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?