Every year I give myself the gift of clear-cut goals — and thanks to treatment and counseling, I know how to follow through.
by Jeff Stickler
My birthday is this week! I have two birthday traditions: 1) Avoid the restaurant “Happy Birthday” at all costs, and 2) Take time to reflect on the past year. I take about two hours to go through all the appointments and notes in my E-calendars on my Macbook and iPhone. I remember all the family milestones we experienced since my last birthday.
After reflecting, I make some personal resolutions. (Think New Year’s Eve.) This process has changed a lot since being diagnosed with ADHD in 2006. One of the biggest changes is the length of time I set for my goals. A year is a long time for an ADHDer! Instead, I make six-week goals, much more manageable for me. Sometimes I divide a year-long goal into six-week goals, but I usually end up dividing these six-week goals into even shorter two or three-week goals. That keeps me focused and limits my distractibility.
In a previous post, I mentioned that technology was my solution to time sensitivity and distractibility. It’s a must for meeting my birthday resolutions. Once I make a goal, I enter a reminder on my E-calendars. (Pop-up alerts with sound are essential!) In the notes section, I make sure to add a “waypoint note” — for example, I’ll write exactly how much more or less of something I will have done of something by that date. These notes are essential ingredients for my goal success.
Before I was diagnosed, I set year-long goals and rarely followed through. This made birthdays a bit depressing because I didn’t understand why I had trouble following through.
Medication and counseling sessions helped me improve my goal-setting process. One counselor in particular helped me identify my unique symptom set and the behavioral challenges it presents. She helped me understand that medication would help slow my thinking speed (I thought everyone had 100 unrelated thoughts a minute!) and that I still needed a plan if I was going to achieve any personal goals I made. That’s how the “birthday resolution” system I have today was created.
I highly recommend a goal-setting system for people living with ADHD/ADD and for parents of school-aged children with it. We ADHDers can get down on ourselves with repeated goal failures like the ones I experienced. As a middle school social studies teacher, I taught my students how to make weekly academic goals and how to write them clearly and specifically. (Better to say, “I will read my social studies book for 20 minutes every weekday” than “I will do my work in social studies”!) Every Monday, students re-read their goals, reflected on them, and made adjustments as needed. It worked like a charm! I estimate that students met about 98% of the goals they made.
I confess I have a third birthday tradition: trying to avoid answering the question, “So, do you feel any older?” For adult ADHDers like me with a mind in constant motion, the answer to that question can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day. Typically, my answer is, “Oh, I don’t know...ask me again in an hour.”