As well, we reveal 23 potential strengths.
The Most Bang For Your Buck
As you’ll see, there’s a lot of ways ADHD undermines us. The one particular challenge that undermines you, and affects others around you, that’s the one to work on first.
It’s worth spending a few minutes a day imagining what life will be like once this ‘problem’ is no longer running your life. Or ruining your life.
For me, the biggest challenge was procrastination. I knew that if I developed the habit of taking action right away, without delay, my life would be easier, simpler, and more rewarding. Procrastination was Public Enemy #1, and Private Enemy too, impacting my work and my personal life. And yet…
I Always Procrastinate – About Everything!
But as my wife pointed out, I definitely didn’t procrastinate all the time.
When there is a work deadline I have to meet, I come through. Often just in time.
She reminded me that I’ve created hundreds of TV and radio programs and a score of stage productions, and never missed a delivery date or had to cancel opening night. I know that ‘the show must go on.’ And it always does. No matter what it takes.
Alas, far too often, what it took was all of my energy, time, and vitality. At the expense of my family, my friends, and my health.
Today I’m a bit less productive, but far happier. In ADD & Mastering It!, Patrick McKenna and I take a fun romp through 36 strategies and tools we personally use for dealing with the biggest challenges of ADHD/ADD, especially procrastination around big projects. Of course, I used to procrastinate over the small stuff too.
Procrastination Can Be Small
For example, I always put off washing the dinner dishes until the morning.
I know, it’s a trivial procrastination. The consequences are hardly life threatening. I never let the food scraps pile up until they morphed into some kind of parasitic, fuzzy, blue bacterial life form. Not since University, anyway.
By the way, to understand how lazy I was, I put off doing the dishes even though we had a dishwasher… Which makes it even more embarrassing.
Yet, every night I’d convince myself I was too tired and, if I didn’t immediately flop into bed and begin snoring my body might collapse. I would promise myself to get to them in the morning. And, sure enough, at some point over the next day or two, I actually would.
This was fine when I lived alone.
My Wife Grew Up on a Farm
My wife came from a big family with lots of farmhands at every meal. Letting dishes pile up was never an option. (And the family didn’t have a dishwasher. It was all washed by hand.)
So whenever I left the dishes until the morning, my wife would quietly do them. No drama. No excuses. She put everything away. Wiped the counters… Because for her a messy kitchen was off-putting.
Since I usually make our breakfast, I eventually noticed that walking into a clean kitchen with lots of open space, nothing to work around or push aside… Well, it felt good… Surprisingly so.
When my wife was away for a day or two, and the dishes piled up, it actually began to bother me. I’d seen a vision… of something better.
Now I clean the kitchen before bed. Extraordinary. Usually it’s more than just loading the dishwasher. And yes, sometimes I still leave particularly horrifying saucepans to soak until morning. But mostly, the kitchen is clean when my head hits the pillow.
It’s Small – But It’s Big
If you don’t have ADHD, this miraculous transformation may strike you as somewhat trivial, or incredibly stupid. “This guy is excited because he no longer procrastinates about doing the dishes? Can’t wait to hear about the battle to dust the book shelf.”
However, if you have ADHD/ADD, or live with someone who does, you probably appreciate why this small victory matters. With ADHD, every victory matters. Especially the unexpected ones.
The chance that I would suddenly move to China and become a monk at the Shau-Lin temple, well, sure, that was remotely possible. But the idea that I would do dishes and clean the kitchen before crawling into bed, especially since they could easily keep until the morning?… That seemed beyond the realm of possibility. This wasn’t a huge goal for me. “Doing the dishes” wasn’t a habit I was trying to build. It wasn’t on my Bucket List. More like my F$%# It List.
How Did Mr. Green Become Mr. Clean?
Rather than rely on willpower or grit. I simply used several of the dozens of ADHD-Friendly strategies Patrick McKenna and I demonstrate in ADD & Mastering It!
A key trick is what we call, Reframing.
I reframed the task. Rather than see the messy kitchen as an onerous chore, which is one possible interpretation, I reframed it as an ‘opportunity.’ An opportunity to start the next day with ease. An opportunity to do something that makes my wife happy. And an opportunity to prove that I can accomplish things even when I’m craving sleep.
I also saw it as a chance to challenge my assumption that it was a huge job. It took about 1/3 as long as I guessed it would. Timing yourself, another ADHD strategy Patrick and I use in ADD & Mastering It!, is a great way to develop solid Time Management skills.
Reframing is simple. You create a better perspective. Rather than see the pile of greasy dishes, I pictured a spotless kitchen… and then took 7 minutes to clean, wash, and tidy up so that reality matched the vision.
Instead of feeling guilty, I want to be feeling absurdly pleased.
The Surprising Payoff
It feels silly to admit how much better I feel when the kitchen is spic and span. But the next morning when I come down to start making breakfast the usual ‘Ugh!’ is replaced by, ‘Ah! Nice.’ It actually sets a whole different tone to the day.
Rather than nagging myself, laying on a guilt trip, I found that picturing how I would feel to be greeted by clean, clear counters first thing in the morning made the decision easy. I made it a game to see how fast I could declutter and clean up. To my shock, I actually quite enjoyed it.
And yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous. But I’ve found this technique works, providing real motivation, whether I’m trying to procrastinate about exercise, making a difficult phone call, or writing a challenging script.
I succeed with ADHD by focusing on the result, envisioning it finished, feeling the pleasure of a job well done. Rather than seeing only what needs to be done.
By Rick Green
I’ve been working with a very smart psychologist on a project about how to overcome procrastination.
And in the process of thinking about how to overcome procrastination I am finding it’s becoming less and less of an issue for me. Okay, maybe not less and less. But less.
In our new PBS program, ADD & Mastering It!, we explore 36 strategies and tools for dealing with the biggest challenges of ADHD/ADD, and surely one of the top ones is PROCRASTINATION! We all want to overcome it. We all vow to master it. Someday. (I know, it’s a lame joke, but someone, somewhere is chuckling.)
Last week, I mentioned that I always put off washing the dishes until the morning. I know, it’s a simple thing. A trivial procrastination. The consequences of not doing the dishes are hardly life threatening. Unless weeks pass and the food scraps decay into some kind of parasitic, fuzzy, blue bacterial life form. But I got tired of those kind of surprises after living with four guys while at university.
I always left the dishes for the morning. Because I was tired and my bed was actually calling out my name and threatening me, if I didn’t immediately collapse into it and begin snoring.
Then something changed. Now I’m washing the dishes before hitting the sack. Extraordinary. For me, anyway. If you don’t have ADHD, this may all strike you as incredibly stupid and trivial, “This guy is excited cause he did the dishes? Can’t wait to hear about the thrill of mopping the toilet.”
If you have ADHD/ADD you may get why this small victory matters
That I would suddenly move to China and become a monk at the Shau-Lin temple, well, sure, that was possible. But the idea that I’d be doing the dishes even though I was tired and wanted to go to bed? That’s incredible!
Even more so considering I didn’t plan this consciously. “Doing the dishes” wasn’t a habit I was trying to build. It wasn’t on my Bucket List. More like my F$%# It List.
Believe me, I did not decide it was high time I learned to ‘be a man’ and confront the horror of dried ketchup and chicken grease. But I can see now, that I made this a habit by using several of the strategies we talk about in ADD & Mastering It!.
There was no big plan. I didn’t rely on willpower or grit. I simply used some techniques Patrick and I talk about in ADD & Mastering It!. One was what we call, Reframing.
I reframed the task. Before I saw the dishes as an onerous chore. The first step was realizing that was merely my interpretation. In fact, washing the dishes involves water, soap and a wash cloth. I have since discovered it takes about 1/3 as long as I think it will. (Come to think of it, getting real about how long things take is another of the strategies we talk about.)
Reframing is about focus. Not my ability to focus. But what I chose to focus on.
I’ll explain in detail what in my next blog. (Learning to not go on too long. Oh, another breakthrough!)