Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Change Takes Time

I think New Year’s resolutions are a bad idea, a total set-up for failure for people with ADHD. There never is such a thing as turning a new leaf just like that.

“It’s funny how clear things are becoming since we started this coaching,” a client once told me. “I can see now that I’ve always had a remarkable unconscious repertoire of behaviors to accommodate for the problems in my personal and professional life. None of them have been particularly healthy, and most of them are downright self-defeating. Mainly, I had to make sure people held me in impossibly high regard, but would fondly excuse me from any concrete expectations.”

And then he added an observation so rich in insight that it can affect your self-coaching journey, as well: “Only because I’ve slowed down enough to think about what I’d been doing—to reflect—can I see this. And I think taking the necessary time has been the real difference in making the changes I listed as my goals way back when we started. I know everything in life seems ridiculously fast-paced, but I still wonder why so few people understand the concept of time when it comes to change.”

What he was referring to is the incontrovertible truth about changing your life. As you self-coach, you cannot judge a strategy’s success or failure after one or two attempts at implementing it. You have to take time to let it work, and you have to take time to evaluate whether it’s working. The symptoms of your ADHD and the goals you hope to accomplish might be vastly different from my client’s, but the responsibility of evaluating your progress belongs to both of you.

Coaching, remember, is a process, and the changes you seek don’t happen instantly, but incrementally over time, sometimes a very long time. Because success requires commitment, and because the strategies you design are as individual as your individual needs, trial and error is an inherent, and time-dependent, part of the process. As you self-initiate change, you have to evaluate constantly whether the strategies and structures you’ve created serve your goals. If you’re heading steadily toward where you eventually want to be, then your strategy is apparently a good one and you can continue to leave it in place. But if you’re falling behind or slipping off course, you’ll have to make a correction.

Evaluate your plan

That’s what evaluating means: Judging or appraising the success of your plan and strategy, and acting, or reacting, accordingly.

Sometimes modifying a plan is easier said than done for individuals with ADHD, not because they can’t think of another strategy, but because they haven’t taken the time to analyze what is wrong, and right, with the original one. One of my clients, for example, knew how quickly she would become impatient when she didn’t get immediate results. “I could feel myself getting in a panic or a frenzy,” she told me, “and I’d wind up just ditching the entire plan. I never knew how to look at individual parts of it, so I never really knew which parts might be working and which parts weren’t. I’d get so frustrated that I’d just give up on everything.”

Through coaching, she understood the importance of acknowledging her history of impatience in order to counteract it. In her notebook, she began to track her progress with the plan on which she was currently working, addressing specific structures within it. By slowing down to analyze discrete elements of her plan, she could evaluate each separately and then make the necessary changes, rather than give up entirely on what might, with a few adjustments, have been workable and successful.

The following questions can help you assess your progress:

What is working in my plan? Try to identify specific progress using this strategy, such as specific actions you’re now taking.
Why is it working? If you can identify why it works, you can use the information in creating other strategies.
What measures or system can I use to track my progress?
If something is not working, what about it isn’t? Can you isolate one thing that isn’t?
What can I do about it? Have you perhaps selected the wrong day to pay your bills? A simple change could make all the difference for you!
When will I do it? A goal must have a specific start date, or it is merely a wish. Set a date to begin!
What is my commitment level? On a scale of 1, lowest, to 5, highest, rank your commitment. Remember that it has to be high if you’re going to succeed!
How can I remember my commitment to my goal? How can you engineer your environment to help you? What visual or auditory cues can you use?

Keeping track of your progress and adjusting your strategy along the way are essential to success, so go back to these questions regularly. But precisely how often you must re-evaluate your plan is impossible to answer, for just as there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, neither is there a one-size-fits-all timeline.

If you have ADHD, your biology complicates your life. Remembering your goal for the future—whether it’s the next ten minutes, hours, days, or months—can be affected. So can remembering the pain of past behaviors and patterns. Short-term goals are always best, and you have to make sure the goals or resolutions you choose are ones you truly want and ones that are meaningful to you.

We need to always have a plan, a goal, a vision, a path, a place toward which we are moving. We need to see the steps and see where we are in space and time. That means posting a calendar with important deadlines and dates so we can see them in the context of the day, week, month and year. And we need to post the calendar somewhere where we will see it all the time. Some people even cross out each day as it passes to see time "encroaching" on their goals and deadlines.

But remember, at times, we can plan, plan, plan—and get completely caught up in planning. Or become rigid, committed to the plan and not the process. Life is a process, and it unfolds in mysterious ways. As a very close friend once told me, there is no script for life—always make room for and expect the unexpected.