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.
Challenges of ADHD: producing creative work consistently.
What can make it hard for creatives with ADHD to produce work consistently over time? And what can help? Part one of a two-part blog.
For me the definition of creating on a consistent basis means to create something regularly. Many of us in creative fields need to be able to produce work on a regular basis in order to keep income flowing in. There are projects to complete, work to hand on to others where work involves more than one person, due dates for submission, deliveries to consider, publishing deadlines to meet.
You could say that producing work consistently is going to involve several different stages
- Having initial ideas
- Preparation and planning
- Getting started
- Carrying out the work, and continuing to work on it over time making adjustments as needed.
- Getting it finished and out of the door.
I hear a lot from people with ADHD who tell me they are able to do something quite well for a while, then it lapses for one reason or another. It can be days, weeks, or months before they realise they have stopped, and even longer before they find a way to return to it.
Could it be due to novelty wearing off?
Could it be that the buzz that comes from achieving something at first, is no longer providing the juice of motivation needed to continue, as soon as it begins to become routine?
Could it be to do with getting easily thrown off course by external events like interruptions or distractions?
Could it be because self-directed transitions are hard for those of us with ADHD, so returning to something again once you have stopped presents problems?
There are many possible answers to this conundrum, as everyone has their own particular “brand” of ADHD. Yes, we are all different.
Years ago I used to believe that I could only paint when I felt like it. Then, on occasions when I did feel like it, I would not be organised enough in my materials to make a start. By not organised enough I mean, for example, that my paper would be stored in one place, my paints and brushes in another, and I didn’t have a dedicated clear workspace to work in, etc. This caused me no end of frustration, as I often could not find what I was looking for, and on many occasions I spent so long looking with no success, that I finally gave up in disgust. Painting accomplished – nil.
I also think on reflection that I may have been slightly affected by inflexible thinking, as I would get hyper-focused on finding the exact brush or paper that I had thought of using, whereas, looking back now I wonder, why didn’t I just use my creativity to improvise and do something else?
Hyperfocus is an interesting one for ADHD creatives, as it can either take the form of “helpful hyperfocus” which enables us to be immensely productive, or “hindering hyperfocus”, as in the example above. Sometimes we can experience a combination of both! I’ll have more to say about hyperfocus and creativity in a future blog.
In the end, once I realised that ADHD was an issue for me, I found a great piece of advice by Dr. Ned Hallowell. His recommendation is to only get as organised as you need to, to achieve what you want, without taking organisation too far and getting embroiled in perfectionism. Doing this has certainly helped take my own productivity in painting to a whole new level.
For now, here are three tips you can try, if producing work consistently is eluding you.
TIP one: To help take that first step towards creating, have everything you need set up in advance for yourself and to hand, so that it becomes really easy to begin. Preparation is one key to avoiding frustration and inertia.
TIP two: If getting prepared seems like a bit of a chore, try separating it out into a standalone activity, and then take a break and go away. Making yourself a drink or going for a walk can provide enough of a break for it to seem like a completely separate activity. Then when you return to begin your creative project, voila! There is your workspace and everything you need to get started immediately. Getting going feels much smoother and more effortless.
TIP three: Beware of thoughts telling you it has to be done in a certain way. You’re a creative after all; some of the best inventions and creations in the world have come from happy accidents or from people making it up as they go along. Keep that inner flexibility and creative muscle well-exercised.
Another thing to understand is that if we wait until our brains and bodies are in the state we believe is ideal for creating before we begin, like I used to, then we risk either at worst not achieving anything at all, or at best only a fraction of what we could be capable of.
So instead of the “Do I feel inspired to create today?” criteria, we need some other way of getting ourselves to create regularly – which is what I understand by consistency. Someone once said that our lives are defined by the questions we ask ourselves.
What might we be capable of if we changed the question above to, “What do I feel inspired to create today?” Feel the difference in those two questions. The first asks for a simple yes or no answer, while the second question opens up a whole world of possibilities.
What kind of questions are you asking yourself when you set out to create something? The first kind, or the second? And which will you be using next time?
In part two of this blog we will be examining ways to get unstuck if your creative projects grind to a halt.
Anna Schlapp B.A., AACC, ACC, is a certified coach with the ADD Coach Academy and the International Coach Federation. Specialising in ADHD and Creativity, Anna helps talented people like you find ways of being more creatively productive and productively creative.
Get in touch to schedule your complimentary coaching session with Coach Anna.