Do you ever feel like setting a goal is daunting, or even next to impossible? For many adults with ADHD, this rings true.
It can be hard to stay focused and motivated through the process of creating goals, let alone reaching them. Traditional methods for goal-setting and achieving objectives may be daunting or overwhelming due to difficulty focusing and staying organized.
With a few targeted tweaks and strategies, however, it is possible to implement an ADHD-friendly approach to goal-setting that can help keep your eyes on the prize—without extra stress. In this blog post we'll explore how you can set realistic goals best suited to your lifestyle—while also staying engaged in the process. Let's get started!
Laying the Foundation for ADHD Goal Setting
In order to maintain a goal long-term, it’s important to do some advance planning—which is a common struggle for ADHDers. So, let’s do it together! Here are some things to consider to ensure your goals are ADHD-proof.
- Start with the Why: Often, we set goals based on what we think we should be doing, or what others say we should be doing. It’s no wonder, then, that we struggle to keep up with goals we don’t intrinsically want for ourselves! Examine your motivations for setting the goal, and ensure those motivations are things YOU want.
- Start Broad: We get bored easily, so sticking to the exact same task for a week, let alone a year, is…challenging. Start with a broader goal - for example, “I’d like to improve my physical fitness.” Then, come up with a list of as many options as possible that would contribute to that goal and cycle through them, or have fun and randomize with some dice!
- Support the Weakest Link: Is there a particular task you struggle to maintain consistently? Pair it with something you DO complete regularly. For example, if you often forget to brush your teeth, but you always remember to wash your face, put your toothbrush and toothpaste in a small container with your facewash for a visual reminder.
- Inject Joy: ADHD brains are interest-motivated, not importance-motivated; so, no matter how important the goal is for you, you’ll likely struggle to achieve it if it’s something that makes you miserable. Find ways to inject joy (or even just interest) into the process. Use tip #3 above to help!
- Use Endcaps. One more common challenge for people with ADHD - knowing where (and how) to begin. Once you’ve set your goal, and identified the tasks you need to complete to achieve it, set yourself up for success on those tasks by “capping” it with a starting ritual and ending ritual. (This can also help with #4, injecting joy.) For example, if the goal is “improve physical fitness,” and one of the steps to get there is “walk one mile every day,” choose something fun and motivating to do beforehand (Spotify, play Eye of the Tiger!) and something rewarding to do afterward (like stretching while drinking your favorite tea).
- Plan for Contingencies. Things are going to come up that interfere with your goal-getting activities. While we can’t see the future, we can see what tripped us up in the past, and make guesses. What are the most likely roadblocks? Using the fitness goal above, maybe some roadblocks would be weather, injury/illness, or growing bored with your walking route. Make sure you plan in advance for each.
- Plan for Distractions. In the same vein as #6, a common contingency or road-block for ADHDers is distraction. So, identify some of the most likely distractions to come up, and make a plan for how to remove or block them.
Goal Maintenance Tips for ADHD
Once you take the leap and get started on your goal, the next challenge is sticking with it. ADHD comes with several symptoms ideal for goal interruption - motivation issues, boredom, memory challenges…the list goes on. So, here are a few tips for handling some of these common ADHD challenges.
Challenge 1: Forgetting you set the goal
- Accountability: set regular meetings with a friend, family member, coworker, or your coach
- Visual Cues: Out of sight out of mind is very real with ADHD. Make the goal visible
- Habit Linking: connect the new thing with a task you already do regularly
Challenge 2: Losing interest in the goal
- Re-Examine Your Why: Is the goal still relevant? Are your motivations still relevant and meaningful?
- Novelty: Find new ways to accomplish the goal for some added stimulation!
Challenge 3: Overwhelm
- Break it Down: are you sure you broke down the goal into manageable pieces when you set it? Do those pieces need to be changed or adjusted?
- Take a Break: Sometimes it’s just not the right time to pursue a goal. It will be there later! Set yourself a date to re-visit the goal.
Challenge 4: Mindset
- Find the Grey Area: Most things aren’t black or white, pass/fail. Don’t get stuck in that “f**k it” mindset! Remember, each tiny decision is a brand new opportunity. If you forgot, decided not to, or weren’t able to “do the thing” once, or even ten times, there will always be another opportunity to try again.
- Imagine Success. Studies show we’re actually more likely to follow through and do a task if we first picture ourselves successfully doing it. When motivation is low, take a few minutes to imagine or write out a story about yourself completing it. Use as much detail as possible, including both how you’ll feel emotionally and physically, as well as the steps involved and the outcomes.
Things don’t always go as planned. Whether you forget the goal for a little while, or have to set it aside due to injury, illness, or other unavoidable circumstances, things happen. And even when they don’t, sometimes it’s hard to really SEE the results. Like when you see your nephew at Christmas and he’s suddenly three inches taller than you remember, change is much more visible from the outside. And when you struggle to see the progress, it can be hard to maintain that elusive motivation. So, here are a few tips for evaluating progress on your goals.
- Be Kind to Yourself. We ADHDers tend to be really tough on ourselves. As you’re evaluating your goals and progress, remember that we don’t always have a clear picture of what the goal will look like before we try. So, especially in the early days, if you find you’re struggling to meet the mark for yourself, consider whether the mark needs to be changed. It’s okay to move the goalpost!
- Find the Gray Area. Remember that most goals aren’t pass/fail. (If they are, maybe they need to be restructured.) Rather than having a check mark system to show completion, consider using a 1-10 scale to show the amount you got done, the effort you put in, etc.
- Take Time for Reflection. If you want to evaluate your progress, you need to make time for it on a regular basis. Schedule it into your planner or calendar. You may want to form or join an accountability group to make sure you stick with it.
- Identify ALL Kinds of Progress. A key piece of evaluating progress is identifying challenges or barriers, as well as hacks or shortcuts. Take time each week to note these items. For challenges/barriers, spend some time problem solving to see if they can be removed or mitigated. If there’s anything you noticed that made the week easier than anticipated, see if you can find ways to incorporate them intentionally. Even if it feels like you weren’t able to make progress because something got in the way, it IS progress for you to identify what “it” was, and how to avoid it in the future.
Self-Care Reminders for ADHD Goal-Setting
Setting goals and sticking to them is hard. Hopefully by now you feel more prepared to do so successfully! On the way out, we’ll leave you with a few bonus tips to ensure that you don’t end up hyperfocusing on achieving the goal, and neglect yourself in the process (please, learn from our experience).
- Boundaries. Remember to have boundaries not only with others, but with yourself, to ensure that your goals are attainable long-term. It’s difficult to wait for progress, but don’t push yourself so hard you end up injured or burned out, and unable to reach the finish line.
- Self-Compassion. Progress is rarely a straight line. Remember to view bumps in the road as key learning opportunities—not failures. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you fall down twice, or two hundred times; what matters is that you get back up.
- Brain Fuel. Don’t neglect the basics as you work toward your goals. ADHD brains require specific types of fuel in order to function. Not only do you need to eat, drink, and move your body regularly—also ensure you’re feeding your brain the novelty, accountability, and personal interest it needs to maintain motivation and energy.
Finally, if you need some extra help with accountability, or with identifying or planning out your goals, check out Shimmer ADHD coaching. Now go get it, you neurospicy goal-getter! You’ve got this.