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!
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 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 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 wantto 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?
CHANGE…Often we avoid it, preferring to stay in our comfort zone. Or maybe we just lack the energy to explore new options. This can work for us, but it will keep us stuck. If we want things to be different, we have to dosomething differently.
Other times we seek out change as a remedy for boredom. Those of us with an active impulsivity trait tend to keep our radar focused on new opportunities (always attracted to that bright and shiny object). It’s probably a good idea to hit the pause button before jumping in.
Mostly, we look towards change to fulfill a desire for something more in our lives.This is a good thing – without it we wouldn’t risk a career change, buy a new house, adopt a pet, go on a date or start a family. Change can be less dramatic, like starting a new health routine, switching to a more helpful day planner or deciding to clear clutter.
When we try something new, it may not work out, but at least we won’t stagnate. We’re also a step ahead, having a better idea of what will work, when we can rule out what didn’t.
Triggers for Change: There are certain times of the year when we’re more inclined to think about making changes, like on New Year’s or a birthday. Why wait? Today is the first day of the rest of your life. For many of us, summer is coming to an end – a perfect time for a new beginning; your trigger for change.
What do you wantto be different?
What can you do to help make that happen?
Whatsupport will make change easier?
Believe in the magic of possibility. Attitude matters. It is so sad that when people are caught in negative emotions they can’t muster the attitude and energy to try something new. Don’t let feeling hopeless, or like a victim, prevent you from doing something new, or changing the way you do it. Start small. Success breeds success. Limit your goals – less is more; better to accomplish one thing successfully than to work towards multiple goals only to give up, feeling overwhelmed.
An effective way to create positive change is to declare your intent, verbally and in writing. It forces you to be clear as to your specific goals. Say it with conviction (even if you find that difficult), as something you’ve already accomplished: “I am wearing that size 10 dress and looking terrific.” … “I’m sitting at my organized desk and doing great at my new job.” … “I have a special relationship with a wonderful, supportive, smart and sexy person.” Print it out and post it where you’ll see it. If you can, include a photo that illustrates your accomplished goal.
There’s science behind it. Our brains are quick to see the negative; not so much the positive. Some studies declare we think up to 60,000 thoughts a day, and that 80% of them are mostly negative – that’s 48,000 negative thoughtsa day. That’s a lot to overcome, and we need all the reminders and reinforcements that we can muster. When we speak in the positive, it changes our expectations. When we say we will, instead of we’ll try, we reinforce our internal belief that change is possible.
So choose a goal to celebrate your new possibilities. Be realistic but positive – this time you can. I invite you to state your possibility and commitment in the comments section below.
I would love to help you turn your goals into realities. Just click here to schedule a time to talk about individual coaching or click here to learn more about my action/accountability group, The TUIT Project.
I’m laughing (okay, smiling to myself) as I write this, since it is so much the opposite of what I began to write!
It started with a decision to compile some of my favorite quotes about some of my favorite topics – ADHD, Executive Function, Attitude, Organization, Parenting, Time Management, Relationships, Self-Care, Self-Fulfillment, etc. These well-phrased gems are often perfect for creating perspective on situations with which my clients (and myself) struggle.
I know that some of these ‘words of wisdom’ are originally mine (not surprising when I’ve been writing and speaking on these topics since 1989, when Hal Meyer and I published the first CHADD of NYC Newsletter). However, I know that most are not, and so I went online to seek out sources.
I began with one quote that I know wasn’t my original, although it may have been Hal’s, or more likely Hallowell’s.
This is a great way to describe the tendency to act without thinking something through. It helps to understand some of the challenges created by the impulsive ADHD mind, and how actions taken without thinking can lead to unexpected, often negative consequences.
I thought I’d write about how important it is to be very clear about your target and goal before taking action (“Ready, Aim, Fire”), so you don’t waste or misdirect your efforts, but when I put “Ready, Fire, Aim” into a search engine, I wound up reframing my thinking about this phrase! Now I think that it can often be a better plan, since it puts the emphasis on action.
Taking action is a major challenge for many people, especially those who are very busy, cautious, or those who might have ADHD, but with a lower dose of the ‘H.’ Wanting to get it ‘perfect’ often leads to not getting it done at all… or to long hours, paralysis by analysis and missed deadlines. It’s the opposite approach to those who rush to just get something done and out of the way. Yet now I’m advocating for better balance, which can mean to just ‘FIRE’ in order to get going!
My online search led me to a blog on a fitness website that explains this really well. I know nothing about his program or the author, Keith Lai, but I loved his approach. He talks about this concept as it applies to fitness, but I see how it affects every aspect of life where we postpone taking action because we are too caught up in researching/thinking about exactly what action to take, or because we think we need to know the exact outcome of our actions. And as much as we may fantasize about it being otherwise, we can only control our actions, not the outcome.
So here’s a slightly edited version of what Keith Lai had to say – www.fitmole.org/ready-fire-aim
How to Use The “Ready, Fire, Aim” Technique to Crush Any Goal
One of the best books I’ve read recently is called Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson. It’s more of a business book on how to grow a wildly successful business than anything else (it really has nothing to do with fitness), but the lessons taught are applicable to anyone with ambitious goals, including those who want to transform their physique.
The premise of the book revolves around a concept called “Ready, Fire, Aim” which basically states: Anytime you want to reach a goal quickly, you simply need to act first, then make any necessary adjustments and correct for any mistakes later.
Let’s break it down into the 3 separate stages:
Stage 1 – “Ready”
This is the research phase where you begin researching the ins and outs of what’s necessary to reach your goal. In fitness, it might mean reading up on what’s needed for your workout or diet.
If you bought a fitness course (like my Superhero Shredding course), the “Ready” phrase means going through the course and absorbing the information.
But the secret to being successful in the “Ready” phase is to not obsess about understanding things 100%. I’ll go into more detail on Stage 1 later in this article.
Stage 2 – “Fire”
This is where you charge straight in and take immediate action (“Fire”). Even if you don’t fully understand the nitty gritty technical details of the workout or diet plan you’re on… JUST DO IT.
Inaction and doing nothing are the worst possible things in the world – there will never be a better time than now so pull the trigger ASAP.
Stage 3 – “Aim”
Now that you’ve taken action, you can gradually fix any mistakes you’ve made in the beginning, but because you’ve already taken action, making micro-adjustments will be easy.
Maybe you screwed up the first 2 weeks and just realized you weren’t getting enough protein, that’s fine, you can make that change now. You’re already light years ahead of the guy who’s still reading the diet manual, so pat yourself on the back.
Getting stuck in the “Ready” phase – The #1 reason for failure
Being stuck in the “Ready” phase is like reading 20 different dating books before ever dating a girl…
Most guys are stuck in the “Ready” phase. They spend too much time researching and not enough time doing. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to read about eating healthy than it is to actually eat healthy.
One of the biggest mistakes I made in the beginning of my fitness journey was spending months and months reading about diet information. I just kept reading and reading because I thought there was some “secret ingredient” that was missing. I thought there was something out there that I needed to know in order to get started.
But in reality, the only reason I kept reading was because I wanted to avoid putting in the hard work. Reading is a lot easier than doing as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Trust me, you know enough. There’s no secret sauce. I need to make a statement – YOU KNOW ENOUGH.
Most people know they need to eat in a calorie deficit to lose fat… Most people know they need to get stronger and eat in a surplus to gain weight… Most people know that fruits and veggies are good for you and you shouldn’t eat doughnuts in excessive amounts.
The basic premise of losing fat and building muscle is VERY VERY simple. And yet, people always want to complicate this shit. For some reason they want it to be complicated. Why?
Hell if I know, but if I had to guess it’s because making something more difficult rationalizes their decision to continue “researching” and stay in the “Ready” phase.
More and more people these days are getting caught up in the “science” of fitness (e.g. the best scientifically proven upper chest exercise for hypertrophy), but spending all day going through exercise research reports doesn’t do shit for you. Don’t know what hypertrophy means? Awesome, you don’t need to know.
This why a lot of the gym “bros” who seem a lot less educated, statistically, have superior physiques to the guys who just read and read and read. It’s because they just take action without overanalyzing everything. You have to admit that it’s pretty funny when the people who get the greatest results are the ones who don’t much care about all the science and theory behind fitness.
But what if “it” doesn’t work?
Last December I had a reader email me. To keep the reader anonymous, I’ll be calling him Captain Korea from this point on. Like a lot of my readers, he asked what’s the best workout to lose weight. I pointed him to one of the free workouts on my site and told him to do that.
One day later, Captain Korea emailed me back saying “This looks good, but can I add in 2 extra sets of side lateral raises? I feel like it will work better.”
The workout I gave him was a simple yet very effective 3-day split. Yet in Captain Korea’s mind, he was trying to make what was a great workout plan much more complicated than it needed to be.
Adding an extra couple of sets wouldn’t have killed him, but it’s the fact that he thought about it before even doing the workout once is what drives me insane. If Captain Korea decided to add the 2 extra sets of lateral raises after doing the workout for 4-6 weeks and decided that his shoulders were lagging a bit, then that’s totally fine.
Because by then, Captain Korea has already passed Stage 1 (Ready) and Stage 2 (Fire). Adding in the extra lateral raises is the intelligent Stage 3 (Aim) move.
“READY, AIM, FIRE” – The most common path to mediocrity
The majority of guys follow a “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach to fitness and life.
They decide they want to do something such as workout, and begin researching and buying workout products. (Ready)
They make sure every aspect of the workout is “perfect” by reading forums, blogs, and research reports. (Aim)
They finally take action after weeks/months of “fine tuning” their workout plan to perfection (Fire) only to jump back into the “Ready” or “Aim” phase after a week because they don’t think their plan was perfect enough.
As you can see, this approach to fitness, and to pretty much anything in life, almost always leads to disaster and at best, mediocre short-term results.
But once you “Fire” before “Aim,” you’ll discover that your entire life changes, and achieving any goal becomes a piece of cake.
How do you approach your goals? Do you follow the Ready-Aim-Fire or the Ready-Fire-Aim model?
Keith Lai talks about the Ready-Fire-Aim model as it applies to diet and fitness (BTW, sound familiar?) but it applies to so many aspects of our lives. I remember working with a web designer on my first website. I got so caught up in obsessing over what colors to highlight that I gave up on working with the designer, created my own ‘temporary’ two-page site and only got back on track five years later! How many possible clients did I lose because I didn’t give enough info on my laundry-list of a two-page site? Compare that to how many would have been turned off if my color scheme (easily remedied later) wasn’t fully expressive of my personality?
Sometimes, the best course is to reasonably prepare (get READY), then jump in and act (FIRE), knowing you can fine-tune the adjustments later (AIM). Besides, by then you might have a clearer target!
I’d love to hear what you think. Join the conversation by commenting below.
FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.
The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.
How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?
Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.
What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?
Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
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 thebenefits 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.