Procrastination: Break Away from the Shame

Wracked with guilt from putting things off, I finally said, "No more." Here's how I overcame one of ADHD's most embarrassing behaviors.

ADHD man with glasses, pointing to his brain and using hyperfocus to his advantage.

Once motivated, I direct my hyperfocus inward and can effect change in my behavior.

Douglas Cootey

Sometimes strong emotions, like embarrassment, give an adult with ADHD clarity and hyperfocus. Learning to take advantage of that clarity when it comes can help you turn the downside of ADHD into an upside.

Since becoming single again, and moving into a smaller flat, I've been tossing out things left and right. Landfills have overflowed after my efforts. One can collect a lot of junk over 23 years of marriage, especially if one has ADHD and an aversion to boredom. I had a box for every major gaming system released from 1989 to 2010, and dozens of games for each system. I had more books than a library. Never mind the towering pile of VHS tapes collected each season as I recorded my favorite television shows. Even if I were inclined to, I wouldn't watch them all now.

Secrets Revealed

While exploring the black hole known as my filing cabinet, I couldn't believe all of the papers I had filed away as "important." So glad I held onto those bank statements from 1996! You never know when the IRS is going to conduct a deep audit back to birth. Then I came across a folder labeled "Things to Write To." My eyebrows arched as I realized this was a collection of letters and forms I had intended to reply to. Most of it was funny, cereal box offers from 1989, still awaiting a full set of box tops. But I also came across a letter from my grandmother awaiting my reply. She died in 1992.

For a moment, I felt 20 years of deep guilt. Now there was an opportunity missed. Fortunately, I can remember contacting her before she passed on, but whatever I thought I needed to write to her about was lost many years ago.

It reminds me of the time I tried to return some Amiga software I had borrowed from a guy I met. I had meant to return it to him. Honest, I did. Years passed without staying in touch, and the once-mighty Amiga computer became a dodo. I found his phone number and gave him a call. His wife answered. It was awkward, because he had passed away a few years ago. I was embarrassed.

Draw a Line in the Sand

When my Uncle Dominique died, before I could thank him for the $100 he gave me for college, it was the last straw. Something in me changed, and I never made mistakes like that again. Instead of this being another case where ADHD brought me regret, I decided to draw a line in the sand. I started leaving notes for myself, and, more important, I followed through on them. I had no choice but to manage my ADHD or face embarrassment and guilt until the day I died.

When people tell me that I don't have ADHD, because I manage my condition without medication, I laugh. They don't live with me. But I differ from many of them in one respect: I believe that I can manage my ADHD if I try hard enough. I don't always succeed, but I'm better off than the 20-something boy I used to be, who let people pass on before writing to them.

You don't have to wait for friends and family to die to take charge of your brain. You need to use that ADHD gift, hyperfocus, to give you a push in the right direction. Strong emotions, such as humiliation, are motivators for change. Once motivated, I direct my hyperfocus inward, and I can effect permanent change in my behavior. These days I don't need traumatic events to trigger this inward hyperfocus. But it took lots of practice.

You should have seen how motivated to change I became after my wife of 23 years dumped me. Talk about clarity of vision! I'm a new man these days.

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This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of ADDitude.
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