(originally published July 26, 2013, updated April 14, 2022)
When you think about whether you can learn and maintain changes to feel more in control and less overwhelmed you may wonder if it’s possible. After all, you’ve been trying to make these changes for a long time. And you’ve had varying degrees of success. Maybe not enough, yet.
So, can an old dog learn new tricks? Yes, definitely! And you can, too.😉 Sure, you might need additional knowledge to make these changes. But I think you probably know much of what you need already. What you might need, though, is a shift in your mindset.
Think about it.
You have had many years of formal schooling. You’ve also picked up additional skills and knowledge to navigate your personal and professional life since. You know a lot! This includes how to access the support you might need. Yet, you may still feel a little stuck.
What may be getting in your way are your mindsets. You can change this by approaching your learning with new ways of thinking. And, while not exhaustive, below is a list to get you started so you can more easily reach your goals.
You Don’t Have to Learn Everything
Think of one of your goals. Do you know what is necessary to reach it? Do you know what you are willing/want to do on your own to accomplish this? Make sure you can answer these two questions. For example, one of your goals may be to be financially responsible, which probably includes completing your taxes accurately and on time. I share this goal with you.
And I’ve had an accountant do my taxes previously. But, for reasons that escape me now, I decided it would be a good idea to do them myself this year. It seemed like a good idea until I ran into several roadblocks. I tried for a whole day to get past these roadblocks, getting more and more frantic.
Until I finally gave up and decided doing my taxes on my own was a bad idea! I reached out to the accountant I had used before, filed an extension, and breathed a sigh of relief. I hope I don’t forget this experience and try to do them on my own again. We’ll see…
Sometimes to prove you’re capable you may also try to do something that isn’t in your skillset. Something someone else could do much better! It’s not unusual for ADHD adults to do this. Can you think of a time you’ve tried to tackle something best done by someone else, which meant you neglected your other important work?
I know taxes are an obvious example of something you may delegate. But what are you doing that you would be better off delegating or just not doing because the learning curve is too high?
You don’t need to know how to do everything!
Using An Experimental Mindset When Learning
You know the process of learning something new often looks more like the line on the right than the line on the left above. But, if you can approach your learning with an experimental mindset, you will be better able to course-correct when faced with these inevitable challenges. I bet you already know this.
Yet, despite knowing this, because of your ADHD challenges with emotional regulation, you may still become overly frustrated when faced with a roadblock. And these challenges with emotional regulation make it hard to pause, step back and gain some perspective to decide on the best path forward.
In addition, if you feel behind in your work, this will be harder to do because you feel a sense of urgency. That is, you feel you need to get your stuff done now!
The key is to remind yourself experimenting is part of the process and that each iteration will bring your closer to your goal. You are not wasting your time! Because it is as helpful to rule out what does not work as it is to discover what does work.
Simple Is Not the Same as Easy
You may also get frustrated when you decide to try something new that initially looks simple enough but turns out to be challenging to implement, sometimes exceedingly so. You might become even more frustrated if it’s a popular strategy you see other people using with apparent ease.
I’m guessing you may not have considered how your ADHD challenges could get in the way of executing. An example of this is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. While GTD concepts can be helpful, his methods don’t provide the scaffolding ADHD adults might need. Because he assumes, as illustrated in the quote below, you already have the necessary skills to use his strategies successfully.
…everything I propose is easy to do. It involves no new skills at all. You already know how to focus, how to write things down, how to decide on outcomes and actions, and how to review options and make choices.
But you know what he is proposing is not easy. Because your ADHD can make it difficult to focus, remember to write things down, and make decisions, including reviewing and making choices about your options.
Yet, I’m not suggesting you can’t use his strategies.
However, I want you to be aware that your ADHD might make it difficult to implement a strategy, like GTD. Because simple is not the same as easy! And so, you’ll need to decide whether you need/want to upgrade your skills to be able to use the strategy effectively.
Your Past Does Not Predict Your Future
Another way you might trip yourself up when learning something new is to think you’re not capable of it because you couldn’t do it in the past. It is not unusual to hear a client say about something we’re discussing, “I’ve never been able to do that…” I know the underlying sentiment is, “I can’t do that.”
Have you ever said something like this to yourself about something you’re trying to learn?
If you have, you may have a Fixed Mindset when it comes to learning that particular skill, strategy, or tool. You believe you can’t cultivate that talent. You might even believe you can’t further develop your natural talents — ones you already have.
I have a Fixed Mindset when it comes to clapping. At some point, I convinced myself that I can’t clap to a beat. So, now I don’t clap. When I share this a version of the following conversation usually ensues:
Other Person: Marla, come on, clap.
Me: I can’t clap
Other person: “Sure you can clap!”
Me: “No, really, I can’t clap.”
Other person: “Give it a try…”
Me: “No, I can’t try. I can’t clap.”
Somewhere along the way, I adopted a Fixed Mindset about clapping. Could I learn to clap? Probably. While a trivial example, for sure, it has me thinking about where else I might be selling myself short. Because I said, “I can’t.” Where have you sold yourself short?
The alternative is to adopt a Growth Mindset in which you believe with effort, interest, and support, while it might not be easy, you can learn to:
- upgrade your skills
- bounce back from failure and use the experience to course correct
- address your challenges, including ADHD, to make your life easier
- access the resources you need to chart a new course
You can learn something new, even if you struggled to do it in the past.
Using Curious Accountability to Learn from Your Experiments
In addition to a Growth Mindset, you’ll want to have a process for evaluating your progress. After all, the whole point of experimenting is to learn from the various iterations. So, you can decide whether to course correct or not along the way.
As you experiment and collect data, a mindset of Curious Accountability can help you do this. Because with this mindset, instead of becoming distraught when your progress isn’t linear, which it often won’t be, you’ll be interested in knowing what is working and what is not working.
For example, if you are using a new task manager, you would want to evaluate how it is helping you both organize your tasks and execute them. After all, that is its purpose. When you use curious accountability to do this you account for your progress, not just report what you did wrong.
You might decide to do this with an accountability partner, who can offer a different and helpful perspective. Whether by yourself or with an accountability partner, in the example of the task manager, you might ask questions like:
- How is it helping me be productive?
- What is challenging about using it, and how could I address this challenge?
- What could I do differently to make it more useful for me?
- In what way is this task manager a good fit or not a good fit for me?
When you can approach your learning with curious countability your chances of success will increase. As this mindset will help energize you to figure out the best path forward.
The 4 Mindsets ADHD Adults Need
Think about your goals and what mindsets are helping you or getting in your way. Which of the above 4 mindsets ADHD adults need do you want to try this week as you learn and make changes?