Lost something again? A fresh approach to keeping track of your stuff.
Are you a person who’s always losing things? There’s your keys, your phone, your purse, your glasses. They are never in the place where you think you last saw them, are they? Or where they ought to be, in that special basket by the door, or on that hook next to the stairs.
Why not? Well maybe you, like many others, are not fully paying attention when you put your keys down. Because you’re busy thinking about other things.
When you’re busy in your head thinking, it’s pretty much impossible for you to notice what you are doing with your hands or anything you’re carrying. For much of our days we are going through life on autopilot. We can eat, walk, and even drive whilst thinking about other things entirely. Some studies show that maybe as much as half of our lives are spent on autopilot, and that goes for everyone, not just people with ADHD. No wonder we lose our stuff!
So what’s the solution? Well, one sure way is to pull yourself out of autopilot at the right moments, so you can pay attention to where you are putting your keys. Catching our own autopilot behaviour as it is happening is the secret.
You can do this by building up your ability to catch yourself acting on autopilot. Think of it like a skill that can be improved on with practice. You get better at it the more you do of it, right? Or a muscle that gets stronger the more you exercise it. If you are training to lift weights you don’t immediately start with the heaviest weight, do you? You’d end up in hospital with a strained tendon or worse. So you start small with a weight that’s well within your capabilities and work your way up.
Use plenty of help and support to make it easy on yourself at the beginning. A good starting point is to use some kind of external prompt at intervals throughout the day. This could be any signal that comes from outside yourself which can call your attention to what you’re doing in the moment.
For example, choose an activity you already do several times a day – such as making yourself a hot drink or having a glass of water – and link that to consciously noticing what you’re doing right then. This will begin to build up your “noticing” muscles. Maybe you’re the sort of person who wants something that will be sure to rouse you out of your autopilot trance. You could use bells, alarms or any kind of noise that will grab your attention. If you are a visually oriented person, other options might be to have post-its, sticky notes or coloured dots strategically placed in odd corners of your home. Put them somewhere you’re sure to see them.
You can set up timed or random occasions for catching autopilot throughout the day. Why not get creative with this; finding new ways to gently prod yourself to consciousness with an alerting stimulus? Try several until you find something that works. You may need to swap them around from time to time once your techniques lose their novelty and become an invisible part of the furniture, when you don’t respond to them anymore.
Once you’ve noticed you are in autopilot, then what? Simply being aware of what’s happening in the here and now, aware of both your internal thoughts and feelings, and of your surroundings, can give you some space. A welcome break from the chatter in your mind.
You can regularly interrupt the current of mindless inattention, by bringing your attention back to the present. I tell my coaching clients they can do this by practicing catching themselves in autopilot and bringing their attention to what’s happening in and around them. Then I encourage them to stop whatever they are doing for a few moments and bring their attention to their breath. This is a form of Mindfulness practice; a way of “taking control of our attention (self – regulation) with an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance.” (Bishop et.al. 2004 – in Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition.)
This way you give yourself a chance to notice, then choose what you want to focus on. By checking in with yourself at regular intervals throughout the day, you’ll give yourself opportunities to ask yourself “What do I want to do right now? What could be next?”
Once you learn to catch your own autopilot behaviour, you’ll begin to notice things you didn’t notice before.
You can learn how to pull yourself out of autopilot and back into the present with:
Before long you’ll also become more aware of the times when you’re putting your keys down. And begin to remember where to find them later.