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E6. Your Brain's Not That Into Future You


Welcome to ADHD crash course today we're going to talk about why it's so difficult for us to come up with goals. Often times, when I start working with someone, we're talking about their goals, the changes they want to make in their lives. Let's say that they say," I want to be successful in my business". My next question is almost always "Awesome. What does that look like?" This is a super important question because a lot of us have this underlying, constant buzz of needing to "get better" in our brains.


We have this constant sense of deficiency, but we might not have thought about what sufficiency actually is for us. We don't even know where the end is, we just have this feeling that we're not measuring up. The first step to moving forward in an area is defining what forward is. This is where coaching is very different than the work that I did as an occupational therapist, because I don't come with a measure of my own as a coach. My client's measure: this is the measure. Being successful in your business could mean a myriad of things. It could mean you want to retire early, you want to contribute to your field, you want to be an expert, you want to get a pay raise, you want to start a nonprofit organization, you want to do so well that you can cut down on your hours and have more of a work life balance.


That's totally personal. It needs to be defined by each individual person. There's no universal "success at work" there is no universal "better parenting". This is something that's a huge part of goal making; defining what success means to you. Sometimes it's hard for us to define this and there's some good reasons why.


It turns out that, not as people with ADHD, but as people with human brains, we're really bad at picturing the future. We're really bad at picturing our future selves. They did a study where they were looking at brain activity when people were imagining/ visualizing themselves in 15 years in the future and the results were really wild because the brain activity was similar to the activity when they were imagining a complete stranger.


There's different activity that happens when you imagine yourself, when you're thinking about yourself versus a complete stranger. That makes sense, that would tie into this our survival instincts. So when people were thinking about themselves, way in the future, they had a real disconnect with that future self. And that would likely impact coming up with a goal for this unknown person or coming up with a destination for this unknown person, if you really don't feel connected to them.


There's ways that you can improve this; there's ways that you can become better at imagining your future self and become more connected to your future self. Some of this is just practice; practice imagining what your future is going to look like. Think of what you want your life to look like in 10 years and 15 years. That's the essence of making goals for yourself.


So moving on, we're going to talk about some specifically ADHD things that may make creating goals challenging. If you have ADHD, you may very well have a present moment orientation. They say that the ADHD perception of time is "now and not now", meaning we're not as motivated by far removed consequences or rewards.


I remember when my kids were younger, (two of my four kids have ADHD, and so do I), and I would try to use all of these sticker charts and these reward systems. It was the worst- we were horrible at it. I was horrible at it and it wasn't all that motivating to the kids; it was just not our jam. So we had to find different ways to tap into motivation that weren't systems that relied on me to be super consistent, organized, and observant and for my kids to hold out for really far removed rewards; that was not going to work for us.


For adults as well, when you're talking about a really far in the future reward (like yourself in a yourself in five years), it can be challenging. You might need to find some workarounds for the fact that that's not as inherently motivating for you as it would be for some other brains. A lot of my clients, myself included, are very visual, so things like a vision board that actually have pictures of the changes you want to make and of what you want your life to look like.


This can be really motivating and add a concrete element to this abstract idea of next year or two years from now or even five years from now. You can use that as a tool in order to imagine what your goals are going to achieve for you in the future.


So far, we've talked about what makes it difficult for us to generate goals and the fact that we have a hard time imagining the future as well as ways that we can help support ourselves with this. We're going to assume that our goals are already established, we've figured out what matters to us, we figured out what we want it to look like, so what are our next steps?


I'm going to use the example of "I want to be a better parent" goal. I did some homework and I've realized that the "be a better parent" goal is not a very fair goal. I need something that's more achievable and more measurable, because on any given day, half of us don't feel like great parents. I'm going to give myself something that's much more measurable, much more inspiring. I'm going to say, "I want to spend more quality time with all four of my kiddos".


What's next? Well, of course, I need to figure out what "more" would mean to me. For me, I'm going to define that as I want to spend some individual time with a different child each week; I have four children and I want to spend 30 minutes with a single kiddo each week. At the end of the month, I will have spent more time with all four of them.


Now, if you're like me, you're going to look at this, and you're going to say, "Oh, that's not enough. That's like 30 minutes in the whole month. That's not enough. Those poor kids and yada, yada..." Listen, if you want to make a change, that's actually going to be a change, that's actually going to happen, you have to start small. You've got to rein that stuff in; the kids are going to be okay (they don't even really want to spend that much time with me, it's fine). Nothing is going to assure your failure in moving towards your goals more than starting with something that's too tough. Start with something that you know that you can do easily and then build on it.


If I say to myself, "I want to spend more quality time with my kids and that means every week, I'm going to have a whole day outing with each of them", that's going to be really complicated. That will be tough for me to do with my schedule, with my kids schedule, and I'm just going to feel discouraged and I'm going to abandon the whole thing. I'll spend even less time with my kids than I intend to. I'm going to make this achievable, which is 30 minutes with each kid, each week.


The next part is so important, and ties back into our ability to imagine the future. This is so hard for most of us! The next step is that after I know what small step I'm taking this week, I need to picture the future and imagine what is likely to get in my way. Let me think; my oldest is 16 and she's crazy busy, so her schedule is likely to get in my way. If I want to be proactively planning for this, I need to consider this obstacle.


I'm going to talk to her first, so we can figure out her schedule and work that first week around her schedule. Once I know that I have a time scheduled with her this month, let me think of any other obstacles. I think about my life, my family, my kids and I consider that I have a puppy that's just this endless pool of need. I love her, but if we're around, she wants to be in the mix and it can be kind of like having a toddler sometimes.


That may not even sound like that big of a deal, but if I don't want to get derailed, I need to make a plan for that potential obstacle. Maybe we need to make sure that she's in her little place with something to do for that 30 minutes so I'm not having to run back and forth with her. Also, I have four kids and I'm planning to be intentional about spending time with each one of them, so it's probably a good idea that I plan for my other kids.


When I think about the possible obstacle of everyone's needs happening at the same time, I probably need to communicate with everyone, "Hey, I want to spend this time with each of you, so remember that if I'm spending time with your brother, I'm not available to you for this 30 minutes, I'll be available to you before those 30 minutes and after his time". Maybe that means I even need to go spend that time away from the house, but this is the process of saying "I have this small that I want to take to move me toward my goal" and the next future practice I need is thinking about what's going to jam me up. If you do this, you really increase the likelihood that you're going to be able to take that small step and then the next step and the next step. You're going to be able to snowball these streps and move you towards what you want.


So, wrapping up today: we looked at why it's difficult to come up with goals, how to start small and why the importance of plaining for obstacles and pitfalls that might get in the way of us moving forward in our goals. It may be difficult to imagine and picture the future, but it doesn't mean we're hopeless. We can know this about our brains, and we can plan for it. We can get better at picturing what's next for us and picturing what our ideal outcome is and improve our ability to plan for the things that might get in our way. That really ups our chances of moving forward with the things that matter to us.


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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