The New Year can bring a surge of motivation and inspiration into our lives, with its wealth of possibilities; new year, new you, new ideas and a fresh start. But many of us entering a new year with great expectations and hopes of change may inevitably find ourselves feeling the thrill of a new start be dimmed by the struggle of maintaining the new habits of our resolutions.
For many with neurodivergence, in which ADHD, Autism, and more are included, the new year excitement often ends in disappointment and disparaging self-talk. How many of us have committed to a new hobby or habit and declared that it was “our year” to make a big change, only to feel let down by March 1st? How many craft supplies, exercise plans, diets, self-help books, and ambitious planners have been left in the dust?
Here’s the good news: habit formation can actually be a talent within ADHD, rather than an impossibility. However, how most neurotypical people view starting a new habit is far from the reality of those with neurodivergence. The key is to stop holding yourself to the standards of routine of others, and start identifying your own habit-forming skills.
So, what are those, exactly? The answer is different for everyone, but there are some potential hints to figure out your own habit-forming style.
1. Identify Your Activity Patterns!
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for starting a new habit can be in when, where, and how you start. What time of day do you generally get the most done? Where do you feel the most focus? What conditions around you make for the best outcome? Neurodivergent brains are sensitive to their surroundings and pre-set patterns. If you find you struggle with starting a new habit, it may be best to orient it around timeframes and environmental stimuli that already work for you. For some, that may be music, white noise, aromatherapy, a cup of tea, and a snack. For others, that may mean burning the midnight oil and having a friend along.
For more helpful tips on breaking down your productivity patterns, consider looking at the “MW5”, a method of productivity pioneered by ADHD coach Robert Pal: A Deceptively Simple System for Getting More Done with ADHD.
2. Embrace Variety in Your Consistency
One of the major factors in losing a habit or forgetting a resolution is the loss of interest. After a while, the new and exciting habit you were trying to start loses any sort of thrill, and the ADHD brain tosses out the boring information to make room for new, exciting stimuli. So how do we avoid this encroaching boredom? By introducing variety into our consistency. This may sound like an oxymoron, but I promise it is not. The neurodivergent brain craves variety to maintain focus, and it needs consistency and structure for functionality. The trick lies in balancing the two needs.
If your resolution is going stale, it may be time to brainstorm how to keep your goal while making it interesting for yourself again. Common variety-helpers are changing the rewards of your new habit, breaking the habit or task into smaller, defined tasks, creating new and meaningful reminders for yourself, setting alarms, or cutting down on interference to the task.
3. Redefine Your Relationship with Routine
Routine is a regular enemy of the ADHD brain — once something loses variety and interest, continuing a task increased in difficulty almost exponentially. The key is to start small: an overall behavioral change can be difficult to keep up with when it takes more effort and focus than whatever behavior came before it. Making the behavior smaller — for example, doing a one-minute increment of a new activity rather than immediately dedicating an hour, and increasing that increment slowly — allows the new habit to latch on in the brain. Maintaining your new habit at a smaller increment for a significant stretch of time, rather than starting it at full strength, helps to slowly rewire your brain, making it become easier to maintain without as much overt effort or purposeful action.
For more on the relationship with routine, try ADHD Coach and Productivity Consultant Marla Cummins’ tips for habit forming: How ADHD Adults Can Finally Fix Their Love-Hate Relationship with Habits.
4. Find Your Internal and External Motivators
Why did you want to make your resolution? What is it you want to achieve from this change in behavior? Are these strong enough to hold your habit? These are your internal motivators. Are there others in your life that can join you in this new habit? Having others engage in the same activities often helps maintain motivation to continue by providing outside accountability and external motivation. Is there an end goal that the change in habit needs in order to succeed? Having firm end outcomes that are both interesting and meaningful to you can cut down on the urge to abandon a new habit that hasn’t hit its stride yet.
These tips may give you a place to start tackling your habits, but if you’re finding yourself struggling, the option to see an ADHD-focused professional is always an option for further support.