Non-resolutions, Change, and ADHD

Sunday , 4, January 2015 Leave a comment

I don’t believe in resolutions for the new year. Too cliché and unreliable.

However, I DO love the feeling of the clean slate that comes with the beginning of the new year. What could be a better time to implement some of the changes I’ve been contemplating lately? (Does starting now define the “changes” as “resolutions?” I seriously hope not, because if so I’m going to have to wait a couple weeks to start just on principle.)

Whatever they are, this is one of the areas in my life where ADHD collides (in rather dramatic fashion) with making change a reality. Change is hard for everyone—I totally get that. But it seems like most people struggle with getting started (going to the gym for the first time) or maintaining the change (continuing to go to the gym after it’s not novel and exciting anymore).  My version looks a little different.

I can’t figure out where to start. My brain is exploding right now with things in my life that I’d like to do differently in the upcoming year.

  • Read more books, watch less TV.thinking
  • Write more (blogging or journaling), spend less time online.
  • Lead a more scheduled life that includes intentional practices like meditation, stretching, and intention-setting both in the morning and evening.
  • Be more intentional about being authentic in my relationships with others.
  • Finish some in-progress projects (a memory book, creating books from my saved greeting cards, etc.)
  • Take a psychology class.
  • Put myself out there more—network, engage in intelligent conversation, intentionally connect with people and opportunities that are going to lead to the next steps in my life.
  • Take better care of my holistic health.
  • Be a better mama to my puppies (more intentional time with them, more exercise, etc.)
  • Take an online course in water colors.
  • Take steps to prepare for making my next career move.

With so many ideas flying around my head, it’s hard to grab on to just one or two. I know that’s what would be most helpful. Pick no more than two or three goals and focus on specific action steps for them. I teach this stuff in class. I know how it works.

But my attention and interest wander SO much… Today I’ll be reading books (never just one book at a time, by the way—that’s just crazy talk) about theology, and tomorrow someone will hand me a new book on brain-based learning theory, and I’ll want to immediately start reading that.

Today I’ll find an online water color class that I want to take. Tomorrow I’ll decide I want to take a class on nutrition instead. Then I’ll decide that maybe I should sign up for an online photography class with my dad so we can work together on it.

The most frustrating?  Today I’ll have a great conversation with a colleague about an awesome opportunity for enhancing my job-related skills and experiences, and I’ll be SO fired up about it that I can’t stop talking about it. Then by tomorrow I’ll be distracted by one of the goals/dreams/ideas above (or a totally different one) and I won’t follow through on that awesome thing I’d been all fired up about.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m NOT flakey by any definition of the word.  Follow through isn’t a problem for me when, say, I have an assignment at work.  I never forget to pay a bill.  I consider myself quite responsible.  When it comes to choosing how to spend my personal time, though, my head is a tornado of ideas.

My ADHD head thinks it has the answer to this dilemma. The conversation with myself goes something like this*:

ADHD Brain:  “Make a list! Make a giant list of everything you want to do, everything you want to accomplish. The books to read, the people to meet, the changes to make. EEEEEEEVERYTHING!!” (my ADHD Brain can be a bit overly-dramatic)

Rational Kelly:  “That’s a good suggestion, Brain. But you know that will just overwhelm us.”

ADHD Brain (ignoring rational me):  “Put it on BIG paper! Once it’s all written down, it must be BIG so you’ll SEE it! If it’s BIG you’ll be able to decide!”

Rational Kelly:  “Yes, Brain, sometimes that does work. But then it will just be a BIG overwhelming list.”

ADHD Brain:  “And COLOR-CODE IT!!  YES!  There must be COLORS and PRIORITY numbers, and maybe some little icons!”

Rational Kelly:  “But…”

ADHD Brain:  “You need NOTEBOOKS, too!! To record ideas, and plans, and books, and notes!  Notebooks with TABS!  COLOR-CODED TABS!!”

You can see where this is going.  Giant lists help when I’m juggling a large number of tasks that I MUST complete and absolutely cannot forget.  Here, though, I’ll throw myself into creating fantastically organized lists– but the completed lists and notebooks will be works art that I promptly stick somewhere for safekeeping. Invariably I’ll find them several months later and excitedly check to see how many things I can cross off. This generally leads to serious confusion about what the hell I’ve been doing for the last several months, because it’s NEVER what’s on that list.

It doesn’t work. Ever. Having my options laid out in front of me simply does NOT help me narrow down and choose one or two things to work on. The options overwhelm me, so I ignore them and do whatever I feel at the moment.

When no one is depending on me except for me, that pressure to see projects through to completion is absent and I’m free to bounce from project to project, idea to idea. Because I like that freedom to bounce around, I don’t usually have a clear statement of purpose about these things–I resist that kind of structure. I’ve been reading about theology lately because I’m interested in knowing more. I keep reading because I still have books in my pile to read. What am I hoping to learn? I don’t have a damn clue.

I wish I could end this post by saying I’ve found a solution. I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with bouncing around between interests depending on what catches my heart from day to day. But I thrive on seeing that I’m making progress, and bouncing around doesn’t lend itself to obvious signs of progress.

I think the key lies in understanding my own purpose for doing what I do and in my own definition of and rules about “making progress”–but that’s for another post.

(*I don’t actually have conversations with my ADHD self–please don’t overestimate my crazy.)

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