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Your Brain Is Just Not That Into “Future You”

One of the things that I ask new clients to do when they talk about the changes they want to make in their lives is describe what the "ideal" would look like for them. Why is this such an important exercise? Many of us lack a vivid picture of where we want to end up after we make improvements.

There's often a hope that coaching (or a new diet, planner, ADHD life hack, etc.) will make us "more consistent" , "a better parent", or "more successful", even though we've never taken the time to define what being better at any of these things would look like for us. (Or even if this is what we really want).

Let's say I have the goal of "being a better parent". What does this mean for me? Is it spending more quality time with my kids? Do I want to respond calmly when I'm frustrated? To stop calling my third child by the dog's name? (I'm honestly not sure why this keeps happening- our dog's name is Rae and my daughter's is Zoe, so it's not like they sound alike. Rae's been ok with it). You get the idea.

Something like "being a better parent" means completely different things to different people. When we don't create an image of what our version of success is, it's not very inspiring, and it's definitely not easy to measure our progress.

Why is this so hard for us? As it turns out, human brains have a REALLY hard time imagining our future selves. According to Hal Hershfield, a social psychologist at UCLA Anderson, fMRI studies revealed an odd outcome when people imagined their future selves- their brains started behaving as if they were thinking about a complete stranger Considering The Future Self — research blog — Hal Hershfield. We have a disconnect from our future selves and imagining the possibilities for this person may not be easy.

Future thinking is going to be a challenge for all brains, but the ADHD brain has an extra hurdle: a common trait for those with ADHD is a present-time orientation and this can mean difficulty thinking about future outcomes. It's often said that the ADHD perspective of time is "now or not now".

But just because this is a challenge for our brains doesn't mean that future thinking is completely unavailable to us. Just like those without ADHD, thinking about our future is a skill we'll need to build if we want to set meaningful goals. How do we do that? Start with the "sky's the limit" scenario I mentioned at the beginning of this post and see what comes up for you. Imagine the details.

Are there people who inspire you? Think about why you find them inspiring and which of the qualities or accomplishments they possess that you would like to have in your own life.

Consider making a vision board. Many of us find visual images exceptionally powerful, so a vision board filled with pictures that represent where you would like to go can be a helpful tool when imaging that nebulous future self. Once we have a vivid picture of where we want to go, it becomes much easier to determine our first small step for getting there. Let's take the example of being a "better parent". When I consider what that looks like for me, it includes spending more quality time with my kids. What would be a logical first step for me?

Maybe I will look at my schedule and set aside a 30 minute block each week for intentional quality time with one of my children. I have 4 kids, so by the end of the month I will have spent more time with all of them. Stop here with me for a second and be honest. That doesn't sound like enough, does it? Thirty minutes once a month? Poor kids! But the reality of making my vision of a deeper connection with my kids into a reality is that I start with one small step and actually do it (rather than plan a big step, like a weekly day trip, that doesn't get done).

And that brings me to the next future-oriented exercise that will help me complete this first step: I ask myself what is likely to get in my way as I try to take that first step. I take some time to imagine the possible obstacles and then I brainstorm ways I can overcome them.

One obstacle I may run into is coordinating with my oldest child's schedule- she's busy and pretty hard to pin down. I’ll probably need to schedule with her first so I can coordinate my schedule with her limited options. Since my goal is to be completely available during this quality time with each child, what's likely to interrupt that and how can I plan for it? Maybe I need to plan to put my phone in my room during this time, since it’s easy for me to get distracted by it.

Speaking of distractions, I know that my dog is an endearing pool of need, so planning for her to be occupied and hanging out in her play area may be necessary if I want focused kiddo time. Letting my other children know about my plan is a good idea, too, since I won't be available to them during their sibling's time. It might even be helpful for us to plan to be away from the house at times in order for me to keep this time focused on one child. You can see how important it is for me to brainstorm about potential obstacles. Without anticipating and planning for them, even a simple first step like scheduling 30 minutes of quality time can quickly become derailed.

Our ability to imagine the future may not be an innate strength, but like most skills, it can be strengthened over time. Don't fall victim to adopting goals that you “should” want- use this future thinking exercise to determine where you want to go. Once you have that vivid picture to guide you, designing the steps that will get you there (and creating the support you need for obstacles along the way) becomes a lot easier to do.


Interested in Learning More?

1. If you are interested in working with me, you can schedule your free discovery session here:

2. Not sure if coaching is the next step? Connect with me on social media to learn more about ADHD and tips for how you can thrive with the brain you have!

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3. ADHD Crash Course is my new podcast- you can get the same information available in my blogs (and more). Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher!


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