I was all set to write my next blog post. Great Idea. Gives me joy to share information and helps me to stay in business so I can keep helping clients. I had the time blocked on my calendar for 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, yet they are the Destroyers of Productivity (and they don’t do much for self-esteem).
Today the conversation was about writing a blog, but it is a frequent flyer in my head. Here are some typical triggers that lead to this common refrain — 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 ‘I don’t wanna’ is in charge, and even my best plans are unwilling hostages. So, here’s how to fight back.
Start from your reality. Step #1 of my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™(download for free from https://susanlasky.com) is Self-Awareness, which means acknowledging how you really feel. If you don’t feel like it, why deny the obvious? Step #2 is Self-Acceptance. You already know all those shoulds, oughts, musts, etc., and instead of fighting the way you feel or blaming yourself, accept your mood, so you’re not adding incendiary guilt to the challenge of taking action (…or not). Avoid the trap of SCDD – Self-Compassion Deficit Disorder!
Remind yourself that you have the powerof 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 you feel (or think), you can find strategies to do things differently, thus producing different results.
You can take action despite your thoughts and feelings. There is a powerful concept in psychology, 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. Start small. If you are reluctant to go to the gym, put on your sneakers and have everything you need in a bag by the door. I’ve had clients report back that wearing sneakers ‘magically’ helped them start moving. Worth trying!
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, causes stress. Our brain perceives this stress as danger, triggering the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. While designed to protect us, once released, we’re even less likely to get anything accomplished. So, recognizing I’ve shifted into avoidance mode, my next move isn’t to force things but to do something that will minimize stress and help me get to work. 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. This may be a waste of time (we don’t know what we don’t know!), but occasionally there’s increased clarity that enables moving forward when you explore why “I don’t wanna.” The kneejerk response “But I don’t feel like it” may be a reaction to a concern that, when acknowledged, can be remedied. Perhaps your reluctance to do something might be because you aren’t sure how to get it done. Maybe you first need to do some research or create a Project sheet and break it down into small, do-able tasks. Maybe you need to ask for help. Or maybe you just have too many things to do and haven’t prioritized. Remember, The Two Magic Words for Productivity: Clarity and Priority. (This is the title of another blog post on my website.)
Look for the options. Sometimes, exploring what is really getting in the way gives options that boost action.
You might be reluctant to even begin straightening up your office because you think it will take most of the day. OK, how can you power up that action switch? Start by setting an alarm, then put on dance music and work for just 50 minutes. Who knows, you may even complete the job in that time, or at least make good progress.
Or maybe you don’t want to organize your very messy clothes closet. When you explore the ‘why’ it becomes clear that part of your avoidance is frustration due to a lack of space. So, the project shifts to reviewing your clothing with an eye towards donating. As organizing guru Barbara Hemphill says, “You can’t organize clutter.” First, declutter, then you’ll find it easier to organize.
Look for the motivators. What will encourage activation?
It is easier to spend time working on your closet if you have a friend hanging out offering encouragement (external motivation and redirection toward the goal).
It also helps to understand that 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 dessert dependent upon having a cleared counter and sink. The yummy dessert (an immediate reward) 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 started by acknowledging my reluctance, making a bargain with myself that I’d put in the effort for just 30 minutes. (Usually, once I begin, I easily keep going, but it takes a lot to turn on the ignition to activate my engine.)
I decided to switch my environment (a very helpful strategy). Many of my clients find they are more productive if they work in a coffee shop, library, or co-working space – even changing rooms can help. I chose to sit outside and enjoy a gorgeous day (studies show that being in nature has a way of resetting/ recharging the brain, so there’s another boost). Note: This blog was originally published during warm weather, pre-pandemic.
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 writing by hand is more inspirational than keyboarding).
I set a clear intention and decided to put everything else on hold while I wrote. While I had my phone with me, I turned off alerts and kept it out of sight to avoid temptation. (Although yes, I still checked it periodically, sigh…)
I then began by writing those six powerful words, “…But I don’t feel like it.”
There are many ways to overcome 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?
SUMMARY: There is a delicate balance between taking care of yourself and the giving of self that is integral to any real relationship with another person. Whether it is your partner, family of origin, friends, co-workers or children, relationships require certain boundaries to stay healthy. Learn to recognize and respect yours.
Boundaries are Limits that YOU Have and Will Not Cross
Personal boundaries are internal limits. They may not be obvious to you, but they exist and influence your actions. Boundaries are important and should be recognized and appreciated. Most of our boundaries are healthy, and to ignore them is detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual well being. Such limits are developed for many reasons, and stem from different sources which may include:
Family or moral values
Self-knowledge and an understanding of your personal needs
Awareness of the consequences of going beyond these boundaries
Boundaries are Limits that Others May Not Cross:
Violence, physical or mental cruelty
Insulting behavior (vs. supportive behavior):
“MAKE-WRONGS” – Turn your comments, ideas or thoughts into negative feedback, often subtly and insidiously: Example: You say:“I lost 5 pounds this week.” Make-wrong response: “Great, but how are you doing on the 50 pounds you still have to lose?” Supportive response: “That’s terrific! I know this is tough and I’ll help in any way I can!”
“PUT-DOWNS” – Convey a lack of faith in your ability to do something and/or to do it correctly: Example: You say: “I’ll finish the project this evening.” Make-wrong/Put-down response:“Sure, like you said you would yesterday?” Supportive response:“Okay, but if you forget, do you want me to remind you?”
GLOBAL COMMENTS/CRITICISMS – Turns previous disappointments into general character statements that trap, hurt and prevent moving forward in a relationship: Examples: ”You never get anything done.” “You always do that!” “It’s always what you want!”
Pushing The Limits
Sometimes, the personal boundaries we set are overly protective and limiting. This is not healthy. While they serve a purpose, they keep us from reaching for a higher rung. We are comfortable where we are, and unwilling to make the effort (emotional, physical, intellectual, etc.) to push our limits and risk the possibility of growth – or failure.
Personal boundaries are meant to protect our values, not to stifle our growth. Limits imposed from fear are often cages. Beliefs should be looked at from a position of honesty and humility:
“Am I a better person because of my internal limits or am I protecting myself from the challenges of self-growth or the intimacy of a relationship?”
Personal Limits Include:
SPACE – Physical, emotional, thoughts… Everyone needs some privacy. We have a right to private thoughts and solitary activities.
Not sharing everything doesn’t mean a lack of trust in another person, nor does it mean you’re cutting the other person out of your life (or being cut out of his or her life).
If you feel compelled to always be with others, question why… What is it about your own company that is so unappealing? If you are just bored, develop some interests! You can’t always count on others, but you are always around, so learn to enjoy – and appreciate – yourself. Do you need others to constantly validate you? What can you do to build your sense of self-worth and learn to respect your wonderful, unique self?
Be together, but separate – practice parallel play.
Some people are more extroverted, in the sense that they get energy from being with others, while some are more introverted, and recharge by doing solitary activities or having ‘quiet time.’ It can be helpful to know what you – and your partner – need.
TIME – There is rarely enough time in our lives to do everything we would like to do, let alone everything others want us to do. Give yourself permission to take time… to make time… for self-care: quiet time, sleep, relaxation, healthy eating, grooming, personal interests or hobbies, enjoyable activities, etc.
Interfering with or intruding on this time is actually counter-productive and can even be detrimental to productivity.
It’s easy to criticize someone for “doing nothing” when there’s much left undone, but time to unwind is NOT selfish or do-nothing time. It helps us to decompress, recharge and build up the ability to attack projects, go places or just “do something.”
There can be justification in expressing concern at “too much” personal time. If both partners agree there is an excess of time spent “vegetating,” then provisions should be made to SCHEDULE certain activities at specified times. This avoids conflict as to what was agreed upon.
Scheduling also allows the person taking personal time to do so without guilt, but since the “assigned” personal time isn’t open-ended, scheduling it helps to limit over-indulgence. Guilt-free personal time is also an excellent reward/incentive for accomplishing scheduled Task-Appointments. See “The Task-Appointment.”
When working, interruptions will slow you down and destroy the ‘flow.’ Some estimates say it takes an average of 26 minutes to get back on track, and that’s if you don’t get distracted by something else! And it is even more frustrating if it took major effort to get activated in the first place. You have a right to minimize interruptions – especially when you are working at a task that requires concentrated effort. If possible, turn off the computer and phone notifications for a set time. Let others know you’ll be in temporary seclusion. Consider a phone message that tells others when you will, once again, be available. Put a sign or count-down timer on your desk or office door that says when you will be free (people are more likely to wait if they have a specific time when they can speak to you).
Learn to say ‘NO” so you have more time to say “YES” to what really matters. Our time banks are limited, and everything you do is a withdrawal. So, choose wisely. Decide what is important and set your boundaries accordingly.
PERSONAL GOALS, DREAMS, and INTERESTS – We all need dreams to strive and hope for, but it’s important to objectively evaluate them, discard the unrealistic and work towards actually achieving goals that are truly meaningful. See “How to Accomplish Goals.” We also need to accept and enjoy our interests without judging them according to someone else’s barometer.
Expressing realistic concern about another’s goals or desires is okay, as long it’s done constructively.
To be critical in a negative way (“make-wrongs” or “put-downs”) of another’s goals and desires is to take away something precious from that person. The same is true for being totally non-supportive.
If your needs strongly conflict with another’s goal (e.g., your partner wants to buy a vacation home and you don’t want the stress, financial outlay and additional demands on your time), you can still express an understanding of the need, even if you are not supportive of the action. Perhaps you can both work out some compromise, such as buying into a time-share.
The reverse is also true. We can be supportive without fully understanding another’s dreams. Sometimes we haven’t a clue as to why something is important for someone else (e.g., running a marathon), but we can still support them in their quest.
Be careful that you don’t impose your dreams, or interests, on others. If you want to go bird-watching and your friends find it boring, it is unfair to force them to join you. However, don’t give up your interest, just find others who share it. Or suggest that while you birdwatch, your friend can use the time for his photography hobby, so you are both doing what you enjoy.
Don’t allow others to impose their interests on you. You can decline to share an activity and still be a good friend. You can appreciate that your spouse likes to watch sports on TV but choose to watch your favorite sitcom in another room. Not wanting to watch the news or go to an opera doesn’t mean you are superficial. (Beware the hidden make-wrong!)
If you know something will be difficult for the other person, even if you don’t think it should be, accept their limitations (real or perceived) and lend your moral support, without being controlling, indirectly insulting or withdrawing.
Limits Must Be Communicated
Know and understand your own limits. It is unreasonable to expect compliance or understanding from others if you’re not clear on your own needs.
Make sure others know your limits before you criticize them for going too far, or not far enough. It is unfair to expect something of someone else unless you’ve clearly explained to them what it is you want or need. Too often we get upset with someone because we think they should just know what we want, need, etc.
Relationships consist of more than one person. While it is important to get what you need and to strive for what you want, it’s unhealthy (to a relationship) not to also take into account the other person’s needs and wants.
Reclarify as needed. Sometimes we think we said something or made something clear and the other person says we didn’t. Instead of accusing the other, accept that either one of you may be responsible for the misunderstanding and restate your needs and expectations. Remember that conversations disappear, and no one is to blame. Communication is critical. And it always helps to write down things that you want to remember, and if they relate to an event, put them on a calendar and set an alarm!
Ask for feedback. To be sure major points are understood and to avoid miscommunication, ask the other person to tell you what they’ve heard, and what they think you mean. (Ask nicely, not with an attitude.)
Be flexible. Boundaries can be expanded at times. Stay somewhat flexible and try to see things from the other’s point of view without losing your integrity or perspective.
Examples: If your partner is ill or “down,” you may do more than your share of chores or provide greater emotional support.
A well-meaning grandparent may be allowed to ask questions or do certain things that you wouldn’t permit someone else. (But even here, there should be a limit!)
You may allow a partner or a good friend certain intimacies or criticisms you wouldn’t accept from an acquaintance.
Formulate Consequences for Overstepped Boundaries
Calmly state the situation (the other person may not have realized they were pushing your limits).
Reinforce your boundaries when they are, or might be, violated.
Graciously refuse to accept an over-the-boundary situation. Getting angry, depressed or belligerent doesn’t make it easier for you or the other person.
Allow the other person a backdoor; an easy way to change their mind or offer a compromise that realistically works for you.
Examples: Employer:“I need this report by 9am.” Response: “You may have forgotten, but when we met yesterday, I explained that I had to leave early today. You said it was okay. It’s impossible for me to cancel my plans at this point, but I can either prepare the report when I come in tomorrow and have it by noon, or give the data to Nancy so that she can prepare the report.”
Spouse: “Honey, I’m watching the playoffs… can you please keep the kids quiet?” Response: “We agreed that you take care of the children on Sunday afternoons so I can work on my thesis. I know you really want to see the game, so I can take them to the park now, but if I do, you’ll have to take care of dinner and putting them to bed so I can complete the section I’m working on.”
Partner: “Are you ever going to get that ‘A’ project finished? Response: “I certainly hope so. However, I’m also juggling the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ projects. If you can take over the ‘C’ project, I shouldn’t have any difficulty completing the other three on schedule.”
Child: “Mom – you didn’t wash my team jersey! You’re in charge of doing the laundry! I need it by 4:00, so wash it now!” Response: “Everyone in this family is old enough to be responsible for putting their clothes in the laundry hamper. You know that. Since you left the jersey on the floor in your room, it wasn’t washed when I did the family laundry. If you want to wear a clean jersey to team practice, you’ll just have to wash it yourself. If you’re not sure how to do that, I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but I won’t do it for you.”
Child:“I’ve had it with doing chores around here. I’m not your slave! You take out the garbage yourself.” Response: “I won’t force you to take out the garbage. I know it’s not very appealing, but everyone has responsibilities. Since you don’t want to do your share of what must be done, I’ll have to work harder. So, I won’t have the energy or time to take you to dance class on Thursday. It’s your choice.”
Recognizing and reinforcing boundaries makes for more powerful and healthier relationships.
This was a question I was recently asked on Quora, but it’s one that comes up almost daily during coaching sessions with my clients. So, here’s an enhanced version of my response. While geared towards entrepreneurs (with or without ADHD), it also applies to anyone who wants to get things done, but occasionally loses momentum.
The reality is that you won’t always feel motivated, even if you love what you do. You’ll feel frustration, anxiety, confusion and boredom (and those are the easy ones!). Even when motivated, you may feel stuck and not able to activate (an executive function of initiating action that doesn’t always correlate with motivation, or wanting to do something).
So, start from this reality and accept you will have challenges staying motivated (even without ADHD, being an entrepreneur is difficult, but having it does make things tougher). Realize you do have solutions, although it may take some effort to discover them! (And not just for getting motivated, but for most entrepreneurial stressors.)
Here are some motivating Motivation tips:
Prepare Strategies & Workarounds in Advance. You can then pull them out of your handy ‘SOS: I Need Help’ toolbox as needed. Use a physical box with index cards, a file on your computer or phone, an actual file folder, or a paper or electronic notebook. Sometimes, we need these pre-packaged options to choose from, as ‘doing what comes naturally’ just doesn’t cut it, and it’s easy to forget ways that we motivated ourselves in the past – even ones that worked. Memory is not reliable, especially when feeling overwhelmed. So, when something (a strategy, tool, system, book, podcast, motivational quote, mindset, etc.) works or sounds inspiring, make a note of it and put it in your toolbox. You may need it in the future, since the best time to think about what gets you motivated, or what will inspire you to begin working, isn’t when you are feeling down, although sometimes you’ll be able to use an uncomfortable situation as a springboard to inspire your innovative mind to create success strategies on the fly. When you begin thinking like a detective, you will discover solutions that had eluded you when you were caught up in a victim (“nothing works, I’ve had it”) mentality. Go for it!
Allow for ‘Down Time.’ Realize that being an entrepreneur is time and energy consuming to the extreme, which drains motivation. Build in white space; free time to recharge your batteries (even at the expense of not getting everything done as scheduled). Make time to reset your brain by being outside, through exercise, mindfulness or meditation, journaling, reading, listening to or playing music, doing hobbies like artwork or gardening, playing with pets or spending time with friends and family you like (note the caveat there!), napping, volunteering, etc. You don’t have time, you say. True, but if you don’t make time, you’re working with the law of diminishing returns. As the airlines say, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Stepping away often gives new perspectives and greater energy (how many ideas do you have in the shower, or when taking a walk?).
Edit Your ‘DO’ Lists. Of those things on your ‘Do’ list, what can you Modify? Delay? Delete? Delegate? Outsource? Not everything is urgent, and even if it is, there’s usually a way to change other’s expectations so you can still deliver, so long as you are clear and considerate in your communications. Or change your expectations about your deliverable, so you’ll want to get it done. Watch out for paralysis by analysis, overthinking or over-researching. Perfection is the enemy of productivity and motivation. Create a ‘Do NOT Do’ list so you don’t get sidetracked. Create a place to jot down non-immediate ideas or concepts (a Parking Lot for your thoughts) so you don’t lose them, but don’t get distracted by those brighter, shinier objects.
Periodically, Prune & Review Your Business. Give thought as to what currently brings you the greatest satisfaction or the most profit. Technology that might have worked can become a source of frustration. Marketing that seemed important might not be paying for itself. Services that were ideal at one point might have become time, energy and money drainers. Letting go of what doesn’t work is freeing and can re-energize your engagement in the business, especially when it makes room for stuff that excites you.
Energize Your Systems. Expedite what you can so you spend less time on routine (boring) tasks, whether it’s better organization for greater efficiency, setting up templates for repetitive tasks, using productivity-related software or creating systems to improve ongoing processes. Let go of the guilt or need to do it all and get help where you struggle. If you are spending an inordinate amount of time doing tasks that can be delegated or outsourced, hire someone so you can focus on your strengths. You’ll make less profit initially, but you’ll develop a much more powerful business with less likelihood of burnout. Even on a personal level, many relationships improve when a house cleaner or professional organizer is hired. Sometimes we just need some support and compassionate accountability. Especially if you are a solopreneur. Join a mastermind group, find a business accountability partner who will also benefit, or hire a supportive coach.
Planning Time Saves Doing Time. When there’s so much to do we want to just jump in and get going – until we’re overwhelmed and lose motivation. Build in time for long-term, weekly and daily planning. You’ll save that time and more because your ‘doing time’ will be more effective and targeted towards success.
Avoid Overwhelm. While some pressure or stress is helpful for pushing us towards action, too much will trigger the ‘Fight-Flight-or-Freeze’ response. It’s brain-based and automatic. So, know your triggers. Often, this happens when we confuse a Project with a Task. You can’t DO a project, you can only work on a specific task. The more specific, the easier it is to begin it, whereas when we think of doing a project, all the elements lump together and feel overwhelming, triggering brain-based avoidance (this is NOT a moral/laziness issue!).
Keep Your End-Goal in Mind. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily pressures that we lose track of why we became entrepreneurs. What does your work mean to you, to others, to the world? Why did you start what you are doing? What do you hope to achieve? Maybe you are going through a rough patch. Maybe you want to rethink some of the details. But you’re in it for a reason. Keep a reminder of that initial vision where you’ll see it. Be careful not to confuse current outcome with long-term vision. It can be demotivating when earnings, customer base, product development, etc. trails your expectations (desired outcome). Re-focus on the inspiration of your vision (what you want to achieve and why) to re-energize, so you are motivated to take those steps that will make it happen.
What works for you? Share your success strategies below.
For more ideas about Productivity, Time Optimization, Organization, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function, Communications, Workplace Issues, Relationships, Self-Care and tips for living a life you love, see my other blog posts at www.SusanLasky.com/Blog
We’re already in the Holiday buying frenzy season, so step back for a minute to take this Reality Check! (And check out my Time Machine ride, below.)
Some of you are brilliant at earning and managing money. Others have the skill to grow what you’ve earned or have family money to spare. This blog isn’t for you.
Many people with (and without) ADHD have financial issues. The reasons vary, but here are some common ones – can you relate?
It’s Now… or Not Now. When you live in the moment, it’s difficult to plan for the future, whether it’s putting aside money for emergencies or unanticipated events (car repair, best friend’s wedding, new air conditioner, etc.)… OR for non-immediate goals (vacation, new house, newer car, etc.)… OR for longer term needs like retirement planning.
I Want; therefore, I Do. Impulse control isn’t high on the list of ADHD characteristics. If you are lured by items in a store, online or even on a restaurant menu, your first thought may not be whether you can afford – or need – the purchase. You’re less likely to weigh benefit against cost (and even if you do, you’ll more likely decide the value is in the purchase or the cravings, not the savings).
Appeal of the Bright and Shiny Object. It can be a new outfit, despite a bulging closet and emaciated wallet. It might be a new hobby or adventure, regardless of the cost or despite an already maxed out schedule. If it sparks your attention, diverts you from dreaded boredom, sends a dopamine rush of exciting possibility to your brain – well then, money isn’t the major consideration, if considered at all.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It’s too easy to spend money on things we don’t need (the latest phone upgrade?) because if we don’t have the newest and best we’re worried we’ll be out of sync, or ‘less than.’
Did I or Did I Not? If you can’t remember whether you bought something, or if you know you did but forgot where you put it, you’re more likely to purchase it, or something similar, a second (or third) time.
Magical Thinking. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines this as the “belief that thinking about something or wanting it to happen can make it happen.” Sometimes this is a good thing, as evidenced by the benefits of positive thinking and even the Law of Attraction (when coupled with action!). However, when our current financial actions are driven by future income possibilities, it usually means trouble:l can afford this now as I’ll be able to pay for it when I get my new, better-paying job … I’m in line for an inheritance, someday … I’ll marry into money … I will win the lottery … or the horserace. Maybe, but what are the consequences if you don’t?
Difficulty Planning. It’s often a challenge to make decisions that will make a goal so specific and real that you can appropriately budget for it. Let’s say you need additional education or training to change or advance your career. You’ll need to decide on the course, the school and the timing. Only then will you know the expense. Then you’ll need to decide how you’ll pay for it. Do you have the money? Can you save it? Is it worth a loan? Can you get a loan? ALL decisions! Or, you may want to take a vacation, but where to go? With whom? Fly or drive? When? Tour, hotel or house rental? So many decisions! (BTW, mind-mapping can be very helpful for this type of planning.) Do you have money set aside for a vacation? Can you save it? How much you need will depend on the variables, or the variables will depend on how much money you’ve set aside. This required thinking is exhausting for many people with ADHD, who easily suffer from decision-making fatigue. So, the tendency is to postpone making ANY decisions or to make decisions without thinking through financial considerations.
Commitment Phobia. This is a common concern that interferes with making plans. How will I know if I want to do this in six months – or six days – from now? What if something else comes up? You are likely to spend more when you do things last minute, or impulsively, than if you’ve planned in advance.
Boredom. Spending money is often tied in to alleviating boredom. And many of us get bored easily and look for diversions, whether it is a shopping trip, entertainment activity or event, online browsing session, expensive restaurant, bar night out, etc. This can easily negatively impact our budget. Contributing to the drive to spend money is the dopamine rush that comes with the excitement of buying something that attracts us (and might also temporarily help with depression or anxiety). This adds to the appeal for ADDers, making it more difficult to avoid impulsive buying.
The Cost of Happiness. Studies show that experiences, including convenience services, contribute more towards feelings of happiness and satisfaction with life (and relationships) than do material purchases. Spending money on a cleaning or meal delivery service, which gives the gift of time (and avoids chores that, for many, are not highly desirable), may increase happiness, but negatively impact bank balances. Even so, these expenses may be worth adding to your budget!
Avoidance of the Reality Check. If we aren’t clear about our income, our savings (or lack of) and our expenses (fixed, variable and discretionary), we don’t have the info we need to weigh a purchase against the reality of whether – or not – we can afford it.
So, what does it take for a Reality Check?
OK, this time machine won’t really transport me to another era (magical thinking to the max!). Sadly, I won’t be able to improve my finances by going back in time to buy IBM, Apple or Google at first offering, or buy into that NYC co-op conversion. (But thanks, Rob Niosi, for the make-believe time travel on your magical work of art!)
Since I have to face the reality of my finances and to understand money and how it affects me, I need to gain clarity about:
My actual income, after taxes. (BTW, if you are entitled to reimbursement for business or medical expenses, and struggle to get in the paperwork, give yourself permission to have someone help you submit those expenses!)
My fixed and variable expenses– the money I need to spend to live (not necessarily to live well…). This includes required expenses related to basic housing, groceries, clothing, electronics, transportation, home and personal care. Also,insurance and medical care along with regular savings for emergencies, unexpected needs, special expenses and retirement. It might include loan and credit card payments (including student loans), plus expenses related to children, dependent parents,pets, etc.
My disposable income– the amount of money I have left AFTER I deduct all of my necessary expenses. The availability (or not) of disposable income also affects the quality and quantity of my choices (Mercedes or Honda… house or studio apartment… Nordstrom or Walmart… exercise DVD or gym membership… luxury hotel or inexpensive hostel).
My discretionary expenses – the things I buy because I want them; not because they are necessities. This category includes entertainment, dining out, vacations, renovations, etc.
So, Reality Check: What is your REAL income after taxes? How much do you need for your fixed and variable expenses? The amount remaining is ALL you have available for your discretionary expenses, unless you want to run up debt that will only compound the problems.
Ouch! Our tendency is to overspend because confronting the reality of how much money we require to live, and how much we have left after those expenses, is something we want to avoid.
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 conceptor 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.
It’s tough enough that many of us have challenges with ADHD/Executive Functions (organization, time management, prioritization, activation, short-term memory, etc.). But we compound the problems when we add guilt to the mix.
I may not be happy that I’m not checking off all my To-Do’s
– even when I’ve realistically created a theoretically do-able Daily Action Plan. Feeling a degree of
anxiety about accomplishing things can be helpful as an impetus to action, but dwelling on my failures is totally
unproductive – and unfair!
ADHD and EF
challenges are neurobiological, which means they exist, like it or not. It
isn’t a question of morality, intelligence or willpower. I can find strategies
to compensate and even excel, but without them, I will struggle with even
simple tasks. And there are days when even my best strategies will go unheeded.
I can write this blog and feel energized, but before I
began, I shut my eyes to avoid looking at the kitchen counter that needs
straightening, saying ‘later.’ As a productivity/ADHD/organization coach (ah, the irony!), I tell myself to just
take 10 minutes on the counter (which would totally be enough time), but my
brain cries out that I might lose the train of thought that inspired me to
write this. So, the kitchen counter waits.
My brain works in a
way that is sometimes quite incredibly wonderful, but won’t usually win awards for straightening up, making calls I’d rather avoid or working on tasks that
don’t light up my engagement button. Activation, or getting started on
something, has little to do with motivation. I may really want to lower my
cable bill, but initiating a call to the cable company to complain meets brain
resistance and is easily postponed (it’s important, but not urgent, and has now
been on my list for several months!).
I can choose to feel
shame and guilt, or I can choose self-acceptance. My challenges aren’t
excuses, but they are explanations. I choose to not spend my life focusing on
what I don’t do/haven’t done, because that would be a sad way to live. Instead,
I look at what I do accomplish (often things that were not on my Action list)
and appreciate my efforts. I look at
where I’m struggling, and focus on compensatory strategies to help me do
Here’s an example: My natural tendency is to be late for just about anything. When I was honest
about this, and the negative affects it had on both myself and others (my PowerPlan to Success™ Step #1,
Self-Awareness), I accepted responsibility, tempered by knowing I have
brain-based challenges that contribute to lateness (Step #2, Self-Acceptance).
HOWEVER, I decided I could still improve (Step #3, Belief in Possibility, and
that You Always Have a Choice). So, I
developed a load of compensatory strategies, both practical and mindset. Now
I’m late only occasionally, but if I didn’t use these strategies, I’d be back
to old habits.
It’s a waste of energy and a drain on your spirit to mourn the person you are not. Yesterday morning I spoke with a client, Annie who felt shame when she used a timer to remind her of things. It reminded her that she “was a failure, because I can’t do it myself.” We discussed this, and Annie was able to reframe her thinking from one of failure and self-blame to a positive take. She focused on how terrific it was to proactively compensate for a brain-based challenge that she could not control by willpower alone. She shifted from feeling defeated by her perceived failure to feeling empowered by her decision to let a tool (the timer) create a successful outcome.
That same afternoon I spoke with Paul, who was berating himself for not having done something on a timely basis that resulted in some really negative consequences. We spoke about systems that could make a difference going forward, but the real issue was one of Self-Acceptance. For any system to be effective, it must be used. So he needed to understand and accept that he has executive function deficits that require conscious compensation:
He can’t rely on his memory. There has to be an independent trigger to take action. (Although Paul’s need was for a long-term reminder, accepting, and finding a strategy to compensate for his poor working memory was similar to Annie’s realization that using a timer was smart, necessary and nothing to feel ashamed about.)
He can’t depend on getting something done immediately, even when remembered on a timely basis. This can be a struggle for anyone, but is particularly tough for those with ADHD. (Research shows we are less motivated by Importance than those with neurotypical brains.) Build white space, or open-time cushions, into your calendar, in case you need to delay a scheduled To-Do, then have a can’t-miss way to remind yourself when you’ve run out of avoidance time.
When Paul accepted the reality of how he worked (or didn’t!), he also let go of the shame he had attached to his failure to take timely action. And we came up with some nifty strategies to avoid this in the future.
We always have a choice. We can be the 5-foot tall person who spends her life bemoaning the fact (totally out of her control) that she isn’t 5’10”, or the woman who is 5’10” and wishes she was more petite, or we can focus on our reality and make the most out of it. We can be the person who refuses to wear glasses because he doesn’t think they look good, or we can buy funky glasses that mirror our personality or mood and have fun with it. We can want to lose weight and keep feeling guilty about our lack of willpower, or we can find a program with strategies (not willpower!) that work for us. We can take charge of our efforts, instead of being ruled by inadequacy and self-judgment. Will we always succeed, no. But there’s a lot less stress, and less time wasted wallowing in self-blame and guilt.
Please, stop beating yourself up for struggling. Accept that your wonderful, creative and capable brain has some challenges. Find strategies to help and give yourself credit for workarounds. When things don’t go the way you’d like, refuse to define yourself by your struggles – and don’t let others erode your self-esteem.
If you need help finding alternative strategies, there are terrific books (I’ve listed a few in www.SusanLasky/Resources), and a wealth of good podcasts, webcasts and articles online. Also, consider the benefits of individual coaching to jump-start change – click here to schedule our no-obligation Initial Conversation. If we’ve worked together and you have some new (or recurring) issues, let’s catch up!