You have important goals. You have dreams. You have academic or professional aspirations. You have a certain picture in mind of how you’d like your life to look. Maybe you want to build a meaningful career. Maybe you want to finish your Ph.D. Maybe you want to start your own business. Maybe you want to write a book or change jobs or run a marathon or simply feel better about yourself.
When you have ADHD achieving your goals can be extra challenging, because the symptoms affect every step of the process. ADHD involves impairments in executive functioning, which includes organizing, planning, prioritizing, managing attention and managing time.
Adults with ADHD tend to have unrealistic expectations and make things more complicated, leading to unrealistic plans, said Dana Rayburn, a senior certified ADHD coach who leads private and group ADHD coaching programs. They can easily get distracted from their goal by something else that captures their attention. The disorganization inherent in ADHD also hinders follow through. As Rayburn said, “It’s hard to run a marathon if we can’t find clean running socks or our shoes.”
Adults with ADHD tend to be responders (instead of initiators) and starters (instead of finishers), she said. “We live in a now/now now world where only what is in front of us is important. We can totally forget about something we found compelling yesterday.”
You might be thinking that with all these challenges, you’re better off abandoning your aspirations. You’re not. Because you can accomplish your most meaningful goals. The key is to adopt strategies that address your symptoms and your strengths — and pick true-to-you goals. These tips can help.
Make sure it’s something you want.
“To reach a meaningful goal you have to want it and be willing to work for it,” Rayburn said. That’s why it’s important that your goal isn’t something you think you should want, she said. For instance, one of Rayburn’s clients wanted to become a rock star. (Yes, a rock star.) But she wasn’t practicing her music. It turns out that she only wanted to become a rock star because people were telling her how talented she is and that’s what she should do. “We changed her direction and now she’s happy and successful with her new career.”
Realize you don’t need huge goals.
“You don’t have to have a big, juicy goal,” or a goal that’s crystal clear, said Linda Anderson, MA, MCC, a master certified coach who specializes in working with adults with ADHD in business and professional settings. The change you’d like to make could be a whisper. You might want to have more peace or fulfillment. You might want more or less of something, she said.
For instance, Anderson’s client wanted to feel better about herself. Some of the changes they worked on included revising her thoughts and becoming more assertive at work.
Know the destination.
Anderson helped the above client construct a picture of where she wanted to go. They explored such questions as: If you were no longer thinking negatively about yourself, who would you be at home and at work? How would you feel? What would this be like? Anderson suggested readers consider: If the change you desire happens, what does it look like?
Pick realistic goals.
“Sometimes people want the right goal at the wrong time,” said Rayburn, author of the book Organized for Life! Your Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide for Getting You Organized So You Stay Organized. She sees this with adults with ADHD who have active kids with ADHD. They want to start a business, but their kids absorb a lot of their time and energy, she said. Other individuals have goals that might not speak to their strengths — such as starting a yoga studio when you’re too nervous to teach a class.
How do you know if a goal is realistic? Rayburn suggested exploring these questions: Is the goal centered on your strengths? Is it something you’re capable of doing? Can you learn new skills if you need to? Do you have the space in your life to get it done?
To identify your strengths Anderson suggested taking Martin Seligman’s online questionnaire. (You can register to take it here.) You also can try applying your strengths to your goal. For instance, one of Anderson’s strengths is humor, which she’s applied to getting more active.
Make things as easy as possible.
“Remove as many roadblocks as you can and find ways to make it more fun and interesting to reach your goal,” Rayburn said. One way to do this is to organize the pieces that are most critical to your goal.
For instance, Rayburn’s latest goal is to learn to fingerpick the ukulele. So she can practice at any time, she keeps her ukuleles and music in a corner in her living room. She’s also joined a weekly ukulele group. “[W]e’re all working on the same goal so I’m not left to my own.”
One of her clients wants to run marathons, so they make sure they’re always registered and training for a race.
Address your distractions.
“The ADHD brain is always on the lookout for something more interesting than what it’s doing now,” Rayburn said. When a meaningful goal gets tedious—which it likely will — your brain might find something else to focus on.
Rayburn suggested noticing what stops you from working on your goal, and making it harder to get distracted. In college she stopped reading novels because they were distracting her from doing homework. You might delete social media apps and games from your phone, Rayburn said.
When you have ADHD, achieving meaningful goals may be a bit tougher. But by adopting strategies that specifically speak to your symptoms and strengths, you can absolutely build whatever you want to build.
Stay tuned for part two, which features more suggestions for accomplishing your most meaningful goals when you have ADHD.
Graduate photo available from Shutterstock