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E4. Why You Need (Some) Habits


Today we're going to be talking about habits with ADHD. Now, if you are like me, you might be a little habit resistant, and I get it. And I think a lot of us just don't think we're good at habits, we don't think we're good at building them. We don't think we're good at maintaining them. And we usually have a few things that are getting in our way. I can't say what's true for everyone. But I know for me that my issues with memory and my wanting to change my routine and getting bored have often stood in my way of being a really habitual person. Well, why would we even care? Why do we want to be leaning on habits?


The reason is because habits save us a load of mental energy. And if you have ADHD, even though you might have the reputation, as someone with ADHD, of having loads and loads of energy, we often really struggle with burning our energy in places that don't really move us forward towards our goals and towards what we want to do. So yeah, we may have hyperactivity physically or mentally, but it's not necessarily harnessed and working in our favor. The awesome thing about habits is that they get us on autopilot. We're not deciding to do something, thinking about how we're doing it, debating with ourselves about whether or not it really fits into our schedule at that particular moment.


We don't have to burn energy deliberating about what we're going to do. So how do we do this? How do we build habits if we're not "habit people"? This is not something that I have a lot of intuitive knowledge about, but I've read some amazing habit resources. and I've been able to apply them to my life and help my clients apply them to their lives and see real changes in this area, this area of habits.


That has never been my thing. For those of you who are not super nerdy like me and don't love to dive into the psychology and the neuroscience and all of the things behind behavior and why it happens, if you're not so interested in that, but you just want to hit the ground running with practical tips about how to build habit and change habits; That's what this podcast is about today.


So let's dive in. There are two books that I'm going to recommend: Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. What I've learned when reading these books is that habits have an anatomy- they have parts. Part one is the trigger, what you see or experience that reminds you that this habit is going to occur, the habit is the behavior (this could be a thought or this could be an action). And then the third part is the reward. The rewrd is the tihng that gives you enough benefit that you're motivated to keep going and keep repeating this habit.


So with that understanding, if you want to get rid of a habit, if there's a habit that's not serving you, you can make it easy on yourself and try to disrupt one of these parts of the already existing habit or you can white knuckle it and just use your willpower and insist that you're going to get this done.


The problem with using your willpower is that everyone (not just ADHD brains- every brain) has a limited supply, and it's actually pretty limited. They've done studies in which they had groups of people who are trying to work on a really tough math problem. And they're already making sure these people are hungry, and they have vegetables or candy (in front of them). And the people that are trying not to eat the candy and do this math problem, work much less time than the people who are eating the candy. They repeat this in lots of different formats and the conclusion is always the same;if you're using up your willpower doing one thing, you tap it out, it's a resource that's consumed and you don't have it to apply to the next challenge.


And this is just the human condition, I promise you that none of us has that much willpower. I know someone pops into your head, someone that you know is amazing and gets all the things done. And in your head, they just have the superhuman strength that they tap into to get things done. But the reality is, they're probably a habitual person, somebody who has a lot of habits and structure in their life. I'm married to my opposite who is a very reliable (not that I'm not reliable...) but seriously, he's a very steady, consistent, predictable, habitual person.


He's the person that when I'm like "Oh, We're going to have a vegetable garden!" Two weeks later when I'm done with the vegetable garden, Clint is out there watering things and getting rid of pests and taking care of the vegetable garden to the end of the season. Now, am I a flake? And is Clint amazing? I don't know. It depends on who you're asking. But with this situation, Clint is habitual. He has lots of habits. It's the way he works. For me, I've had to be super intentional about implementing habits, leveraging habits. And I'm not saying I can't do it, I can. (It turns out that the vegetable garden was not somewhere that I was motivated enough to build those habits). But when you compare yourself to someone who, by nature, a habitual person, then the conclusions you draw may not be totally accurate or fair.


Okay, sorry, that was a little bit of a side road. But now back to habits. How do we change them? How do we break the ones we don't want? How do we add the ones we do want? Let's start with Breaking the Habit that we don't want.


First, when we're trying to break a habit, you can muscle through that, but you're going to be depleting your willpower for anything else that you want to be doing that day. So if you don't want to muscle through it, there's an easier way to do this, you can take one of those three parts, the trigger, the habit, or the reward, and disrupt it. When you do that, you kind of break up this loop, this trigger, habit, reward loop and it's much easier to leave behind that habit. So I'm going to give you an example.


Let's say every day I go into the office, I pass the front reception, they've got a bowl of candy. I grab a candy, I go to my office, and eat the candy. My dentist says "Hey, you got to lay off Jolly Ranchers, you've got cavities"... whatever. So I'm going to want to break this habit. I have three options, that are easier options ( rather than using willpower).


One is to mess with the trigger. Maybe I don't want to see the trigger, so I'm going to go in through the back entrance and I'm not even passing reception. Or I'm going to have my hands full of things (when I pass the desk). So it's not really practical for me to put all my stuff down on this person's desk and try to grab a candy. I'm going to do something so I'm not being impacted by the trigger.


The second thing I can do is change the habit or behavior. When I see the candy, that's my trigger. But instead of taking the candy, I'm going to substitute a different habit. I happen to like flavored seltzer water, so maybe when I see that candy, and I have that urge to grab it, that's going to be my cue that I go and grab a seltzer water before I go to my office. I still have the reward because I like that flavor.


And then the last idea is to impact the reward. So if it's something that's rewarding to me, inherently rewarding, like candy, then you want to somehow impact that. So maybe I'm going to grab a flavor that I don't really like as much, like sour apple, because I really don't like that. And that's going to help decrease that reward because muscling through just "not doing it" and just saying "I'm not going to grab the candy", if that (behavior) is rooted in habit, it's challenging. But if I disrupt it in another way, it kind of breaks its hold.


So the same idea applies if you want to build a habit in your life. Let's say I want to get up and I want to run in the morning. I need to find a trigger. And when you're looking for a trigger, it's a really good idea to find something that doesn't require more work, don't try to pick something that you have to remember is your trigger, you want to pick something that just exists in your day, it's always there. And that way, you can hook your habit onto the thing that's already there without having to create a new habit to be your trigger. That's too much work.


So every morning I make coffee. So my trigger is going to be when I press the start button for my coffee maker, and that's when I'm going to take my run, which is my habit. And then my reward. Well, that depends on the person. If I'm somebody who just finds running rewarding, which I'm not ( I find it very boring and tedious) then the endorphins and the kick from running, it might be my reward in and of itself.


I'm not that person. So I'm going to have to hook another reward, that's actually going to be a reward for me, at the end of this. Maybe it's coming back to my coffee and enjoying my coffee. Maybe I want some kind of a social reward and I text my sister and say, "Hey, I completed my run- Aren't I great?". And she says "You're great!" or some reward that works for me. That's kind of the art of this, is finding out how to engineer this in a way that makes sense to you and your brain.


So one thing to keep in mind when you're doing this for yourself is that the way a lot of us fall on our face with building new habits is that we tried to do way too much, too soon. And inevitably we give it up and we're discouraged. We think it's because we're not good at habits or we're not good at running or whatever we decide. And we're done. So if you're building a habit you have to think micro mini.


Let me take the example of my running example (which I don't know why I keep using because I'm not going to run) but we're pretending that I'm going to run. And I've just started my coffee, I'm going to go on my run, what is a typical Donae thing to do while I'm running? So I'm going to go run 45 minutes on this first day of the running habit. What is the obvious conclusion of this in a week or twp? It's that I'm not going to be running, because starting running at 45 minutes, is not appropriate. If I'm not running five minutes now, I shouldn't start with something so difficult, because then I have added tons of friction. You want to make this so easy for yourself that you can't not do it.


So for the run, how can I decrease friction? Well, first of all, I'm not going to commit to 45 minutes, I'm going to run five, literally five minutes. Because I'm trying to make a habit of having space in my schedule and in my mind for the run, the actual running is going to come eventually. The first step of building the habit is just creating the space for it.


So I don't have to think about running a couple weeks down the road, when I actually don't have to think about this minutes happening automatically, then I can increase this habit little by little to look more like what my goal is. But when we start with guns blazing with these huge changes in our lifestyle, it's not going to end well- for any of us. So obviously, making a habit change, if it's too big, it's going to sabotage us.


Another way that we we get jammed up is that we don't change our environment. If I'm starting a new habit, I want to create ease around this habit, I want to have my clothes laid out the night before because in the morning. It is way too easy to say "I can't find my other shoe, I'll just start running tomorrow", which doesn't happen. So you want to create so much ease that you slide into doing this five minute run. And it's not a huge deal.


And the same with getting rid of a habit, you want to create friction around the habit. Let's say that I want to give up drinking wine at night after dinner, I can muscle through that and say I'm not going to drink a glass of wine, or I can create some friction around my habit and store the wine downstairs in the basement. Now, obviously, I can go down to the basement if I want the wine enough. But the thing about habits is we're trying to make them automatic. And when you're disrupting them, you're disrupting something that is automatic. It's not even necessarily a choice. It's not intentional. And so if I really want the wine well, but it's worth going downstairs (I'll get it). But if I interrupt the automatic nature of it, then there's room for a decision to be made. Do I want this? Do I not want this?Is it happening, just because it's what's happened every night after dinner for a couple of months?


Another way that we start too strong and too fast with habits if we try to change too many habits at one time. We need to focus on one habit at a time and that can be really hard to do because we get excited and we want to do all the things. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but it actually takes a lot of discipline to pace yourself in this and to not jump in. Because human nature we just want big changes to happen quickly. And you're much more likely to have habits that stick if we start small, and then let them snowball over time.


Okay, guys, thanks for hanging in there with me. We are wrapping up this talk about ADHD and habits we've covered a lot of good ground today, the anatomy of habits, the trigger of the habit and the reward and what we can do, how we can tweak that to build the habits we want or get rid of the habits that we don't want.


We looked at how to start slow and small and not to get overwhelmed when building habits because, really, we're trying to make space for the habit and the rest will come. We learned about how to change our environment to add friction when we're trying to get rid of habits and to take away friction or add ease when we're trying to build new habits, since we might find that we need to manage our mental energy as a part of managing ADHD.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

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