ADHD and Long Term Goal Setting: How to Stop Postponing and Start Doing!
You have goals and dreams just like everyone else, but you also have ADHD. Sure, this presents its challenges, but it doesn’t mean you should abandon hope. It does, however, mean that you need to be conscious of your sensitivities and adjust your strategies accordingly.
People with ADHD struggle with:
Prioritization: Deciding which task to focus on first, second, third, etc.
Motivation:Finding the motivation to carry out each task
Attention: Sustaining the attention required to complete the task
Harness the Power of Creative Visualization!
I’ve outlined a very simple and repeatable process you can use to reach your goals. As you go through these steps, keep in mind that your imagination and the power of your mind are your most valuable tools.
“Before you can create anything, you must create a picture of it in your mind.” Make it a habit to use them… constantly!
Take a moment to center yourself before each and every move in the sequence. Take a deep breath, relax and let your mind quickly review what you are about to do. If you follow these tips step by step, little by little you will make progress and achieve the goals you set out for yourself.
Give it time.
Never give up.
Even when you feel you’re moving slower than you would like.
Step 1: Figure Out What You REALLY Want
All actions originate from either a need or a want. People are literally ‘moved’ by their desires. Therefore, it’s crucial that you clearly determine what it is you really want.
We live in a society experiencing information overload. We are given an enormous amount of choices and potential realities from which we can fashion ourselves and our lives. For people with ADHD, this situation poses special challenges.
Choosing feels like losing: “If I focus on this goal, will it really make me happy?” And, “If I make this choice, what other things will I be missing out on?”
Take a moment to picture yourself at the end of your life.
What do you want others to say about you? Who do you want to be? Again, your imagination is your best ally in this process.
There are two important things to do before deciding on your next goal or action:
Visualize and Feel It : Imagine achieving your goal and see how it makes you feel. If you have several choices, try them on in your mind and pick the one that makes you feel the best. We do best what we enjoy and feel passionate about.
Ask why: Whether you’re dealing with a big or small goal, always ask yourself why it is important to you. This will help you choose your objectives wisely and keep you motivated.
You will have to make some choices, because in the end, not choosing is losing! In some cases it’s better to pick a direction even when you’re not a 100% certain it’s the right one.
Although it’s wise to contemplate choices, not making a choice for too long causes stagnation. Make a choice and go for it. You can always make adjustments later.
Clarifying your goals limits distractions and simplifies choices. Knowing what really matters to you allows you to discard the fluff and hone in on the essence. Make some time for this part of the process.
Don’t rush through it. Sleep on it a few times.
This allows your subconscious mind to fully engage in the process.
Important Note: My advice is to simultaneously work on 3 or 4 primary goals. More than that tends to be overkill for most people, regardless if they have ADHD.
Step 2: Put Your Primary Goals First
Distractions are central to many issues related to ADHD. One way to prevent distractions from standing in the way of your dreams is to prioritize your main goals! Consider everything other than your primary goals as less important.
There will always be days when you’re forced to re-prioritize things, but make it a point to remind yourself of your main goals daily. Hang post-its around the house or put your main goals at the top of your daily to-do list every day.
Say you have 2 or 3 main goals, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have to write them down, I can remember them”. Yes, you can remember them, but it doesn’t mean you WILL when things get hectic and you have to make tough choices.
When you repeat your main goals over and over you will eventually remember them… always. Until then, here’s a useful tip to help you keep your priorities straight:
Place a short list of your main goals on the fridge or bathroom mirror. This will provide you with a daily reminder of the big picture. Take a moment every day to imagine how you will feel when these goals are accomplished.
When you get distracted, interrupted or sidetracked – and you inevitably will – remind yourself of your main objectives. Don’t allow the distractions to ‘grab’ your energy.
Remind yourself that these distractions are secondary tasks that you can deal with later. Make a note of them if need be, then refocus your attention on your main goal.
Rocks or Sand?
Sari Solden uses a great visual metaphor in her book “Journey’s through ADDulthood” to illustrate this point. Imagine you have to fill a jar with rocks and sand. The rocks represent your bigger goals while the sand represents the maintenance tasks.
To successfully fill the jar you must place the bigger rocks in the jar first and allow the sand to fill in the remaining gaps. Many people with ADHD are so busy with maintenance tasks they barely get around to accomplishing their main objectives.
In other words they keep filling the jar with sand and have no more room for the rocks. So, make your main goals a priority.
Fill the jar with rocks first!
Step 3: Pick a Specific Action For a Limited Time
You’ve probably heard of SMART goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Relevant, Time based goals. Once you’re clear on your long-term goal, break it into smaller, more manageable short-term goals.
Learning how to play guitar becomes more manageable when you decide to practice daily for 30 minutes for the next two weeks. Obviously you will not learn how to play guitar in only two weeks, but setting a specific goal for a short and finite amount of time will keep you motivated.
It’s probably best to set the stakes a bit lower than you think is necessary. In this example you choose to practice 30 minutes instead of 1 hr. You can always lengthen the time once you get started but knowing you will meet your goal within a limited amount of time will get you going.
Once the two weeks are over, set a different or similar goal for the next two weeks.
The key to this strategy is directing your focus.
Essentially you are telling your brain to focus ONLY on this one specific task for the next two weeks. You need not think of what comes after – this will only cause frustration.
You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.
My very first SMART goal for “Holistic Healing for ADHD” was: For the next two weeks I will work on the site for 3 hours, every day, from Monday till Friday.
Make It Your Priority
Once again, make this SMART goal your MAIN priority for that amount of time. Setting a SMART goal will help you cut out ALL distractions for the duration of that time.
Pick Small Action Steps That Offer No Resistance
Whatever your SMART goal is, pick the next action step that doesn’t create resistance or overwhelm. No matter how small.
“Even a tiny step is one step closer to where you’re going.” Ron Kaufman
For example, the first action step towards practicing guitar 30 minutes every day may be watching some Youtube clips on how to practice the basic chords.
You may not get around to any actual playing, but you’ve chosen to focus on your primary goal for 30 minutes, just like you planned.
You’re on your way.
Reward Yourself and Take It Easy
People with ADHD often have difficulty staying motivated during tasks that don’t offer an immediate reward (i.e. learning how to play an instrument).
Research suggests that this is caused by a dysfunction in the brain’s reward system. People suffering from ADHD symptoms appear to have a reduction of dopamine receptors and transporters in two regions of the brain involved in processing reward and motivation.
This is why giving oneself an extra reward after completing a task is crucial. That way you have something fun to look forward to when the work is done. It’s like patting yourself on the back for a job well done. Accept that your brain is different and you need a little extra boost to feel rewarded and stay motivated!
Pick something you really look forward to. Give yourself a spa treatment, go on a shopping splurge or indulge in a meal at your favorite restaurant. You deserve it!
Also, whichever SMART goal you set, don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t going exactly as planned. Just keep moving forward.
Only measure your success based on progress. Any kind of progress is better than none at all. If you do a little bit every day, you WILL make progress over time.
Step 4: Keep Main Task Notes, Reminders and To Do’s in One Visually Accessible Place
It’s best to keep all your ideas, reminders and notes regarding your main goals in once place.
I use an A4 folder with lined paper and separators to divide things by topic. I use Post It’s to make important follow-ups stick out of the page. I also have a “very-next-to-do” list for each project on my desktop, containing only my 3 to 4 next to do’s per project.
Find out what works for you.
The most important thing for people with ADHD is to keep things visually accessible and in one place. Remember, out of sight is out of mind!
Step 5: Set an ADHD Friendly Scene
People with ADHD tend to be extra sensitive to their environment. So, before you start executing your SMART goal, take time to visualize yourself going through the process.
Find out if there are any special requirements you need to meet first. Simple adjustments can make a big difference for sensitive people with ADHD.
You may want to allocate a specific location for your work. You may need to change the lighting or set up some soothing background music.
When I’m writing for the site I usually have some of my favorite movies running in the background. Instead of distracting me, it makes me feel good and increases my focus. I also like to work in a cozy atmosphere and have set up my bedroom as a working space.
This may seem odd to some, but it works for me. Because of this set up, I usually look forward to getting to work. I make a nice cup of coffee and get started.
Whichever goal you choose to accomplish, when you have ADHD, you need to figure out what works for you. Visualization is a great way to imagine your perfect working environment.
Once you’ve “seen” what you need, you can match up your reality as closely as possible.
But be realistic. Don’t make it a FIRST-THEN situation: FIRST I need to …… and only THEN can I get started. Creating the perfect working environment can become an excuse not to get started. Beware of that trap. Do the best you can to accommodate your sensitivities, but stay realistic.
Find cheaper or less time consuming alternatives to fix a problem if need be.
Step 6: Visualize & Start – With or Without Resistance
So, you’ve set your SMART goal and created an ADHD friendly environment. Now all you need to do is get started.
When you have ADHD, getting started can be a challenge, even when you really love the journey you’re embarking on.
Getting Started Holds no Fear
There’s just something about ‘getting started’ that can really get in the way of things.
It always reminds me of the film “Man on Fire”. Where Denzel Washington trains Dakota Fanning for competition swimming.
Her anticipation of the starting gun always throws her off and makes her lose precious time. So he teaches her to get rid of the anticipation she feels before the shot sounds.
He has her repeat “The gunshot holds no fear” over and over and over again. Then he says: “you welcome the sound, in fact it’s the sound that sets you free”.
For most people it’s the anticipation to get started that causes the problem. The thought of it, the idea that at some point you’ll need to get started. As if this idea has an identity and a power over you, just like the gunshot does for the character Dakota plays.
I always think of this when I feel anticipation before getting started. I think: “The gunshot holds no fear, in fact it sets me free” and I’m off.
Ease Yourself Into It
Taking action despite your resistance is another valid way of jumpstart an initiative.
Next time you want to get started, ponder your next move for a brief moment and ease yourself into it, regardless of the resistance you may feel.
Although it may be hard to believe, one doesn’t need to feel motivated to actually start doing something. In fact it can be quite simple. Just go to your chosen location (if applicable) and start going through the motions of the actual activity.
Here’s what I do. When I don’t feel like writing, I still make my cup of coffee and go to my work/bedroom. Then I take some time to ponder what my next move is.
Sometimes I distract myself by looking up something trivial online. After a while I slowly find myself opening a Word document and getting started.
Sometimes I pretend I’m not really getting started yet. As if I’m just pretending to get to work. As if I don’t really have to. Give it a try.
The more you ease yourself through the resistance, the easier it becomes.
If you have an extreme amount of resistance, tell yourself that you can stop any time you want. Most of the time this will get you going. Avoid over thinking. You can’t think yourself into action – just do it!
More on this in: “How to Stop Procrastinating and get It Done!”
Step 7: Evaluate & Refresh
Evaluate the process once you’ve finished the SMART goal.
If you notice that certain parts of your strategy are clearly not working, change them. Make it a habit to re-evaluate your situation and look for ways to improve things.
Ask questions like:
• Is something holding me back?
• Are there any obstacles – emotional, practical, etc. that
• Can I shift or change my attitudes or beliefs to make things go smoother?
• Should I change the time of day to work on this goal?
• What makes me lose balance or interrupts my flow and how can I prevent or avoid this?
• Should I turn off my phone? Are there any other ways I can avoid distractions? Once you’ve evaluated the situation, set a new goal or adjust the existing one.
Step 8: Rinse and Repeat
Periodically take time to re-evaluate your goals. As you go through life, both your priorities and your goals can change. Always check in with yourself to find out if your current goals still match where you want to go or who you want to be.
If not, you always have the option to clean the slate and adjust or eliminate certain ambitions.
Start the process again by asking yourself why you want what you want and go from there.
In the end, everything starts with an idea, a thought of something you want to attain. Something you long for.
So, start with a thought.
Start with an idea.