Preparing for Successful Follow Through

In my last post regarding follow through, we explored the idea of using cues or triggers to remind ourselves to take action toward a goal. As part of the example of this strategy, I mentioned the idea of exposing yourself to cues and triggers while at the same time eliminating distractions.

Preparing for Successful Follow Through

This concept of taking a few small actions today to better increase the likelihood of following through with your intentions tomorrow is called “Willpower Leveraging,” at least by the authors of the book Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start. In other words, you set yourself up for success by making it more easy to follow through than to not follow through.

Remove Distractions

For example, let’s once again consider that goal of yours to take the dog for a walk every morning. In addition to the cues/triggers you expose yourself to as a reminder, you can work to mostly eliminate the obstacles that could distract you. If you’re a web junkie, this might mean putting your laptop in the car and parking the car around the corner the night before. This action serves to both eliminate your biggest distraction and forces you to walk to get your car and/or laptop.

Another example involves your goal to improve your diet. You might take some time today to throw out sweets and chips from your kitchen and restock it with fruits and vegetables. This would make it much more likely that you will make good food choices tomorrow as you simply don’t have the junk food alternative without making a trip out of the house.

While I hope these examples prove intriguing to you, the authors of the book give a lot more background and details regarding the strategy. If you try something along these lines, be sure to tell me how it goes.

Cues and Triggers For Follow Through

In a previous post, I explained one theory why we humans find following through on our intentions so difficult. According to Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start, our human brain has evolved to give us higher intelligence at the expense of our animal instinct. This disconnect allows us to over think each action before simply taking it.

Cues and Triggers for Follow Through

The Following Through book sets out a couple of different strategies toward reconnecting with that instinctual part of ourselves, including the use of cues and triggers for follow through. While I set out a quick summary of the strategy below, you will obviously benefit from the more in-depth explanation and steps set out in the book:

According to the book’s authors, we need to figure out ways to consistently cue or trigger our desire to act toward a particular goal. In this way, we will be better able to tune out distractions and keep motivated. So how do we figure out what cues or triggers to use? To get you started, try answering the following questions:

  • What picture can you conjure in your head that feels motivating to you toward a particular goal?
  • What cues or triggers can you use to remind yourself of this picture?
  • How can you best arrange these cues/triggers to consistently remind yourself of your intention and limit your distractions?

For example, imagine you set a goal to walk your dog every morning. Start by asking yourself to imagine a time when you felt really good or inspired while getting exercise, fresh air or something similar. Keep in mind, you’re looking to fuel whatever it was that created your desire to take a walk with Fido in the first place. You might imagine a previous occasion when you took Fido for a walk when the weather was cool, the sidewalk empty, the dog happy. Maybe you felt good that you got exercise and accomplished something so early in the day. Maybe the whole experience was meditative.

Whatever you imagine, the next step is to figure out how to remind yourself of that mental picture or feeling. Maybe you could put a picture of the park you walk in on the refrigerator. You might also place your dog’s leash by your alarm clock so it is the first thing you see each morning.

Whatever your cues, figure out several and strategically surround yourself with them. You might also want to act to reduce some of your early morning distractions. For instance, if you consistently get caught up doing something else in the morning like surfing the web or checking email, you might try putting your lap top out of sight the night before.

In my experience, both individually and as a coach, this strategy does increase the likelihood of following through on an intention. It is not a cure all and may need to be tested and tweaked, but it is a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

ADHD and Follow Through Tips

Once upon a time, there was a commercial that featured a man weighing himself at a gym. He then ran one lap around the gym before weighing himself again. As might be expected, he was crestfallen when the scale didn’t budge. While I have no idea the product that was being advertised, that commercial stayed with me because I could empathize with the man. It would be a lot easier to skip that doughnut or put in an hour on a treadmill if there were immediate results, hence my policy requiring “immediate gratification.” Let’s face it, if the reward is too far off in the future, it may not provide enough motivation to stay on course.

Lest you think its a matter of self discipline, however, think again. The authors of the book Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start blame poor follow through on our faulty, human brain wiring. As they explain, while our higher level, evolved brain is great at thinking out solutions and adapting to circumstances, it often circumvents the remnant of our animal instinct that would otherwise take immediate action toward our needs and goals.

This is especially true for those of us with ADHD, who often live in our heads, estimate time poorly, and can be easily distracted by whatever interests us at the time. While our ADHD tendencies can sometimes weaken are ability to follow through, we have still other tendencies (or strengths) that might strengthen it. For example, if impulsivity is one of our ADHD tendencies, it might allow us to better act on instinct. Additionally, our hyper focus may allow us to stay motivated for quite a while.

ADHD and Follow Through Tips

Whatever our individual tendencies regarding follow through, those of us with ADHD can certainly benefit from a strategy of two. This post is an introduction to a series that will explore some tips for ADHD and follow through; so keep an eye out for more blogs and feel free to add any suggestions or strategies in the comment section below.

Habits and ADHD

If you have ADHD like I have ADHD, chances are you put off those less-than-interesting tasks and responsibilities like paying the bills, business paperwork or house cleaning. “Interesting” is the key word here because, like many other people with ADHD, if I don’t find something interesting, I have a hard time starting on it and/or focusing on it long enough to get it done. In fact, I put it off in hopes I’ll feel more like doing it at a later time, date…year. In fact, it might get put off long enough that it ceases to be on my radar at all.

If I think about it, though, there are some things I manage to get done despite my general lack of interest in them. For instance, taking pills. I now take pills before I go to bed at night. By making it part of an existing routine it has become a habit, and I no longer make a conscious decision about when, where, or if to do it.

Habits and ADHD

According to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, 40% of our behaviors are habits. These habits are created over time and stored in the part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia. In other words, many of our behaviors are automatic and no longer processed consciously. If we can create new habits or change old habits, then, we can ingrain a routine for getting those things done that we might otherwise put off, avoid or forget.

So how do you create positive habits? According to The Power of Habit, habits are created through the use of a cue, routine and reward. For example, my cue for taking pills every night is the act of turning off the lights and locking doors. This cues me to go into the kitchen and take my pills as part of an existing, going-to-bed routine. My reward is a little harder to figure out, but I suspect it is the ability to immediately fall into bed as soon as I go upstairs.

The first step, then, is to understand what habits you currently have, as well as the type of cues and rewards that have worked for you in the past. For those of us with ADHD, we might be hampered in this step by our general lack of self awareness. This is where a friend or coach might come in, someone who can go over some habits with you to figure out what has worked for you in the past or can be changed to accommodate a different task in the future.

We might also be hampered by our tendency to want immediate gratification. In other words, a reward that is too delayed in time from the cue and routine may not work well to cement a habit.

If you want a real-life example, consider the task of paying bills. A sometimes depressing and always uninteresting chore, it is a task that can be put off easily. In an effort to pay bills and consider finances on a timely and consistent basis, I created a habit wherein I go to my favorite coffee shop on Saturday morning with my bills and computer in hand. The cue is Saturday morning, the routine is bringing my bills to a coffee shop and paying them, and my reward is a nice morning out with or without a chocolate chip muffin.

Creating habits through utilizing cues, routines, and rewards has worked really well for me. What about you?

Scheduling Activities With Friends

A couple of blogs ago, I referenced an article written by ADHD experts, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D. I keep going back to it because its 50 ADHD management tips really got me thinking. Tip number 47 advised people with ADHD to make a conscious effort to schedule activities with friends to keep connected. There wasn’t a whole lot more to the bullet point, but its inclusion on the tip list helped me to make my own epiphany: I’ve successfully self-managed an ADHD tendency all on my own. I’m that insightful and resourceful! That being said, I don’t think I’m the only insightful and resourceful person with ADHD. Anyone who’s lived with the brain wiring and functioned at all has developed strategies, whether or not they recognize them as such.

Scheduling Activities With Friends

When it comes to scheduling activities with friends, I long ago recognized that I need the social connection; but if I don’t schedule social activities at least a day in advance, they simply won’t happen. I need the scheduled activity as a goal to get from point A to point B. Point A being asleep in bed to Point B being dressed, out of the house and interacting. I don’t know why I can’t seem to be more spontaneous with social plans, but it apparently is just one more of those pesky brain-wiring tendencies.

In the end, the why doesn’t really matter. In fact, I’d say labeling it as an ADHD tendency doesn’t matter either. After all, why is someone born with two left feet when it comes to dancing or running or…painting? Sometimes, a “tendency” is another terms for describing how a person operates. When it comes to scheduling appointments with friends, I can fight it or I can work with it. And apparently, I figured out what works for me even before I received the ADHD diagnosis. All it took was a little bit of self awareness.