Welcome to ADHD Crash Course. Today we're going to talk about how managing our mental energy actually helps us manage ADHD. This is kind of a funny topic because people with ADHD have this reputation of having this boundless energy that people often associate with hyperactivity. But the reality is, most of the people that I know with ADHD are pretty tired.
I think it has to do with having a really busy brain and we often burn our mental energy on things that we're not even necessarily intending to (spend energy on), they're not even a priority for us, but we end up shooting off in these different directions. That can be kind of tiring.
So, what can we do about that?
How do we manage our mental energy with ADHD?
I have a few ideas today; things that have been helpful for me and helpful for my clients. So I'm going to dive into them now.
Number one for managing our mental energy is to simplify. When we simplify, we're essentially cutting down on choices. Making choices burns a lot of mental energy, so you want to take areas of your life that you don't really care about making a ton of choices and simplify so you're not making choices.
So, what does this look like?
It could mean that you really simplify the foods that you cook and you cook the same meals. You have them on repeat instead of trying to make decisions and come up with different recipes if it doesn't matter to you don't have tons of variety in this area.
I know for me, as far as breakfast is concerned, I have the same two breakfasts that I rotate through until I get sick of them and then something else will rotate in. I'm not really invested in having a huge variety of breakfasts, so I don't want to make decisions about it. I want to be on automatic and I want that decision to be simple.
It can look like using a capsule wardrobe. You can have a handful of things that you love that you're wearing instead of having to weed through a bunch of things that you're kind of "eh" about. You have to make more decisions when you're looking at 50 items versus 15.
Another area that we can simplifying is our schedule. Say no to things that aren't really adding value to your life. This is so hard. A lot of us have the fear of missing out (FOMO). And it's difficult to say "Hey, this is probably a great thing to do but not great for me right now because I have a lot on my plate".
It's hard for us to simplify- I've really noticed this in my own life. I have four kids, so we're typically pretty busy just because of our numbers. When everything (about a year and a half ago) came screeching to a halt because of Covid, we weren't doing the things that we were (typically)doing.
It really helped me to experience this completely empty schedule and be mindful about what I actually valued, what I actually wanted to add back to our lives. I think a lot of people have had similar experiences of taking inventory, because we were forced to, and noticing "Hmm, what do I want my schedule to look like? What do I want my commitments to look like?" and then trying to be intentional as we begin to add things back.
Before I move off of the simplify topic, I want to encourage you. I know for me, when I hear a message like this and I hear "Oh, I should simplify" or think I should be more minimalist in my approach, I will get almost panicked. "Oh, there's six of us here we have so much stuff we're going to be bad minimalists! This is so much work!" and I take a step back.
If any of this sounds overwhelming, or sounds like something you don't want to do, try to think about the real message here:
Simplify in order to free up your energy.
Simplify where you don't care about making choices.
If you love making gourmet meals, well, don't take my suggestion about a few meals that rotate, that's going to bum you out!
If you're a fashionista and your favorite thing is your extensive wardrobe. Well, don't do the capsule wardrobe. You don't want to do that!
Find the areas in your life that you don't care about making the decisions and simplify them as much as you can. I do think simplifying your schedule is great for all of us. That's going to mean different things to different people, but it's very easy for us to just keep stacking on more commitments because we don't want to miss out or we don't know how to prioritize. That is one that I do think is universal.
But, as far as the other areas, simplify in the areas you want to simplify in with the idea of "I'm not doing this to be perfectly minimalist, I'm doing this to free up my mental energy for the places I want to use it!"
2. Get Rid of Perfectionism
Okay, that kind of leads naturally into my next point, my number two on how you can free up more of your mental energy: kick perfectionism to the curb. You're going to be doing yourself a huge favor because perfectionism is an energy vampire! It's never enough, it can take all of your energy, and it's a moving target.
Surprisingly enough, many ADHDers are these "unlikely perfectionists". I don't know if it's something that we end up doing to mitigate dropping the ball in other areas or not meeting expectation in other areas, I'm not sure. But there are a load of people that I know with ADHD whostruggle with this all or nothing, super rigid perfectionism, and it's exhausting.
Nothing depletes your energy more than perfectionism because it's a constant energy drain!
If you feel good about what you're accomplishing, if you allow yourself to savor what you did right and celebrate the wins (even if they're small wins). That gives you mental energy. It's also kind and you should be kind to yourself, but if you don't care about being kind to yourself right now and you just care about the practical logistics, then it gives you more energy.
So, start trying to focus on some of the ways you're nailing it and talk back to the perfectionistic thoughts that say, "it's not good enough". Sometimes good enough, is good enough! Just doing it okay, is good. That way you can spend the energy on the things that are really important to you and dedicate your energy to those things.
3. Be a Satisficer
Okay. Number three, this kind of relates to number 2. Number three is "become a satisficer". What's a satisficer?
There's this idea that when you're making decisions that people lean towards one of two groups; satisficers and obligers.
You have your satisficers- these are the are people who say, "Hey, I'm going to spend just enough energy on this decision to make a good enough decision. It's going to be good enough. It's going to work for me. It may not be the optimal thing in every arena, but it's going to be good enough for me to move on and do something else".
And then you have your maximizers. Your maximizers are going to attack this choice with the thought "I'm going to make the best decision, the one that gives me the maximum benefit for the least amount of investment", and they want to make each decision kind of perfect. They want to nail it. They end up spending a load of energy maximizing their choices.
I'm so bad at this, but I'm definitely focusing on it beacuse I want to be a satisficer more often. A lot of times, I'll write a blog article that corresponds with some of these podcasts and the day that I wrote this, I had burned 45 minutes trying to buy a black hoodie for my 12 year old daughter. I was so frustrated!
They're all same- they all look the same. But I was trying to read all of the reviews;
"How does this hoodie hold up?"
"Oh, that's really an expensive hoodie"
"This is a more economical hoodie, but is that mean that it's going to be a trashy hoodie that falls apart on her?"
I burned so much energy, I could have paid myself money that would have bought lots of hoodies! Instead I burned 45 minutes that I did not have purchasing a hoodie for my daughter who probably wanted the one that looked like it was half falling apart anyhow, because that ties into her style.
I don't think I'm alone in this. I think a lot of us struggle here with making decisions. We want to maximize our decisions. Obviously, you don't want to make poor decisions, but you want to be economical with the energy that you spend in making decisions.
Some decisions are maximizing decisions...
If you're trying to decide where to move your family, that's probably a maximizing decision. You don't want to be haphazard about that.
But most aren't...
If you're buying your child a hoodie, you could probably be a satisficer here.
Focusing on this and being aware of this might actually help you free up energy for other things. So, don't be like me, try to be a satisficer. I'm working on it, hopefully we'll get there together!
4. Leverage Habits
All right. My number four is leverage habits. I've already done a podcast on this, on habits and how we can build habits in a way that's ADHD friendly. It shouldn't be hard for you to find, because I have four total podcasts. It's one of those four.
Anyhow, that episode goes into a little bit of the "how" but the "why" is that habits free up our mental energy! Habits put us on automatic, so we're not making a decision.
Yeah, they take a little bit of energy, or sometimes a lot of energy, on the front end when you're establishing them, but once you really have a habit rooted, it's going to carry you. It's going to free up your decision making energy because you're just doing it and you're not deliberating about whether you have time for it and what's the thing you want to do.Yyou're just doing it because it's automatic.
5. Eat the Frog
Number five for how to free up energy: eat the frog. There's a Mark Twain quote that says,
"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning, and if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first".
My takeaway from this is: tasks that you're avoiding, and therefore mentally lugging around with you, sap your mental energy. If you have an overwhelming task that just stays on your to do list, it wears on you.
I gave the example when I did the creating habits podcast episode of this IRS task that I had, that was totally overwhelming and I carried on my to do list for three months. Yeah, it was a really junky task. It was dreaded, and it was no fun.
But, if I had just done it, I would have netted so much more energy, because knowing I had to do it just drained me for a long time. We realize that those things are hanging over us and even though we put them off and don't do them, when we carry them around, they have an impact on our energy. So eat the frog, just do the dreaded thing.
Does it have to be in the morning?
No. That's actually my most productive time, so that fits me, but I know a lot of people that for them, that's not the time that they can focus or have a lot of bandwidth for doing something difficult.
So, if you're really hitting your stride at 2pm and that's when you have the mental energy for something that's taxing, then it's fine to honor your own rhythm and do the tough thing when you have the best resources.
*The big idea here is don't let undone jobs drain your energy.
Don't let them slide over again and again, day after day, week after week, month after month, if they don't have to slide over.
6. Check in with Yourself
Number six is check in with yourself. Your energy fluctuates during the day. If it's dipped in a big way, then sometimes a really simple reset can refresh you and give you the energy you need for the remainder of your day. A lot of us just aren't really "tuned in" to our bodies; we try to power through energy lows to our detriment.
If at all possible for you, take a power nap (that's like a 10 to 20 minute nap). Not everybody can do that. That's fine. There's other ideas I'm going to go over, but with the power nap idea, the maximum you're sleeping is maybe 20 minutes.
If you go beyond that, you risk entering into a phase of sleep that's going to make you really groggy and might be counterproductive. But truly, if you could do 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes that little reset can really help energy and focus.
Not everybody can do that, not everyone can do it at their desk or have a lunch hour or something where that's possible. That's fine. There's other ways that you can check in with yourself and refresh your energy:
Getting outside in the fresh air for just a few minutes can work wonders.
Having a quick break and getting up for stretching, taking time to move your body for a second, and going to get a drink of water can help.
Take time for a short guided meditation, as in a five minute meditation.
Give yourself a little break- even closing your eyes to take visual breaks throughout your day can help. We have about half of our brains that are related to vision in some way or another, so if you take a moment to rest from processing that visual information, it's a big brain break and it can be helpful.
I know that a lot of times we get busy and we don't want to take this time, but it's best if we just take the time. If you've ever been around a young child, you know that ignoring their needs for rest does not typically end well.
You might think that you're going to "push through" and grab a couple more things at the store even though it's really nap time, but you learn really quickly that if you don't want to be scurrying out of Target with a kid screaming like a banshee and trying to alligator roll out of your arms while the entire store watches the spectacle than it's a better idea to honor this child's need for rest.
But we stop honoring that in ourselves. We know we can push through or we think we can push through, and we don't see the ways this actually sabotages us. It's really evident when you look at a toddler, you see how this has sabotaged how they're doing- it's sabotaged your trip to Target. It's obvious.
We don't see it in ourselves because we push through and we don't recognize that our need to stress eat or our crabbiness with our partner, or some other factor is like our toddler tantrum. It's the natural result of ignoring our needs all day long.
So, don't do that. Try to honor yourself the way you honor a sleepy toddler at Target. Just get out. Get out of there. Go take care of yourself.
That brings us to the end of the episode today. We talked about ways that we are able to manage our mental energy in order to manage ADHD. We talked about simplifying wherever that's possible so we're not making decisions, getting rid of perfectionism, trying to be a satisficer, leveraging the power of habits, eating the frog, and honoring our own needs for rest. Hopefully, that was helpful pick one of these suggestions and play around with it, see if it makes a difference and experiment with what works for you.
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.
Learn how to use sensory input to change your energy and focus! Register for my FREE Sensory Strategies for ADHD workshop here.