(originally published March 27, 2011, updated August 20, 2021)
Can ADHD adults effectively maintain changes? Recently, in our online membership mastermind group one of our members mentioned one of the strategies she uses to get started on a task she doesn’t know how to do is to tell herself:
I don’t know how to do this, yet.
And by using this phrase she can remember not knowing how to do something is not permanent. That is, she can learn how to do it. She goes on to say this feels like a less fatalistic approach. I think this is a great way to approach learning how to manage your ADHD.
Because there is a lot you don’t know, yet. That’s why you are reading this post, right? You really want to learn how to better manage your ADHD symptoms. But, if you get overwhelmed by not being able to make the changes you envision easily or quickly, you may shut down / avoid even trying.
I know that’s not what you want. So, let’s see how you can adopt a more helpful perspective about change, specifically when it comes to managing your ADHD. Because you already know some mindsets are helpful and others hold you back from doing what you want.
Knowing if You’re Ready to Make Changes to Better Manage Your ADHD
The first step is acknowledging what stage of change you’re in, as this clarity will help you decide what you need to do or, in some cases, what you don’t need to do.
Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska’s Six Stages of Change Model is the perfect tool to gain clarity on your readiness to make a change. And below I’ve described this model in terms of what it may look like for someone with ADHD.
- Precontemplation: You’re not ready to change, as you deny that your ADHD symptoms are problematic or maybe that you even have ADHD. Likely not the case for you, if you’re reading this.
- Contemplation: You are willing to consider your ADHD symptoms are problematic and change may be necessary
- Determination: You are committed to change and start making plans to understand and manage your ADHD.
- Action: You implement your plans.
- Maintenance: You are building new habits and addressing any relapses to old habits. For most adults with ADHD getting to this point is cause for celebration!
- Termination: You have reached the desired change and no longer have to put any effort into making a change. In my experience, most ADHD adults don’t reach this point, as they are always going to have to put some effort into keeping their habits up. Not a bad thing. It just is what it is. 😉
Let’s take a deeper dive into 5 of these stages so you can identify where you are with respect to a change you want to make.
Stage 1: Precontemplation and ADHD
In the Precontemplation stage, you are not ready to make any changes. In fact, in this stage, you deny that you have any problems. So, of course, you do not need to make any changes. Drs. DiClemente and Prochaska identified four reasons: reluctance, rebellion, resignation, and rationalization.
If you are reluctant to acknowledge your ADHD challenges, you simply may not understand the impact it is having on your life. Alternatively, it may be a matter of inertia; you just do not have the motivation to seek out more information.
You may be very committed, even if it is to your detriment, to living your life on your terms. And view the idea of needing to change with suspicion. So you rebel by resisting the idea that you may have ADHD.
If you have been diagnosed later in life or are first getting a glimmer you may have ADHD, you may have dealt with a lifetime of frustrations and challenges. And, although you may be overwhelmed, you may have given up hope anything can get better. So, you are resigned to living your life the way it is. It can get better.
Last, you may have decided your ADHD is just not a problem for you. You rationalize that your ADHD symptoms are a problem for others. So you do not need to change.
If you are in the precontemplation stage, you are where you are and that’s ok. This model is not about making judgments. When you are ready, and possibly with support, you will move to the next stage.
Stage 2: You Are Contemplating Making Changes to Better Manage Your ADHD
Once you’ve jumped the “denial hurdle,” you are ready to enter the Contemplation Stage. You are willing to consider your ADHD symptoms are creating problems in your life and are willing to learn more about ADHD. I imagine most people who are reading this are at least at this stage.
In this stage, while you may still be ambivalent, and may procrastinate about making any change, you are also seriously considering taking action. That is, you are dipping your toes into the water, getting ready to jump. While you may not be all in, yet, give yourself credit for taking this step.
Because, even though it does not look action-oriented, in truth, there is a lot going on. It is just not obvious, as it is mostly internal work. You’re working through your ambivalence and getting ready to take action. That’s important to get to the next stage.
Stage 3: You Are Determined to Make Changes to Better Manage Your ADHD
In this stage, you are ready to make a commitment to manage your ADHD. You may think to yourself, “I’ve got to change. I don’t want to keep going on like this. What can I do? Where can I get help?” In this stage, you create a plan to effectively make changes to better manage your ADHD.
You may be tempted to skip this step. After all, you are tired of your ADHD symptoms! You want a “fix” and you want it now!! Understandable. And adults with ADHD aren’t fans of taking their time to get to the goal line, especially when they see it so clearly. Sound familiar?
But you know a commitment to change is not enough. You also know, without a solid enough plan and support system, your efforts may fall flat. Then your commitment may waver because you do not see your efforts getting you anywhere. This may end in you deciding it will never get better. So, you quit trying.
To minimize the chances of quitting trying to learn how to manage your ADHD take time to do enough planning, including finding support. Because faster is not better. Below are a few questions to consider as you’re preparing to make the changes you envision.
Where do I want to focus first? Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming. One way to figure this out is to use the wheel of life to identify where you are not satisfied and where you might want to make changes right now.
What type of resources do I need to learn how to make the changes I want? You may decide to start with a group, such as the ADDed Perspectives Group I offer or another group that is suited to your needs.
What kind of other support do I need to make these changes? You may decide you want individual professional support, such as a therapist or ADHD Coach. Alternatively, or along with professional support, you may decide to work with an accountability partner.
Stage 4: You are Taking Action and Working Your Plan
When you reach Stage 4, you are putting your plans into action. It can be an exciting time, as you experience success in managing your ADHD.
“Nothing succeeds like success.”
Remember, though, you’re still experimenting and will need to change your plans until you get one that works well enough for you to meet your objectives. But you know, even when you feel you have the right plan, you may get bored of it and stop using a particular tool or strategy.
While I know this is frustrating, and you may be reticent to try something else after putting in all that work, it may make sense to change it up. Sure, it takes time to switch up strategies and tools. But better to switch it up and find something you’re interested in and will use, than not using anything at all, right?
Part of learning how to work with your ADHD is learning when to stick with what you have and what it may be time to fold. Not always an easy decision. I know.
Stage 5 – How ADHD Adults Maintain Change
When you reach the Maintenance Stage, you have already put a great deal of emotional and mental energy into putting a plan into action to better manage your ADHD. Hopefully, you are proud of your hard work! But you are also likely feeling pretty spent and may think:
“What more could I possibly need to do? I put the ‘pedal to the metal’; my plan is in action.”
You’re not done. Because remember inconsistency is the hallmark of ADHD.
So, when you inexplicably stop using what worked, maybe because you’re bored as I noted above, you may wonder whether you’re even capable of maintaining the changes you made. You are, for sure! But you will at times revert to old habits, especially when you are stressed and overwhelmed. To minimize the chances of this it is helpful to:
- anticipatepotential roadblocks. As ADHD adults tend not to be future-oriented, you may need help looking ahead.
- accept things will come up out of the blue that you couldn’t have anticipated, and you will need to adjust your plan.
- have a plan in place to address the occasional detours as they arise.
- reflect during your Weekly Review where you are staying the course and where you are going off. Then you could decide to either change your plans or just go back to working the plan.
Above all, it’s important to give yourself compassion and grace when your plan isn’t working as well as you would like. Because if you can do this you will find it easier to figure out how to get back on course and maintain the change you want.
How ADHD Adults Effectively Maintain Changes
Change takes time. Well the amount of time you spend at each stage of the change process will be different, you will need to go through all the stages. Where are you now with respect to a change you want to make and what do you need to do to get to the next stage?