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?

Alternative ADHD Treatments and Theories

The website Born to Explore was started by Teresa Gallagher, a mother of an ADHD child. She attempts to approach ADHD from a different point of view. For instance, she argues that not everyone who meets the diagnostic criteria for ADHD has the actual disorder and that ADD is not necessarily a brain defect. In addition to “exploring” other possible sources of ADHD-like behaviors, the website explores alternative treatments and puts a positive spin on those traits now associated with ADHD.

What Can the Organization Do for You?

In addition to providing alternative ADHD Treatments and Theories, Gallagher gives helpful tips and recommends books that approach ADD positively. She also takes a skeptics stance in exploring accepted conclusions about the disorder. For instance, the website sets out an in-depth history of the disorder and points out ways in which the diagnosis is still vague and confusing.

First and foremost, Gallagher makes you think by exploring all the different theories, treatments and resources available.

ADHD and Being Left Handed

One of the analogies that always helped me make sense of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was equating ADHD and being left handed in a right-handed world. In other words, the way our community works is a reflection of the way the majority of our people operate; so if you function differently, you will have a harder time of it and best find some accommodations.

An article posted on the The Wall Street Journal website, however, actually finds a possible link between ADHD and being left handed. According to the article, ADHD is more common in people who are either left handed or use either hand for different tasks (mixed-handedness). Apparently, 30% of left-handed people (unlike 70% of lefties and most righties) are right-brain dominant. This, in turn, is associated with brain “disorders” such as ADHD.

Genetics and Cortisol and Brain Development

So how does one end up left handed? According to the article, people become left handed in part due to genetics, but even more so by suffering stress as their brain develops in utero. It is even theorized that Cortisol, the stress hormone made popular in commercials for several supplements, can cross through the placenta; so a woman stressed during pregnancy can influence her baby’s brain development.

Lest you start thinking that being left handed is a bad thing (like certain misguided people across the centuries who considered it evil), the article also notes that lefties tend do be better at thinking outside the box and at certain sports. In fact, while lefties make up about 10 percent of the population, six of the 12 last presidents have been left handed.

For more information and explanation, check out The Health Risks of Being Left-Handed / The Wall Street Journal / In the Lab (12/6/11).