Think about the last time you tried to incorporate a new habit into your life. Did you start out strong, full of excitement and possibility, only to grind to an abrupt halt after the initial honeymoon phase wore off?
If so, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to form habits and maintain them in the long run. And if you have ADHD, your unique brain functioning can make this process even more difficult.
You’re more likely to become overwhelmed at all the steps involved in creating a new habit from scratch. Plus, you’ll probably struggle with boredom and a general lack of internal motivation as soon as the habit loses that initial sheen.
I’m a therapist for millennials with ADHD, and I see this struggle in almost all my clients. So many people come to me asking for help with how to form and maintain healthy habits.
That’s why I’m back with part two of this two-part blog series on forming and sustaining habits with ADHD. In part two, we’ll talk about how to sustain habits with ADHD in the long run – even after the original sexiness of the habit wears off.
Creating and sustaining a habit requires a whole lot of time and energy. And when you have ADHD, you have to navigate the added challenges of your brain and attention processes.
In part one of this blog, I talked about how to form habits with ADHD.
In part two, let’s talk about three things that can help you sustain meaningful habits: choosing the right habits for you, integrating the habit into daily life, and preventing boredom.
This may sound obvious, but choosing the right habits for you is an important part of making sure the habit is sustainable in the long term.
As an ADHDer, you may have been told throughout your life that you’re lazy or aren’t trying hard enough. These messages aren’t always explicit. Sometimes they’re more subtle, like small demeaning comments here or there. Regardless, you very likely internalized these shitty messages.
It’s common for people to want to adopt habits simply because they think they should. Trying to force a habit because you feel like you have something to prove is understandable, but it doesn’t usually work well in the long run.
In order to stick and feel good, it’s helpful for your habit to align with your core values.
Think about which habits you’re trying to incorporate into your life. Are they truly what you want, or are they things you’ve been told you should care about or want?
This distinction isn’t always easy to figure out. But aligning your choices and habits with what you truly care about is crucial to living an empowered life.
In order to sustain a habit, you need to be consistent with it. Unfortunately, consistency is really hard for ADHD brains.
As an ADHDer, you may find yourself easily overwhelmed by environmental or emotional stimuli that other people might gloss over. Your neurodivergent brain processes things differently than neurotypical brains do. As a result, you might need extra support keeping yourself feeling grounded and keeping overstimulation at bay.
One way to give yourself this support is to try habit stacking. This is a practice where you pair a new habit with a habit you’ve already solidified. Habit stacking is helpful because it allows you to automate a new habit while using less brain power in the process.
When you pair a new habit with one that’s already formed, you’re helping streamline the process. You’re using less brain power and less willpower – which leads to less overwhelm.
Another way to integrate the habit into your daily life is by using a timer. Sometimes just putting aside time to do the thing is the hardest part.
Maybe you want to start a journaling practice or a workout routine. Set a timer for the minimum amount of time possible to prevent resistance. If 30 minutes is unrealistic, try 10 minutes. If that still feels like too much, try 5 minutes. Do whatever you can to take the pressure off. The point isn’t to spend hours and hours perfecting your habit each day – it’s to just do it, in whatever time intervals work for you.
Preventing boredom is one of the most important parts of incorporating a new habit into your life.
I talked about external accountability in part one of this blog series, and that comes into play here too. Use a body double. Find a real-life or digital coworking space where you can commit to working on your new habit. Recruit or hire someone else to practice your new habit with you. Utilizing the presence of other people to help keep things from getting boring is a good way to keep yourself on track.
When it comes right down to it, you might need to get creative in order to find ways to keep things interesting.
Let’s go back to our example of exercise from part one of this blog on forming habits. Maybe you want to implement a workout routine into your life, so you decide to try going to the gym, doing yoga, and running.
After a while, going to the gym or doing yoga or running might just feel boring. If you’re like many of my clients, going to the gym just to partake in the same old routine week after week isn’t going to stick.
Ask yourself how you can get creative with it. It might help to try hiring a personal trainer or joining group classes. This can keep things interesting and different, and keep you engaged. Or maybe you can try other types of exercise that feel more genuinely exciting to you, like pole dancing or mountain biking.
This often comes back to not shoulding yourself. Maybe you think you’re supposed to want to go to the gym, but in reality the idea of sweating and grunting while lifting heavy metal weights around a bunch of strangers is your nightmare. And that’s okay! If your ultimate goal is to feel better in your body, the gym is only one option among hundreds.
We’ll come up with real-life solutions to your specific problems and challenges.
Together, we’ll figure out how to align your habits with your deepest values, come up with ways to integrate habits into your daily life, and set goals to help you create habits that stick.
You’ll step into the world feeling empowered and confident, knowing you have the skills to live a more aligned and authentic life.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.