There is no easy answer to this question, for many reasons.
ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD) is on
a continuum, meaning it can be mild, moderate or severe. The less extreme the symptoms, the easier it is to compensate, making it less difficult to live with ADHD. The reverse also applies.
Millions of adults have the symptoms associated with ADHD, but not the diagnosis, possibly because their symptoms, although enough to qualify for a diagnosis, are on the milder end of the spectrum. Or they may have learned to cope, or just accepted the way they are, perhaps (unfairly) attributing some of neurobiological symptoms to moral failings (lazy, inconsiderate, careless, foolish, etc.).
ADHD is a diagnosis based on having checked off a sufficient number
of symptoms from a laundry list of age-related options. Each of those symptoms can vary in terms of how problematic they can be, and under what conditions (at home, school, work, leisure). That’s a lot of variability. There is even variation within the ADHD diagnosis, as you can be primarily impulsive/hyperactive, primarily inattentive or combination type.
For some, having ADHD is a strength. Their ADHD-related characteristics (or some of them) are essential to their personal and professional success. Consider the high percentage of ADDers in certain careers, such as entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, first-responders, comedians, sales, etc. While the manifestations of ADHD may not be as helpful for all aspects of their jobs, nor in all areas of their lives, they would find life more difficult without it.
Unfortunately, for most people, ADHD also leads to certain struggles. The degree to which those struggles make life difficult will vary. If you struggle with time management but aren’t in a job or life situation where following the clock is critical, then that becomes less of a problem.
If you struggle with organization, but have assistants at work and help at home, that challenge is less problematic. If you need to be ‘on the go’ and are a student confined to sitting in a classroom, you might be considered hyperactive, from a negative perspective. But if you have a career where you aren’t confined to your office and you also enjoy an active leisure life, your drive to move shifts to a non-issue, and even an asset.
ADHD symptoms vary – one person could be physically hyperactive,
and another hypoactive. High energy, low energy. Some people do well
in a chaotic environment (many police, firefighters, EMT’s, ER docs, floor traders, teachers, etc. have ADHD) while others would be totally overwhelmed by the noise and activity. Many people with ADHD thrive
in the bustle of a big city, while others seek the peace of a countryside or seashore. So, finding an environment and career that suits you makes a difference in how you’ll view life, and how difficult it is, or isn’t, to have ADHD.
ADHD is inconsistent. Not just from person to person or from child to adult, but from day to day. Sometimes it can feel debilitating or dysfunctional; other times you are on a roll and exceptionally productive. Understanding, and accepting yourself (instead of letting your inner Judgmental Critic be in charge) makes those unproductive times less frustrating.
Other factors contribute. If you are surrounded by critical people, whether at work, socially or at home, you’ll obviously find life more challenging than if you have support and understanding. The more you
are juggling (work, school, home, partner, children, aging parents, etc.),
the harder it is – for anyone. The hormonal changes of aging or the stress
of illness will also exacerbate the ADHD symptoms.
Having ADHD can be really frustrating. It’s tough when you struggle with things that ‘should’ be simple (although you may excel when tackling more difficult challenges). It’s sad when you aren’t achieving your potential, even when you might be considered successful (but you know you could be doing much more). It can be extremely stressful when you know you need/want to do something but can’t activate (an executive function),
or you are doing something you need to stop, but can’t find the brakes.
Strategies are critical for managing your ADHD symptoms.
- There is often a reduction in ADHD-related difficulties when you take time for self-care and stress-reducing activities (exercise, sufficient sleep, outdoor time, mindfulness, journaling, eating well, hobbies, creative, sports and social activities, pets, family fun time and time to nurture relationships, etc.)
- Some people benefit from medication, but if you couldn’t play the piano before meds, you can’t play it after – you’re just more available to learning how, which can make a difference.
- Some ADHD tendencies are best avoided (or require professional intervention). People with ADHD often have impulsivity control issues and addictive personalities, acting without thinking, whether it’s reckless driving, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, gambling, internet, etc. They also tend to get caught up in thinking without acting, making it difficult to get things done. Obsessive thinking and perfectionism often come into play, getting in the way of productivity.
- When the ADHD brain feels overwhelmed, instead of tackling the issues, it is more likely to shift into the fight, flight or freeze mode – major avoidance. This is an automatic, brain-based reaction to fear, confusion or stress. So, it’s critical to find strategies that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
- Tools and strategies help to manage ADHD-related challenges.
If you struggle to get places on time, meet deadlines, begin or finish tasks and projects, get and stay organized, manage schedules and lists, create and follow routines, prioritize, self-advocate, make decisions, communicate effectively, etc., it isn’t enough to want things to change. You need specific compensatory strategies that work with the way you think – not the way you wish you thought. The right tools make living with your ADHD a lot less difficult. (That’s what Coaching is about!)
ADHD is only part of the mix – we have different personalities, interests, strengths, intellectual and emotional gifts, co-existing diagnoses, etc. Some people with ADHD will excel in school, while many others find it a total challenge. Some will be artistic or creative; others might be athletic or musical, all of the above or none of them. Some will thrive in the limelight; others will avoid it. It isn’t just the ADHD we need to manage; it’s finding a life that supports us on many levels. It’s easier to cope with the difficulties that come from ADHD when we are engaged in activities that play to our strengths.
There are so many aspects of life that are impacted by ADHD, from relationships to finances, from career to self-care. You can find ways to compensate, and even excel, but it takes effort and self-awareness. The answer to, “How difficult is it to live with ADHD?” largely depends on whether you’ve been able to create a personally ADHD-friendly life!
This is an edited and expanded version of my requested response
to a question posted on Quora.
Press ‘Pause’ to Review and Reset
If we’re always in action – or inaction, without taking a conscious pause to step back, observe, reflect and perhaps redirect, we’re doing ourselves an injustice. All pauses are not the same. Check these out:
PLANNING Pause – I often talk about Planning Time vs. Doing Time – how important it is to set aside specific time to focus on deciding what you need to do and how you’ll get it done (Clarity) along with when you’ll do it (Priority). When you pause to plan, your efficiency quota can increase exponentially! See my blog “TheTwo Magic Words for Productivity: Clarity and Priority.”
REFLECTION Pause – Another helpful distinction is Reflection Time vs. Action Time. The idea here is to make the time, while working on a project (preferably one task at a time!), to pause and think about the efficacy of your actions. Ask yourself if what you are doing now (task, project, direction, etc.) is the best thing for you to be doing at this point in time. Consciously consider whether your actions will help you to finish the project, attain a goal or, on a broader scale, live a life you love! If so, continue; if not, redirect your efforts.
HABIT Pause – One of the benefits of Reflection Time is seeing patterns you might have overlooked, or known but ignored. You can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken, so take a pause to think about it. Members of my online Action/Accountability group, The TUIT Project, are asked to consider not just what they’ve accomplished, but what worked and what got in the way. How can you build on that? What habits/patterns support your efforts, and which ones hold you back? Here’s an example: Annie is a TUIT group member who identified chronic perfectionism as getting in the way of her productivity. While helpful to a certain extent (especially knowing how easy it is to get distracted and careless), it’s also easy to have too much of an otherwise helpful thing – ever hear of ‘paralysis by analysis, or ruin something that was working by overthinking or over correcting, or miss a deadline because you wanted to fix ‘one more thing’? Awareness helps, and awareness begins with a pause.
DOING Pause: Redirect – I don’t believe you can just stop doing – or thinking – about something. There will be a void and you have to fill that void with a different ‘something.’ So, telling yourself to be less of a perfectionist is not going to be very helpful unless you then substitute another concept or behavior. In Annie’s case, an internal bell now rings when she’s caught up in perfectionism, and she reminds herself, “Go with Good ‘Nough!” as a replacement mantra for perfectionistic behavior. Successful people don’t constantly second guess themselves – they get into action and move forward towards completion, pushing through the obstacles instead of getting stuck in finding a perfect solution. See my blog “Ready – Fire – Aim.”
ACTION Pause – Sometimes, an Action Pause is the best way to get something done. Temporarily walk away from it – avoids the law of diminishing returns. Shift to another task or recharge with exercise, an outdoor break, play break or even a quick nap.
PROCESSING Pause – Many people with ADHD also have a degree of ‘slow processing.’ This has nothing to do with intelligence, nor the ability to understand concepts (which we often get quicker than many people). It does, I think, reflect the way many of us understand things. We need to relate new information to something we’ve already processed, whether consciously or not. Facts in a vacuum don’t work. So it may take a bit of time to absorb the new info and tie it together with something we already have stored in our atypical brain. That is partially our genius – we make links that many others will not. It’s also our challenge, because we may not easily get stuff that others pick up without pause. Allow yourself the gift of the pause. Take time, without guilt, to absorb things, whether it’s a conversation, a lecture or a scenic view. Don’t apologize for that blank stare when someone is talking, or feel pressured into a quick response, but do have a response ready, “Hmmm… I’m thinking about that.”
SPEAKING Pause – People with ADHD tend to be impulsive, which can mean blurting out what they think without thinking it through. Poor short-term memory can also contribute to the rush to get a thought out before we forget it. Sometimes we are so focused on what we want to say that we’re not in full listening mode. This can by annoying to others, and then some. A great idea that is poorly communicated is doomed. So, recognizing this tendency, pause to consider if what you want to say is appropriate, helpful, timely and succinct. If not, remain on ‘pause.’
THINKING Pause – Therapists, coaches and some teachers are trained to ask a question, then pause, giving the recipient time to reflect and respond. We have so much going on in our lives that it takes time to think, so that we can pull out what is most pertinent, relevant or important. It’s easier to discuss things at a superficial level, but when we pause to really think about something, that’s when we open the door for those ‘Ah Ha!’ moments.
What do you think about the PAUSE? What are some Pauses that work for you? Share them in the comments section below.
How ADD/ADHD Diagnostic Terminology (and Thinking) Has Changed
ADHD is NOT a new or made-up disorder, contrary to what the skeptics have been saying for the 25+ years that I’ve been an ADD coach, diagnosed ADDult and parent of a now-grown child with ADHD. So respond to the critics by showing them more than 240 years of ADHD history!
Let’s start with some clarity: ADHD refers to Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. There are three primary subtypes, or presentations – Primarily Inattentive (often referred to as ADD), Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined type. An individual can have symptoms that are mild, moderate or severe, and this may change over time or depending on the situation.
Current figures vary, but the CDC says that approximately 9-11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. It is estimated that 4-7% of adults have the disorder. While almost everyone experiences some of the symptoms some of the time, an actual diagnosis is based on several factors. For more on this see the CHADD Fact Sheet. For a free adult screener, go to www.SusanLasky.com/resources/ and scroll down to Free Evaluations & Screeners.
With so much attention on ADHD, there are those who say it doesn’t exist. So here is some historic perspective that will put to rest any thoughts that ADD/ADHD is a NEW or MADE-UP Disorder. (You may not like everything you read, but ADHD can be debilitating!)
- 1775 – Dr. Melchior Adam published the textbook Der Philosophische Arzt that contained a description of the inattentive and impulsive behaviors associated with ADHD. This is probably the first textbook ‘description’ of this syndrome. It is also notable for not focusing strictly on the hyperactive symptoms, where most emphasis has historically been placed.
“He studies his matters only superficially; his judgments are erroneous and he misconceives the worth of things because he does not spend enough time and patience to search a matter individually or by the piece with the adequate accuracy. Such people only hear half of everything; they memorize or inform only half of it or do it in a messy manner. According to a proverb, they generally know a little bit of all and nothing of the whole… They are mostly reckless, often copious considering imprudent projects, but they are also most inconstant in execution.”
BEST OF ALL: Dr. Adam’s treatment recommendations from over 240 years ago included massage and exercise!
Inconsistency is a major problem for people with ADHD – if they can do something sometimes, why not always? Although people with ADHD can be VERY detail oriented and focused, it isn’t always possible – especially when the subject isn’t of particular interest. (One of the main reasons people dispute this diagnosis is that, when interested, children and adults with ADHD can be attentive, to the point of hyperfocus, yet staying focused at other times can be very difficult. This isn’t intentional – it’s brain-based, frustrating and at the heart of this disorder.)
- 1798 – Sir Alexander Crichton, MD, published a book An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangementwherein he said:
“In this disease of attention, if it can with propriety be called so, every impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him, or her, an unnatural degree of mental restlessness. People walking up and down the room, a slight noise in the same, the moving of a table, the shutting a door suddenly, a slight excess of heat or of cold, too much light, or too little light, all destroy constant attention in such patients, inasmuch as it is easily excited by every impression… they have a particular name for the state of their nerves, which is expressive enough of their feelings. They say they have the fidgets.” (p.272).
Dr. Crichton suggested that these children needed special educational intervention (in 1798!) and noted that it was obvious that they had a problem attending “even how hard they did try.”
“Every public teacher must have observed that there are many to whom the dryness and difficulties of the Latin and Greek grammars are so disgusting that neither the terrors of the rod, nor the indulgence of kind entreaty can cause them to give their attention to them.” (p.278).
I LOVE THIS – discussing the need for educational interventions more than 200 years ago!
- 1844 – Heinrich Hoffman was a progressive psychiatrist who rejected the common beliefs of his time that psychiatric patients were obsessed or criminal, and instead considered mental disorders as medical issues. He published an illustrated children’s book with a poem called ‘Fidgety Phil,’ a classic description of a hyperactive child. An 1847 edition of the book also had a story about “Johnny Look-in-the-Air,” about an inattentive child. WHY DO PEOPLE continue to insist that ADD/ADHD is a NEW disorder!?!
- 1902 – Sir George Frederick Still, MD (the father of British pediatrics) introduced the concept of a Defect of Moral Character during a series of lectures to the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K. on ‘some abnormal psychical conditions in children,’ published later that year in The Lancet.“There is a defect of moral consciousness which cannot be accounted for by any fault of the environment.” He described 43 children who had serious problems with sustained attention and self-regulation, who were often aggressive, defiant, resistant to discipline, excessively emotional or passionate, showed little inhibitory volition, had serious problems with sustained attention and could not learn from the consequences of their actions, though their intellect was normal. Describing a 6 year old boy:
“…with marked moral defect, was unable to keep his attention even to a game for more than a very short time, and as might be expected, the failure of attention was very noticeable at school, with the result that in some cases the child was backward in school attainments, although in manner and ordinary conversation he appeared as bright and intelligent as any child could be.
Dr. Still proposed a biological predisposition to this behavioral condition that was probably hereditary in some children and the result of pre- or postnatal injury in others.
- Following the 1917-1928 Encephalitis lethargica worldwide outbreaks and the 1919-1920 Influenza pandemic, the behavioral symptoms in many surviving children led to the speculation that there is a causal relationship between brain damage and behavior. Children often became:
“… hyperactive, distractible, irritable, antisocial, destructive, unruly, and unmanageable in school. They frequently disturbed the whole class and were regarded as quarrelsome and impulsive, often leaving the school building during class time without permission.” (Ross and Ross 1976 p.15).
This was called Postencephalitic Behavior Disorder or the Brain-Injured Child Syndrome.
- 1932 – Drs. Franz Kramer and Hans Pollnow described a Hyperkinetic Disease of Infancy. The most distinguishing characteristic was daytime motor restlessness, unlike the postencephalitic motor drive that also affected sleep. They also noted:
“…distractibility by new and intensive stimuli, inability to concentrate on difficult tasks, refusing to answer questions and appearing not to listen when spoken to directly.”
Noting that symptoms, especially motor restlessness, decline in intensity by age 7, they called it Hyperkinesis of Childhood.
- 1937 – Psychiatrist Charles Bradley administered Benzedrine sulfate, an amphetamine, to “problem” children at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Home in Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to alleviate headaches. However, Bradley noticed an unexpected effect upon the behavior of the children: improved school performance, social interactions, and emotional responses.
“The most striking change in behavior occurred in the school activities of many of these patients. There appeared a definite ‘drive’ to accomplish as much as possible. Fifteen of the 30 children responded to Benzedrine by becoming distinctly subdued in their emotional responses. Clinically in all cases, this was an improvement from the social viewpoint.”
This was probably the first documented use of stimulants in children with ADHD behaviors. Although an inadvertent side effect of treatment or headaches, Dr Charles Bradley saw noticeable improvement in behavior.
- 1930’s and 1940’s – Further research supported the idea of a causal connection between brain damage and ‘deviant’ behavior, referred to as Minimal Brain Damage.
- 1956 – Although scientists could not identify the biological mechanism, Dr. Bradley’s Benzedrine experiments created a scientific model for further research on stimulant drugs to treat hyperactivity. In 1956, psychiatrists began to prescribe Ritalin (methylphenidate, or MPH), a stimulant drug similar to Benzedrine with known benefits for children’s behavior and few side effects. PROTESTS THAT MPH IS UNTESTED?After more than 60 years? It may not be right for everyone, but it HAS been vetted.
- 1957 – Studies by Laufer et al addressed the possibility that children with the Hyperkinetic Impulse Disordermay not have brain damage, but rather a functional disturbance of the brain. So the idea that every child presenting with abnormal behavior had Minimal Brain Damage was disputed. (Birth of the neuro-atypical brain concept?)
- 1963 – The Oxford International Study Group of Child Neurology held a conference and stated that brain damage should not be inferred from problematic behavior signs alone. They advocated for a shift to the term Minimal Brain Dysfunction.I KIND OF BUY INTO THIS ONE – or maybe just Minimal (or Variable) Brain Difference or the Neuro-Atypical Brain!
- 1968 – Considering the term Minimal Brain Dysfunction as too general and heterogeneous, the term Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder evolved into the diagnostic term (as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) DSM-II: Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood– “The disorder is characterized by overactivity, restlessness, distractibility, and short attention span, especially in young children; the behavior usually diminishes by adolescence.” (1968, p.50)
- 1972 – Psychologist Virginia Douglas presented a paper to the Canadian Psychological Association, arguing that deficits in sustained attention and impulse control were more significant features of the disorder than hyperactivity, resulting in a change in the conceptualization of the Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.
- 1980 – The disorder was given a new diagnostic label in DSM-III: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), with or without Hyperactivity. The three separate symptom lists were for inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, along with an explicit numerical cutoff score, specific guidelines for age of onset, duration of symptoms and a requirement of exclusion of other childhood psychiatric conditions. Note: This was a departure from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) published by the World Health Organization, which continued to focus on hyperactivity as the primary indicator of the disorder.
- 1987 – The two subtypes were removed and the disorder was renamed, in DSM-IIIR: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in an effort to further improve the criteria, in particular with respect to empirical validation (largely based on Russell Barkley’s concerns about qualitative similarities, or whether the two types had to be considered as two separate psychiatric disorders). The subtype “ADD without hyperactivity” was removed and assigned to a residual category named “undifferentiated ADD.”
- 1994 – Realizing that ADHD was not exclusively a childhood disorder, but a chronic, persistent disorder remaining into adulthood in many cases, and based on additional research, in DSM-IV: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)recognized the three subtypes of ADHD, along with the possibility of diagnosing a purely inattentive form of the disorder. The subtypes: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type and Combined Type, with symptoms of both. It also accredited the diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood by including examples of workplace difficulties in the depiction of symptoms. Note: There was now more similarity between definitions of the diagnosis with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), although the ICD-10 was more demanding about cross-situational pervasiveness of symptoms.
- 2000 – A text revision, DSM-IV –TR, did not change the definition of ADHD, but was more descriptive of the symptoms.
- 2013 – DSM-5: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) now distinguishes ADHD as a ‘Neurodevelopmental Disorder.’ It is truly no longer solely a disorder of childhood, but one that reflects brain developmental issues throughout the life span. (See factsheet.)
- There are still 18 primary symptoms divided into two major groupings: inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.
- The subtypes have been replaced with presentation specifiers that correlate to the prior subtype. Presentation can change over a lifespan.
- New descriptions are more age-appropriate (a child might run about or climb, an adolescent or adult might feel restless).
- The age of onset has been raised from age 7 to 12, and now multiple symptoms are required to be present in more than one setting (home, school, work, social). Note: Future DSM’s may include Adult Onset ADHD.
- The required number of symptoms for ages 17+ is reduced from 6 to 5 in either the inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive categories.
- The DSM-5 recognizes that ADHD and autism spectrum disorder may coexist.
So that’s it… for now. I still do not like the term ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.’ I relate more to ones like ‘Attention Surplus Disorder’ (Ned Hallowell) or ‘Information Processing Disorder‘ (I’ve heard this from several people, initially from the psychiatrist William Koch), or even ‘Behavioral Inhibition Disorder’* (I believe Russell Barkley coined this term),
*This theoretical model links inhibition to 4 executive neuropsychological functions: (a) working memory, (b) self-regulation of affect-motivation-arousal, (c) internalization of speech, and (d) reconstitution (behavioral analysis and synthesis). Extended to ADHD, Barkley especially see deficits in behavioral inhibition, working memory, regulation of motivation, and motor control in those with ADHD.
I believe there is a greater difference between subtypes (indicators) that will ultimately result in several different diagnoses. Nor should the importance of Executive Function challenges in ADD/ADHD be underrated. Dr. Thomas E Brown has been instrumental in supporting the relevance of Executive Functions and Emotions in relation to ADHD.
The DSM-listed diagnostic symptoms are not comprehensive by any means. The symptoms now mention organization, which is often a major problem. Still, there isn’t enough awareness of time and energy-related challenges… transitions… time blips… activation/procrastination… completion… hyperfocus (which is why I’ve been writing this for hours and ignoring the other things, like sleep, that are essential)… short term memory issues and future-blindness… and the overwhelming ADD ‘fog’…
I’ve been working with ADHD issues since 1989, and as a Productivity & ADHD coach/ consultant, professional organizer, ADDult and mom of a now-grown son with ADHD, I see patterns, and they differ within the umbrella ‘ADHD diagnosis.’ For instance, I don’t see any diagnostic symptoms having to do with decision-making. Yet, in general, many people with ‘ADD’ tend to be less decisive than someone with ‘ADHD’ (although making the right decision is another story, especially when impulsivity is involved!).
My work with clients primarily focuses on developing compensatory strategies for Executive Function (EF) challenges, which can include planning, prioritization, activation, time and project management, organization, sustaining focus and effort, utilizing working memory, self-awareness and acceptance, etc. There are many people with ADHD who haven’t been diagnosed because they think of ADHD in terms of an 8-year old boy running around in circles and disturbing their classmates – not the quiet daydreamer, the academically hi-achieving Ph.D. or the successful entrepreneur.
So the saga of the ADD / ADHD diagnosis continues to develop. It is clearly NOT a new or ‘made-up’ disorder. The ADHD brain is neuro-atypical and does operate differently. While under certain circumstances this can be beneficial (just check out the vast number of entrepreneurs, inventors, creatives, athletes, politicians, professionals and celebrities who have it), there are definite challenges that negatively affect performance, judgment, relationships and self-esteem.
The more we know about ADHD, its history, impact and treatments, the better the lives of those who have it and those who teach, love, live or work with them.
But I Don’t Feel Like it! …
I planned to write my next blog post. Great Idea. Gives me joy to share information. Helps me to stay in business so I can keep helping clients. I have the time today… but I don’t feel like it!
The funny/sad thing about “…But I don’t feel like it” – those six short words wield a mighty power, and it’s not for good. We think them frequently, or at least many of us do, and they are the Destroyers of Productivity.
Here are some typical conversations in my head, but I imagine they sound familiar to many of you.
- I ought to go to the gym…
- I should re-organize my closet…
- I need to finish this…
- I said I would…
- It’s at the top of my ‘Action’ list…
…BUT I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT!
Just six words, but powerful enough to subvert our best intentions. The enemy of getting things done.
What to do?
I coach my clients on the benefits of reframing a ‘should… must… need to… or have to…’ into a ‘want to.’ Why? Because we’re all more inclined to do what we want. But even wanting to do something can lose traction when the ‘but I don’t feel like it’ button is pressed, and it gets pressed very easily – “I’m tired… I have too much to do…. I’m not sure how to… It’s too much work… I just don’t wanna!”
These are powerful feelings. Strong enough to triumph over our already-compromised executive functioning capabilities. So, too often, we don’t take action and our temporary emotions/avoidance tendencies get top billing.
I don’t like giving in. Sometimes, sure. Being self-indulgent can be comforting, and there are times when eating an ice cream sundae or taking a nap should take precedence over staying on a diet or doing the laundry. But other times it feels like the nefarious power of six is in charge, and even my best plans are unwilling hostages.
So here’s how I fight back.
- I start from my reality. Step #1 of my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™ is Self-Awareness, which means acknowledging how I really feel. If I don’t feel like it, why deny the obvious? Step #2 is Self-Acceptance. I already know all those shoulds, oughts, musts, etc., and instead of fighting the way I feel or blaming myself, I accept my mood, so I’m not adding incendiary guilt to the challenge of taking action (…or not).
- I’ll remind myself I have the power of choice. Step #3 is to Believe in Possibility – that we always have a choice. It’s easy to forget this when caught up in the moment. Still, despite the way I feel (or think), I can find strategies to do things differently, thus producing different results.
- I can take action despite my thoughts and feelings. There is a powerful concept in several therapies, including Morita Therapy, the Japanese psychology of Action, that focuses on our ability to take action regardless of the thoughts and feelings that will always get in the way. The trick is to acknowledge them, including the powerful “I don’t feel like it,’ then choose to ignore them… they don’t have to be in control, even though they seem to be.
- Keep that action simple and immediate. If I think about writing a blog, it can be overwhelming. Overwhelm, especially for people with challenged executive functions or ADHD, will allow our fight, flight or freeze reaction to take control, making it even less likely to get anything accomplished. So, maybe I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and open to a blank page in my notebook or Word file. Maybe I’ll just write a few buzz words (Iike I did when I started this blog by writing, “But I don’t feel like it…”). Maybe I’ll get inspired and continue, or perhaps I won’t, but I’ve done something!
- Consider what is actually getting in the way. Sometimes this is a waste of time, but occasionally there’s increased clarity when I explore why “I don’t wanna,” enabling me to move forward. My kneejerk response “But I don’t feel like it” may be a reaction to a concern that, when acknowledged, can be remedied. Perhaps my reluctance to do something might be because I’m not sure how to get it done. Maybe I first need to do some research or create a Project sheet and break it down into small, do-able tasks. Maybe I need to ask for help. Or maybe I have too many things to do and haven’t prioritized. I need clarity.
- Look for the options. Sometimes, exploring what’s really getting in the way gives me options.
- I don’t want to re-organize my room because I think it will take up most of my day. OK, how can I power up that action switch? I can set an alarm, put on dance music and work for just 60 minutes. Who knows, I may even complete the job in that time, or at least make good progress.
- Or maybe I don’t want to straighten up my clothes closet because there’s no room. So my project shifts to reviewing my clothing with an eye towards donating. As organizing guru Barbara Hemphill says, “You can’t organize clutter.” First, I’ll declutter, then I’ll find it easier to organize.
- Look for the motivators. What will encourage activation? For example, people with ADHD are rarely driven by the common motivators of importance, consequences or rewards (unless they are immediate). But if something is interesting or novel, we’re more likely to WANT to pursue it. I know it’s easier for me to unload the dishwasher (boring and repetitive) if I make it a game to get it done quickly: Beat the TV Commercial. I recently discussed this concept with a client, and she decided the best way to clean her kitchen after dinner is to make having her favorite ice cream dessert dependent upon having a cleared counter and sink. The yummy dessert was enough of a motivator to make her want to do it.
So how did I manage to write this blog, despite my immediate reaction of “But I don’t feel like it!”?
- I decided to switch my environment (a very helpful strategy) and sit outside to enjoy a gorgeous day (studies show that being in nature resets the brain, so another boost).
- My small, portable bluetooth speaker played perfect background music at low volume from my playlist (for me, wearing earbuds or earphones would have made the music my primary brain focus and been distracting, rather than enhancing).
- I filled a thermos cup with a tasty drink (self-care). No, it wasn’t wine – not a bad idea, but I was tired and would have drifted off target.
- I took along my favorite pen and a pad with smooth, thick conducive-to-writing paper (sometimes hand writing is more inspirational than keyboarding).
- I began by writing down those six powerful words, “…But I don’t feel like it.”
- Most important – I set a clear intention and decided to put everything else on hold while I write.
There are many ways to fight these Six Powerful Words. Let’s continue this conversation with your comments on my blog, www.SusanLasky/i-dont-wanna. What are some ideas that work for you?
Tips to Conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder
Magical holidays? Not for everyone. We’re supposed to feel festive… energetic… excited! We’re supposed to look forward to the New Year with anticipation and, well, happiness – it is ‘Happy New Year,’ right? So, why does this time of year create so much stress and anxiety? Why are so many people exhausted, even depressed under their cheery façades?
Since the first step in working through a problem is to recognize, define and accept it, let’s face it – the holiday season CAN be fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Especially this year, with the intense political discord and the many natural disasters. So give yourself a break!
Sure, there are tons of positive things about the holidays, including the window displays, the festivity, the spirituality and the family bonding. But there are also tons of stressors, like the time and effort of preparing for family gatherings, parties, travel arrangements, shopping, the additional expenses, rush to complete work projects, etc.
First it’s the Thanksgiving gathering (if you have people with whom you gather, and if you don’t, you might feel a sense of isolation). Having people over, for the somewhat disorganized, can be a time-consuming quagmire. It isn’t just the meal prep; it’s clearing the paper clutter off the dining table and finding hiding spots for the various piles of stuff. And the traveling doesn’t help – especially if stuck in holiday traffic (I admit it; I’ve skipped family events to avoid a two-hour traffic jam).
Thanksgiving Day immediately segues into the holiday buying frenzy, with its extra expenses and the stress of gift-buying, magnified by the pressure of getting those perfect bargains during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (now week-long, or longer, events). This is further complicated by the anxiety caused by FOMO – fear of missing out, whether it’s the sale of the century or that special party invite. Who has invited you where (and who hasn’t)? How should you reciprocate? What should you wear? And woe if you’ve gained or lost weight and don’t feel attractive in the holiday clothes you have! Even the lack of sunlight can darken the mood of people with a degree of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
Then there are the interpersonal issues. Whether it’s home for the holidays and dealing with complicated family relationships, or the feelings of loss when you think about missing loved ones or the lack of a significant other with whom to share a New Year’s kiss. There is also the double-edged pleasure of having children home from school, especially if you still have to work. And magnify the difficulty if you have children who get easily overwhelmed or overly excited by a disruption of their routine.
On a more subtle note, there’s a sense of judgement. The year is about to end, and what have you accomplished? Sometimes it’s external evaluations at work, which may, or may not, include raises and bonuses. But often it’s an internal sense of “I planned to do more…“. Unfortunately, we tend to dwell more on what we didn’t do than celebrate everything we did accomplish. Like a birthday, the upcoming New Year is a passage, and an opportunity (welcome or not) to pause and look at where we are in life.
I can go on, but now that it’s really clear you have valid reasons to feel Holiday Anxiety Disorder, let’s switch to what we can do differently to have a better, more fulfilling holiday season.
Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’
Many of us dwell in a mental world of how things should be. Relationships are warm, fuzzy and supportive. Money is not a concern. We’re easily able to leap tall buildings, which represents any obstacle, whether preparing a holiday meal or completing a work project early and under budget. Our children are always a joy, and our parents are never a problem. Realistically, we know that’s ridiculous. But there’s a part of us that wants it to be that way, and thinks it should be that way. Until we embrace imperfection and still delight in ourselves and others – despite our failings, and theirs – we’re doomed to feel like failures.
Practice Intentional Rejuvenation
Schedule in ‘ME’ time. Consider it as My Energy; time to recharge. It might mean a massage, distraction-free time to read, draw, play the guitar or go for a walk – whatever recharges your sense of self, so you’ll have more to give to others. If you spend too much time alone, working or taking care of your family, plan get-togethers with friends. Let go of the guilt that comes from having too little time to get things done or take care of others, so you give even less to yourself. As the airlines say, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before you worry about others.’ Keep in mind that self-care is not the same as ME time. Things like going to the gym are important for self-care, but there aren’t ME time, unless you love going to the gym!
Put Your Health First
Alas, that includes getting enough sleep, eating right, staying hydrated and exercising. These are all critical for real self-care. They take effort, but the payoff is that you’ll have more energy, and feel a lot less stressed. And for those of us with ADHD, depression or anxiety, these have proven, brain-based benefits. Studies show that spending some time in nature, even in winter, helps positivity. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Use natural daylight bulbs. And consider appropriate supplements, like Vitamin D and Omega-3.
Give Yourself Permission
It’s okay to decline an invitation. It’s okay to serve fewer choices at a meal or have less elaborate holiday decorations. And it’s okay to ask for help.
This might be the dollar amount or the number of gifts you’ll purchase. It might mean how much time you’ll spend shopping (maybe the online purchase isn’t as perfect as something you’d pick out in a store, but it’s a lot easier!). Also, consider how you can say no to unacceptable behavior, whether from a child, friend or family member. This also applies to work. Learn to say NO to yourself! Perfectionism destroys productivity. Be realistic in terms of what you can accomplish in a given time, and what you can’t. Have clear priorities and learn to self-advocate.
Write down your frustrations – it’s better than taking them out on others, or yourself. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you have, and what you’ve done. Keep a list of what you can do differently next year, and a reminder of what you’ve done that works. (Don’t count on remembering anything, although do try to remember where you keep your Journal and lists!)
Pause – Breathe – Appreciate
Life is a collection of moments, so capture those moments by being truly present. Mindfulness is a way of staying centered, and when we’re centered in the moment we can’t be disappointed by the past or anxious about the future.
It’s extremely rare when everything works as planned. Stuff happens. Being flexible and building in the expectation that there will be occasional breakdowns and meltdowns makes it easier to deal with them when they (inevitably) happen, and increases the likelihood that your holidays will be successful!
Focus on the Positive
In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™, Step 3 is ‘Believe in Possibility, and that you always have the Power of Choice.’ When you truly believe that you will have a wonderful, fulfilling holiday season, and that the upcoming year will be your best one yet, you dramatically increase the likelihood it will be. Positive thinking is critical to successful action. How we think absolutely affects what we attract in our lives.
Plan for Success
A positive attitude is essential, but achieving goals is more likely when there’s also a plan in place. It’s helpful to have clarity as to goals and priorities, and the steps you’ll take to reach them, whether it’s planning for December 25th, New Year’s Eve or the upcoming year. If you need help with your Success Plan, let me know!
Have the Happiest of Holidays!!!
What are your tips to conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder? I’d love to see them, so share them on my blog.
This article may be reposted, only with the following attribution:
Written by Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function & Organization Coach. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions, www.SusanLasky.com. Used with permission.
There is often a collapse in our understanding when it comes to getting things done. We’re taught to believe that if we were really motivated, we would get started on that work project, organize the closet or declutter the entry. We’re told that if we really cared about our family’s health, we would consistently prepare tasty, nutritious meals. We tell ourselves that if we’re not exercising or finishing the online course we started, lack of willpower and poor self-image is to blame. If only we tried harder… Maybe, but not likely.
Activation, unlike motivation, is an executive function skill, also known as Initiation. That means it is brain-based in an area of our brain (the frontal lobes) that may not be as consistently high-performing as we’d like. Especially so for people with ADD / ADHD. This is the area of our brain that is largely responsible for things like organization, time management, prioritization and activation (the ability to get started on something). It is easily overwhelmed by too much to do, confusion as to how to do things, or the dread that comes when a project seems too big or boring to be easily accomplished.
That’s when the protective amygdala— the part of our brain that helps us to manage stress— steps in with its fight, flight or freeze response. So we go into avoidance mode. OK, this is an oversimplification, but it helps us to understand WHY we find that doing some things becomes so challenging that we continually procrastinate, even if we are motivated to get them done.
Just because we’ve decided to do something, doesn’t mean we will actually get it done – despite motivation by desire, rewards or dire consequences. This lack of ability to get going can be both frustrating and scary!Here are eight strategies to help you overcome overwhelm, minimize the avoidance factor, get activated and successfully accomplish your goals.
Stop Identifying Yourself by Failure. Procrastinator. Lack of willpower. Lazy. Unmotivated. Selfish. Inconsiderate. Untrustworthy. These are words that make me want to quit, not put in the effort needed to overcome a brain-based executive function challenge. So recognize that despite the widespread ‘Just do it’ mentality, it’s often necessary to find work-arounds. Let go of the negative self-talk. Accept that you’re having difficulty beginning a task, and instead of being self-critical and judgmental (which accomplishes nothing), be gentle with yourself. You may be anxious about the task, uncertain about how to get it done, uncomfortable about doing it (like calling a company to complain about something), or stuck because you might ‘do it wrong.’ Avoid paralysis by analysis. Often all that’s needed is that first step, which is what activation is about. Identifying what is getting in the way is part of the solution. It’s important to take action despite your feelings, but it helps to understand them. Studies show that you’re 50% more effective if you first get clarity as to why it’s tough to get going, than you’d be if you just push through and try to get it done.
Set Aside Planning Time and Action Time. They are not the same. Planning time is for deciding exactly WHAT you are going to do, and HOW you’ll get it done. It’s the time to determine your priorities and decide WHEN you’ll actually work on your tasks (your Action times). It’s the time to make DECISIONS, so they don’t hold up your progress once you start working. Sometimes we plan to do something without being realistic about how much available time we actually have (the ‘white space’ in our calendars). So when planning, take all of your time commitments into account. And don’t overplan. Activation takes effort, so leave space for recharging, along with time to deal with interruptions, unexpected tasks or spill-overs from tasks that take longer than planned. If you skip Planning time and go directly to Action time, it’s easy to lose focus on what is most important and spend that Action time pursuing any new bright and shiny object (or checking emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). If you haven’t planned very specific tasks for your Action time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options when you are ready to work.
Use your Planning time to gain CLARITY. What are the specific tasks that will enable you to make progress towards your goal? A project is too big to ‘do’ in one sitting, so the thought of ‘doing’ an entire project is overwhelming, resulting in avoidance rather than clarity. It’s easier to activate when there’s something very specific to do, with no conflicting priorities and a set time for starting –and ending– your efforts. It’s the way you solve that proverbial question, “How do you eat an elephant?” (the project you tend to avoid because it’s just too big, scary or unappetizing). How? One bite at a time! Begin by breaking the project into do-able tasks, or individual bites that aren’t too painful to swallow. The smaller you make them, the easier they’ll fit into your busy schedule. Prioritize those tasks (what has to be done before you can move on to the next task?). WRITE DOWN THE STEPS! Then, when you are in Action time, put on your blinders to stay focused on the designated task.
Make the Task more Appealing. How can you turn a need-to, should-do or must-do into a want-to? Same task, different attitude. Even then activation may be difficult, but it’s easier when you see a positive reason for accomplishing a task (even if it’s just to get it over with so it no longer gives you angst!). How can you add a fun element to the task? Some ideas: Do it with a friend, working together or just in parallel play… get out of your home or office and work in a coffee shop or park… upgrade your writing tools with a special pen and appealing notebook… promise yourself a reward for getting the task accomplished (even if it’s just some guilt-free ‘me’ time)… make finishing the task a game… have a giant check-off list, etc. Or try one of my favorites: get to work on it to avoid doing a task that’s even less appealing! Remember the benefit. Write down what you will gain from finishing the task. Keeping the goal in mind can make the work that goes into accomplishing it less onerous.
Think Progress, not Perfection. It’s easier to eat the elephant (work on that task or project) when you feel like it, or when you’re really hungry (deadline anyone?). But that’s a less effective way of ensuring you successfully accomplish your business or personal goals than if you were to commit to taking small, palatable bites every day (consistent effort). Prioritize the bites and keep them small, triumphing over your perfectionistic avoidance tendencies. Consistent small bites get things done!
Take a Short Detour to Gain Momentum. Sitting and staring at a blank screen won’t get that blog written. First, try doing a tiny action, like writing one sentence. This small action will often get you over the inertia hump, so you can continue. But if you find yourself unable to initiate action, take a detour. Do something physical (energizes your body and your mind). Take a short nature break (relaxes the anxiety and provides a feeling of well-being you can take back to your desk). Call a positive friend and make plans to do something fun. Listen to music that energizes and helps you stay focused. Make sure you eat and drink (dehydration contributes to brain fog). If you take medication, check that you’ve taken it. If you need ten minutes of down time, take it – even if it’s to check your social media or email (be safe and set a STOP alarm!). Remind yourself of your commitment to get to your Action task, and then, refreshed, get back to work.
Be Aware of Transition Trauma. Sometimes it’s hard to stop one activity to begin another. Our brains just don’t want to make the switch. Be clear as to what you plan to do when. Write it on your Daily Action List. Put it in your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Use alarms to define your Action times and alert you that it’s time to begin (activate). Get up and move between activities so you can clear the Zombie-like focus, or hyperfocus, from a previous task (or from that computer solitaire marathon session).
Find an Accountability Partner. When someone else cares whether we’ve accomplished what we said we would, we’re more likely to get it done. This is often difficult when you work alone. Just as it’s easier to get to the gym when you go with a friend, it’s easier to get activated and work towards your goals when there are others who are supportive of your efforts and cheerleaders for overcoming your challenges. Share with a non-judgmental friend, join a mastermind group, consider the benefits of individual coaching, or join a group like my TUIT Project, which is designed to provide support and accountability. A new online group begins each month—visit OvercomeOverwhelm.com.
Also consider the benefits of individual coaching. Contact Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions to discuss how coaching could help you move forward and have a less stressful, more fulfilling life. Susan is based in Westchester, but works virtually anywhere. She can be reached at 914-373-4787 or Susan@SusanLasky.com. You can schedule a convenient, no-cost or obligation Initial Consult at https://SusanLasky.AcuityScheduling.com.