Time & Productivity

Are You All or Nothing? Hot or Cold? Obsessed or Repelled? How to Find Better Balance

The ADHD tendency to hobby-bounce sometimes combines with hyperfocus to morph innocent pastimes into obsessions. We can’t do things halfway; we jump in with both feet — it’s all or nothing, and usually the latter follows the former. Here is how I work to strike a better balance in my ADHD brain.

all or nothing; depiction of intense hobbie - woman in a room filled with plants

I’ve crocheted, I’ve gardened, and I’ve made wreaths. I got really into dog training, then running, then yoga. Each of those hobbies, while they lasted, turned into an obsession.

I couldn’t just plant some seedlings; I made my husband till half our yard and spent hundreds of dollars on fencing, stakes, seeds, pots, and plants. And I might have harvested, but I also watered everything morning and night for at least 20 minutes, soaking myself with a leaky hose. I weeded. I fertilized and researched and kept records. Because, of course, I’d garden again next year, right?

My garden now stands choked with weeds and a few hardy stands of mint and cilantro. My dog remains very, very well-trained, but he needs a refresher. I can’t recall how to double crochet. The wreaths have unraveled. I’d collapse if I ran up our block, and I’ve forgotten all my yoga poses.

My ADHD Hobbies: Pastimes or Obsessions?

The ADHD tendency to hobby-bounce sometimes combines with hyperfocus to morph innocent pastimes into obsessions. Some of us can’t do things halfway; we have to jump in with both feet. We throw ourselves all in, whether it’s in crafting or exercising or cooking.

This tendency can mean we never become proficient at any one thing. We’re bouncing. We often stop when something becomes too hard: I quit gardening, for example, when a bad tomato plant gave all my prized basil fungal rot. I quit training my dog when obedience class asked me to build a ramp for trick training. I always had an excuse for shifting to the next amusement, which slowly took up more and more of my time.

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That’s a key difference between a hobby and an obsession: time. I didn’t plant a few plants. I tore up my yard and spent hours in the Southern summer sun. I didn’t jog three times a week. I ran rain or shine, day and night.

Restoring Balance to My ADHD Life

Over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to keep my hobbies from going too far and to help me keep my life in balance. Here they are:

1. Be honest with yourself: Are you prone to obsession? Ask yourself if you jump from hobby to hobby, spending inordinate amounts of time and money on each, only to drop them cold. Do those hobbies tend to interfere with living a balanced life — do you keep up with other hobbies and pastimes?

2. Do some self-checks when you start something new. Yes, you’re excited. Yes, you’re having a great time. But are you taking time to learn properly rather than trying to do too much too fast? Are your expectations realistic?

[Read: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Hyperfocus]

3. Enlist family and close friends to help. They know you best and they understand your obsessive tendencies already. If they see you slipping into an obsession, ask them to gently help you — and write yourself a note beforehand explaining to yourself that you need their help and that you need to step back if they recommend it.

4. Monitor your time and your money. This can be hard for people with ADHD! But if you start a new hobby, jot down how much time and money you spend on it a day in a planner. If those numbers get too high, back off and find balance.

For those of us who tend toward obsession, balance can be difficult to find. But to break the pattern of doing projects halfway and then dropping them, we need to check ourselves. Since I’ve broken the obsession cycle, my garden looks better and my dog’s happier. I read books sometimes. I’m healthier. I’m an overall better human being. You can do it, too.

All or Nothing ADHD Obsessions: Next Steps

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