Making Habits

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

I Had an Aha! Moment

This isn't the beginning of my journey, and it's certainly not the end. As I'm writing this, my bedroom is a disaster and my laundry is piled up much higher than it should be and all of this WITH my meds, but this month... I finally found my win. Something inside my head finally clicked, and it's taken me almost 28 years to figure it out. Even normal people don't finish everything everyday. Now you may be saying to yourself, "But K, with ADHD it's not just SOMETIMES that I don't get things done. It's almost always something that isn't finished or forgotten" and you'd be totally right. But here's what I've been learning that has helped me find the bottom of the kitchen sink for the first time in my life.


Break It Up

I think everyone around me just panicked, so let me explain. Everyone who has ADHD has heard about breaking things into smaller tasks, taking breaks, and living by a schedule. However, breaking things into tasks isn't always "I need to do all of part A today." For me, that was totally overwhelming, and the likelihood of me emptying the dishwasher before one of the kids had hurt themselves and I had completely distracted myself or talked myself out of finishing was 0%. Getting healthy doesn't have to mean going online, researching healthy recipes, throwing out everything in your pantry, buying $500 worth of new groceries, and going to the gym for an hour twice a day. It actually starts small. Even smaller than using the stairs instead of the elevator. It starts with something small enough that you can't talk your way out of it.

Pick One Thing

For me, with all of my housework being my nemesis and knowing that my brain was preventing me from doing it, I started with researching habits. I asked myself, "If I could just do one thing without using my brain, what would it be?" and before I could answer my husband yelled "There's mold in the sink! Can you get the bleach?!" (Bless him for putting up with me for 10 years, most of which was off-meds.) I knew what I needed to fix. That day. And I still couldn't force myself up to the sink to do it. I felt horrible about it, and ashamed, and all I wanted to do was lay in my bed and cry. The dishes was going to be my step one.

Find a Trigger

So what did I find out, you have to start small enough that you don't feel that guilt/shame/sadness/nausea (AKA the "Wall of Awful") that comes from doing something you've left uncompleted before. You also need something to trigger your new habit. With the dishes, I decided that anytime I walk into my kitchen I'll need to put two dishes into the dishwasher or move clean ones to their correct spots. That's it. Just two. I made signs and hung them up on both sides of the archway that led to the kitchen to remind me. I downloaded a gamification app that tracked my project and gives me coins for each time I moved the dishes. I told my husband, my mom, my dad, and even my grandma about my plan. Anyone that I talked to regularly was informed of the new habit I was trying to make and that I needed them to make sure I was sticking to it for 3 MONTHS! It's a long time for me to stick to well... anything... but I know that this is simple enough I can accomplish it.

Have a Back Up Plan

"That sounds great and all, but what about distractions and when you HAVE to do something that can't wait even for two dishes." I'm so glad you asked. My back up for NOT doing the dishes is putting my hand on the sink like tag. That way even when the kids are screaming for food, or I'm running through to the garage for that appointment I'm late to, I'm keeping the muscle memory of walking to the sink. On my first day, I finished my dishes. I went to bed with the sink empty. The rest of the house was a disaster, but I could at least tell myself that nothing in the house was getting worse overnight, and that was the best feeling I've had as an adult (aside from having kids and getting married, of course).

The Steps

  1. Find something small you want to change. For me, this was doing the dishes regularly.

  2. Break it into a piece so small that you'd feel silly not to do it. I moved two dishes into the dishwasher OR took two out if the dishes were clean. Don't clean the living room; pick up 5 things.

  3. Think of something that STARTS your new habit. Is it walking into a room, like I do with my dishes? Maybe anytime you eat something you jog in place for five seconds. It doesn't matter what starts your habit, but it needs to be consistent and set up in a way that you don't have to go far from your trigger.

  4. Think of the things that can go wrong, and make a plan. With the dishes, I decided I would at least touch the sink if I had to do something else immediately.

  5. Make a reward for yourself. The more immediate, the better. I downloaded a gamified habit app that gives me coins right when I move the dishes.

  6. Create signs, alarms, anything that can help trigger you to accomplish your goal.

  7. Tell anyone and everyone you talk to about your new habit. They'll make sure you're following through and remind you to keep going.

  8. Keep at it for 3 months. The average person forms a habit in 66 days, but with ADHD I suspect this is going to be harder for our brains to hold onto.

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