Hi Honey18 — I totally relate to what you’re saying, and share your frustration. This: “… if it was that simple wouldn’t I have done it by now” is something I’ve said for years. When you’re an adult, most of the time you know how to make lists, give yourself reminders, pause to take a breath, etc. But doing those things is something else entirely. Cognition is a different brain function from implementation.
The lack of information and help regarding this feature of ADHD is a fundamental problem with virtually all the advice out there for ADHD-ers (my understanding is that ADD is now classified as ADHD, not sure if that’s true in all countries but it’s how I use the ADHD acronym).
I’m a certified ADHD coach, and when I took the specialized training to get my certificate, I brought this question up repeatedly. Even though we studied books and watched lectures by a number of prominent experts in the field, looked at studies, discussed strategies, etc., I kept saying: but how do we help people with the initiating of actions? And once they’re in motion, how do we help them know how to avoid hyperfocus and getting lost in the task? I can’t say that the answers I received were entirely satisfactory. There was a certain amount of discussion around meds, along with a few practical steps to take. But as I happen to be someone for whom the meds are unsuitable (a decision made in consultation with my physician and my therapist), I know from personal experience that initiating actions is a major struggle that goes largely unaddressed.
That said, I’d like to allay your concerns about your ADHD coach: if he’s experienced in the specialty, he’s well aware that you may have trouble implementing the plan. In fact, he’s probably expecting it (that should have been part of his training). Your difficulties can provide him with useful information that will help him to pinpoint the moments and issues you and he need to address together. His job is to help you put the plan into place. So if you’re struggling with implementation, he ought to be ready with ways to assist you. Remember that this isn’t about obeying him or showing how determined you are; if you weren’t already determined, you wouldn’t be consulting him. Coaching is about you getting assistance to improve your life. It’s not about him or his expectations, and if he’s a good coach, he’s clear about that, too. As a professional who knows the struggles people with ADHD face, he’s there to accept and support you with understanding and appropriate tools.
BTW, changing the timing of awakening is a huge shift that should be done gradually. A half hour doesn’t sound like much, but do it gradually, to allow your body to get accustomed to it. If you haven’t done so, try backing it up five minutes at a time, for a few days at each stage each, to let your system adjust. Because the quality of your sleep matters, too. Are you able to go to bed earlier to compensate? Again, take it gradually.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful. Of course, everyone’s ADHD and life situation is different, but there may be something of use here. I’m interested to hear what others may bring to the discussion, too.
A big word and technique for me is: mindfulness. A lot of times, I’ve found that I was so involved in the internal struggle with my brain that I didn’t identify to myself what I was doing — or notice that I had a choice to do something different. What I mean is: it helps me to actually stop in the middle of my stream of thoughts and mentally step back from them. So I can identify what’s happening in my brain and label it. I tell myself things like: I’m unfocused; I’m hyperfocused; I’m ruminating on negative memories; I’m distracting myself to avoid tasks I don’t want to do, etc. I also take a moment to check out what’s happening in my body: are my shoulders tense? Does my head hurt? Is my heart racing? Are my thoughts racing? This has been called “the power of the pause.” Learning to do this has been super important for me. Actually noticing what my body and mind are doing gives me the opportunity to stop, take a breath or two, and let myself really examine my choices in the moment. Because during that pause, my brain chemistry starts to shift, and I tend to feel more in control. It’s not easy, especially when first learning how to do it. But it’s made a big difference for me.
If I’m in a really upset moment, I extend this practice by standing on one foot. Seriously. Actually, this comes from doing the tree post in yoga. I’m not a yoga person, in general, but that one pose is so great. Because to do it, you have to stand on one foot. This is huge. I’ve noticed that if I stand on one foot (even without the rest of the pose), my brain gets so focused on keeping me from falling over that my whole body calms down, and my brain goes with it. And once my brain is calm, I can make better choices.
As you know, emotions play a huge part in ADHD. So I use both stress and rewards to get myself to do things I don’t want to do. It’s sort of both the carrot
the stick method. The stress part: I remind myself of the consequences if I don’t do a task, like paying bills (ugh!). But also, I build in a reward to look forward to, once I do the task. So far, my rewards consist of things like: a modest yummy treat; a 10-minute break to stare into space, taking a short walk, or checking my email; getting/giving a hug to a loved one, or calling them on the phone; and — this may sound silly, but it works — just stopping to congratulate myself and tell myself how great it was that I completed that task. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to notice and acknowledge it when I’ve succeeded at something. To enhance the feeling, I make sure to do a written/electronic checklist for the day, even a short one. Crossing off or deleting a task that’s done enhances the sense of accomplishment.
I play “distract the puppy” with my brain (“the puppy” is my brain when it’s unfocused, it’s my name for what’s been called “the monkey mind”). I trick my brain. This can consist of keeping it busy paying attention to music, or a podcast, or even the TV on in the background. Sometimes, I get on the phone to a friend and have a conversation while sorting laundry, tidying the kitchen, etc. Those are tasks I find hard to get myself to do. But once I’ve distracted my jumpy brain, I find I can get them done. (Other people need silence; it just depends on your brain’s way of functioning, so getting to know your nervous system helps you to figure out what will work for you.)
Another thing that often works for me: if there’s something I don’t want to do, I start it in advance, even just a small start, then stop and leave it somewhere where I have to see it. Once I’ve gotten the task started, I can go back and continue it later, and even complete it. For me, this works especially well with computer tasks, because I can start a piece of writing, for example, and then leave it up on my screen, walk away, and when I come back it’s there staring me in the face. I also use this with household chores like washing dishes, and with paying bills. I allow myself to only do a bit of the job; then I come back and do the rest later. So I feel good that I don’t get stuck with something unpleasant for so long that I get restless; and then I feel good when I complete it. I can’t say this is a foolproof method, in that I have to have some reason to come back to the task and not leave it undone. But it helped me write a master’s thesis a few years ago, during a very overwhelming period in my life.
I also try to build transition times into my schedule. As an ADHD-er, I find transitioning from one task to another can be difficult, vaguely upsetting, and sometimes tiring. So when I can, I allow a little longer time between tasks — again, to breathe and relax (release my shoulders, especially!), to reward myself if appropriate, think about next steps, etc.
BTW one common thread in most of the above ideas is: dopamine. You may already know about this brain-generated reward chemical that makes us feel good in response to actions we do or things that happen to us. ADHD brains tend not to generate enough dopamine. So I do whatever I can to encourage the release of dopamine, or to substitute something else for that feeling of reward — keeping it healthy and legal, of course.
I hope there’s something helpful for you there. Good luck, and I wish you success.