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E13. What to Do Instead of Looking for ADHD Hacks

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about ADHD hacks, and specifically why it helps you to focus not just on collecting hacks, but on understanding why certain strategies work for your brain.

This is really important. A lot of times, there's a focus on "try this planner" or "try this technique" and "try this strategy" and it's great. These are great, kind of "think tank" collections of ideas that for work brains like ours. But, what happens, a lot of times, with the people that I work with, is that they have some anxiety about, "What do I do when this hack stops working?"

A lot of times, because of our experiences with ADHD, we really lose trust in ourselves. We really lose faith that we're going to be able to sustain most things. I like to reassure them's probably going to stop working. Aren't I mean? But seriously, it's going to stop working and that's ok!

The hack isn't magical. Understanding why it worked for your brain? That's magic. That's being empowered because you can create something totally different when your life changes, or your circumstances change, or your interest in the hack changes.

We have brains that want novelty, change, interest fun. If something is working for you, fantastic, but it doesn't mean it has to work for you up until retirement. I think when you really focus on understanding your brain and why a hack works for you, it puts you in a better position, a confident position, a powerful position, you know why this works. So, you can go manufacture another hack for a different phase in your life.

If that doesn't make a lot of sense, let me give you a specific example. I have to operate with a calendar and with a planner, like many people do. It's just impossible for me to remember things, organize things, order things, without one.

I know that about me, that's like a fundamental truth of how my brain works. But the specific calendar or system I use changes. There was a time that I was obsessed with those erasable notebooks, you can erase it with an erasable pen, but you could also erase it with water. You could write something down on it, brain dump, and then you could send the image to a file on your computer. So, you never really lost stuff, but you can write, and writing is kind of important for me to remember and to retain things.

So, I loved that system... until I didn't. Right? It worked so well for me, until it stopped working. And that was okay. (Actually, that specific system stopped working because my son spilled my coffee on my planner that just basically, because it was liquid, erased my whole life).

Which if you have a brain like mine... I had no clue. I had no clue about my appointments, what I was supposed to do, I was totally disoriented, and I cried real tears that day. But even if that hadn't happened, in a month I probably would have been sick of that system, anyhow. I mean, that's just what I've accepted is true for me. It's okay, because that system worked super well for me until it didn't and then I did a different thing. I think I did bullet journaling, not the version that's super interesting and super beautiful, but just like the bare bones. Using a table of contents to be able to find things was really great about bullet journaling.

Then I might use Google Calendar and have something that's more digital. So, the point, that I am taking a long time to get to, is that it doesn't matter which system you use, and it is 100% okay if you change it, because you know your brain!

You know what you're compensating for. I know that I have big time difficulties with working memory and I have a lot going on, so I know no matter what, I need calendars and planners. Which one I use is totally up to me. It's totally up to what's interesting to me, what's fun to me, and what's engaging for me.

I did an episode about what helps our brains with motivation and things like interest and fun and novelty are important. If you need to change your hack to keep interest, novelty, or fun in it, that's fine. You're compensating for a skill set, the style that you do that in can completely change.

Now, some people hear my approach to this and my opinions on this and they feel relief like "Oh, awesome! Good, there's nothing wrong with me. I can change this up. I can switch this around." and they feel a confidence and a comfort in hearing someone else say that.

Some people feel like, "That is so inefficient. Why would I do that? Because it did work for me, therefore it should still work for me! I should just dig my nails and just battle through this and keep using this system that once worked for me." I totally understand that point of view and they're not wrong. It's less efficient. It's less efficient to switch you hacks, to switch your systems, but we have to accept, embrace, and work with the brains that we have. If you're an ADHDer who can use the same system throughout eternity, great! That's awesome, do that!

If you're somebody who flounders with it and feels "less than" because something worked for you a month ago, or a year ago, or in grade school, or whatever, but it's not working now, It's okay. And you're okay. Whatever worked for your brain back then because of the circumstances, or your brain, or whatever else was going on, it worked then. But if it doesn't work now, you can find what you need now.

Now, I'm going to go on to another example of a hack that works for me, but really tease out why it works. For me, when I'm looking at organizing spaces, I have two things going on. These are the biggest way ADHD shows up for me. I have (as I've mentioned before) big difficulties with working memory, memory in general, and I have really high visual distractibility. That ends up being this conundrum, because I need to see things in order to remember to do them, to remember that I have them.

I've bought four different Costco bottles of B vitamins in the last six months, because I've stored them in a place that I don't see them. I don't even know if we're going to get through one Costco bottle of B vitamins, but I'm definitely not going to get through four. If I don't see it, I'm just not remembering that I bought that. I think the fourth time I was like, "This is familiar". But still, if I don't see it, I'm not remembering it.

So, when I look at organizing my space, my hacks need to have two components 1) make things visible but they 2) make them organized and not so visible that I'm going to get overwhelmed and distracted visually. For me, that ends up looking like using plastic bins in the refrigerator or in the pantry so I can see things, but they're contained. They're not overwhelming.

The same thing for my bathroom counters, toiletries and things like that are in clear totes where I can see them but it's not too overwhelming visually. I use those over-the-door shoe hangers on almost every door in my house. I've got them inside the pantry door for kid's snacks, inside the coat closet door for umbrellas and gloves and masks, I have them inside our bathroom doors for toiletries, that works really well for my brain.

Let's say that I have a client and she doesn't really have working memory issues but she has that same visual distraction piece that I deal with; none of my hacks are going to be helpful to her because she's visually distracted but doesn't need to have her memory compensated for.

So, it's just going to be noise, it's going to be visual noise when she looks around and sees all of these contained, but still visible things. We both have ADHD, we both have visual distractibility, we may even have lives that are totally parallel in every other way, but I understand my brain and she understands her brain.

I know why my hacks are working for me and she knows why they don't work for her. This is why in coaching, you're always learning something new, because you might have knowledge about the brain, you might have knowledge about things that have worked for certain clients or for yourself, but you're always learning something new, because you're always working with different individuals.

I was working with somebody in organizing their kitchen and I was doing this virtually. They were kind of carrying me around and we were looking at the spaces, we were problem solving, we were talking about what made sense to her what she was compensating for, and what her routine looked like in the kitchen.

Step by step, what it would normally look like. When we were picking all that apart, she came up with solutions I would not have come up with. And honestly, that's part of why my work is so fun to me, I come with my base of knowledge, with the intention of equipping my clients with that knowledge, and the rest we work out together. We're a team, we're figuring it out as we go. It's part science, it's part art, and it's definitely a team effort.

Now, if you're not working with someone, you don't have that available to you, you're still going to go through that same process individually. You're going to get to know your brain, you're going to get to know the way ADHD shows up for you in depth and then it's much easier to go back and support that with something that makes sense to you.


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