If you are living with ADHD, you have probably wondered what the secret is to living more successfully. Self-awareness and good strategies are the places to start; you can develop these one small step at a time and, as you do so, you will be answerable to yourself—not someone else. This kind of accountability gives you greater self-confidence, an increased sense of control and higher motivation to pursue your goals; it will literally put you in charge of yourself.
Who’s Currently in Charge: You or ‘The Burn’?
My clients with ADHD often say, “I need to feel the burn to get things done on time! If there is no burn, there is no focus.” These clients endure a love/hate relationship with their fear of failure: painful as it may be, it is the only thing that sparks the burn they rely on to get things done. They trust it to work but hate it at the same time, because it means all-nighters and a lot of anxiety. Sadly, because the stress really does help them focus, it seems like a necessary evil. But is this really true?
The Downside to ‘The Burn’
Here are the problems with this approach: believing that this is the only way to focus encourages people living with ADHD to leave work to the last minute. They wait for that adrenaline-fueled moment when their parachute—‘The Burn’—opens and saves them from catastrophic failure.
The reality is that this parachute often opens too close to the ground, resulting in a hard landing: inelegant, embarrassing, and sometimes with unintended and uncomfortable results. Unfortunately, merely surviving is not enough when the quality of your landing counts.
This is usually when clients come to see me.
They wring their hands, describing how “The Burn” was not enough to get them through a key exam successfully, or how their performance review at work resulted in an unexpected probation, or how they are at risk of being asked to leave the professional program they have committed their life to.
More troubling still is when the parachute approach creates distance in their primary relationships. Jack, a professional in midlife, once shared with me that his family had learned not to expect him home for dinner, or even important life events, because of the predictable string of last-minute projects he always had to finish up. He had, in his words, become “irrelevant in his own family.”
You can take back your power and be in charge of yourself.
8 Strategies for Living Successfully with ADHD
1. Know What Motivates You
Take time to make a list of what inspires you. Notice what makes each item important—the more you’re aware of their importance, the more you’ll be able to build new routines around them—and then make a commitment to create space for them in your life. This is where a good deal of your energy and focus will come from. Next, create a specific goal. Be bold and create a visual aid, then give it a place of honour somewhere in your office or home.
2. Make a Plan
Schedule time to make a plan at the start of your week. The point of this step is to actually do it and make the plan visible. Don’t keep the information in your head! Write it out using whatever tools work best for you: paper agenda, electronic agenda, or a simple weekly planner. If you struggle with the planning and organizing part, work backwards from your goal for the week, breaking it down into steps. You may also want to ask yourself, “What time of day would be best? When will I have the most energy to tolerate getting started on this?”
3. Include 5-minute Check-ins with Yourself
In your plan, add times during the day when you will do nothing else but check in with yourself. “Am I doing what I should be doing? If not, what do I need to do to get to it?” At the end of the week, take the time to reflect on what helped you stay on your plan. Take your time doing this, no matter how busy you are. This is the GOLD! These insights are what will make next week’s plan more effective.
4. Commit to the Plan!
When you feel the impulse to wander off the plan and notice you are justifying putting it off, remember—you have designed this plan with your own success in mind. Work the plan!
5. Learn to Trust the Plan—Not Your Feelings
Even with commitment, there will be times when you don’t want to follow your plan. Part of ADHD is not feeling like you want to do something when it’s time to do it. Instead of putting it aside, you can do any or all of the following:
Find a way to make it tolerable, e.g., just do one small part, find something delicious to do afterwards as a reward or find a study buddy to work with.
Ask a friend to schedule a “check in” with you. This does not mean you are accountable to them; it means that you are ensuring you have some external opportunity to help yourself stay on track.
Give yourself permission to adjust HOW you do things, not IF you do them.
6. Invite Non-judgment
When you notice that you have veered off course, be kind to yourself. Simply notice what happened, adjust your strategy if needed and get back to the plan. Do not move the goalpost! A non-judgmental environment inside of you will make it easier to get back on the plan. Negative self-judgment usually results in more avoidance.
7. Be Consistent
Set the intention to do all of the above for a period of one week only. Then commit to another week. It is less important that you get it all right, right away, than it is that you commit and act on these steps as consistently as possible. Consistency builds the ADHD accountability muscle.
8. Notice What You Are Doing Right!
If you are doing any of the above, you are doing something courageous. Pat yourself on the back and keep noticing—“What went well? Can I use it to support what is not going so well?”
When to Consider ADHD Coaching
It is not uncommon to struggle with putting these ADHD strategies in place. If you are doing the above but still noticing that you forget to:
A coaching relationship creates a structure for accountability and a way to identify limiting beliefs or internal states that may be interfering with your success.
Finally, feel good knowing that if you read this article to the end, or took action on any of these ADHD strategies to help you be accountable to yourself, you have the stuff it takes to make the changes. It shows that you are willing to work from the inside out. Accountability as an ADHD strategy is all about seeing the locus of control as being within you. You may need reminders in your environment, but it will be YOU who is choosing to put them there and it will be YOU who is checking in with yourself.