I was asked recently if there was one thing I could directly point to that would make a major difference for just about anyone with ADHD. Yes, I can, it would be one word: Start! Ah, such a simple word isn’t it? The next thing I would have to point to is indefinite preparation.
For someone with ADHD one of the hardest things to do is start something.
Here’s the “magic”, but frustrating, maddening, key:
- Want to write a book? Start writing.
- Want to start a blog? Start it.
- Want to wash the dishes? Start washing.
- Want to paint the house? Start painting.
Obviously, ADHD is highly complex and challenging, but I have found that once I start something I am usually good to go. Starting, sounds so easy and it should be, but it is not.
Part of the problem is ‘preparation’ we are taught in so many ways that we need to be prepared. You need your school books, you need to study, and you need to listen, learn and practice. There’s a lot of preparation, most of it is necessary, but it is in the preparation where people with ADHD seem to get stuck the most, because all too often we never make it to the next stage.
Many of us will give up or procrastinate indefinitely before we ever ‘start ’a project, assignment or just about any endeavor no matter how much we want to do it. Don’t get me wrong, preparation is very important, but it puts the actual ‘starting’ somewhere in the future, somewhere that takes too much time to get to. Frankly, preparation before starting can become a hindrance for someone with ADHD. Sooner or later, as many ADDers become adults we realize that we are not ‘doing’ things and we eventually stop preparing to do them as well, and it becomes a matter of ‘why bother’ or ‘I will get around to it someday’. Someday never seems to come around and procrastination becomes a pastime. It’s not on purpose behavior, and believe me, no one is more disappointed than we are.
A really nice fellow wrote me the other day and we emailed back and forth about writing. By the time he was finished telling me all the things he needed to do in order to write his book, I was exhausted! So I asked him a simple question: Have you started writing it? He answered that he had not, but that as soon as he could find the right software to organize his chapters, keep notes and many other wonderful things, he would start. I went ahead and asked the next question: How about using a blank page as a starting point? We had been emailing back and forth for a couple days and the emails had been timely, but this time no reply came for about 3 days and he was upset that I didn’t ‘get it’.
Actually, I do ‘get it’. For one reason or another, the thought of starting something is very, very difficult for us. It is not because we don’t want to, or that we do not know what to do, it is as though our brains lock up. It’s a terrible experience and unfortunately many of us learn to avoid it. Perhaps starting is too simple, too straight forward and too ordinary. There’s something that too often goes awry within us at the mere thought of starting something and we spend a lifetime trying to figure out what it is, searching for secret formulas, systems, routines and even medication to do the one thing everyone else seems to find so easy to do.
Do you have something you want to do? Then start it. But, guess what, if you’re like me and you have ADHD, then the statement to just start something will give you fits, or make you irritated, or, just give you a feeling of loss, depression or worthlessness (perhaps all of those things). Why is that? Because for people with ADHD starting is truly one of the hardest things to do and it seems that no matter what, our brains have the hardest time getting around it.
You know that project you have been putting off because you either do not feel like you have everything you need to accomplish it yet, or that you simply do not know where to start—well, just dig in. Write the first word, wash the first dish, do one assignment for a class or work. The magic key is to do one thing… just start!
It’s not about willpower, skip the need to gather the energy, the will, or the momentum, and merely start something. For me willpower, momentum, energy etc are all things I wave at as they pass by. Believing we need them first, holds us in our patterns of not starting, of waiting, of preparing, but never really, truly starting. Curiosly, I have found those mystical things come to me effortlessly after I have started something, while I am in the act of doing, creating, working, writing – and guess what, that’s when I really need them! What a wonderful discovery.
For 37 years I wanted to write a book. I did a lot of things to prepare for writing a book, but after 37 years I had not written one. If you’ve read my blog for a while then you probably know that One Boy’s Struggle: A Memoir was not written with the intention of writing an actual book. I merely started writing a journal to get my thoughts, memories and what I had learned about myself and my ADD behaviors (and how I survived) down on paper. I just started writing. In the few years since my first book, I have written 9 more books (print and digital), over 500 blog posts and many newspapers and magazine articles etc. Yes, the magic key for me was that I finally started.
That’s weird, right? Maybe it is, but the fact remains it was the act of starting that finally did it. I started without one single bit of preparation or thought to the idea I was ‘starting’ something such as a ‘book’. Once I actually started I used my remarkable ADHD ability to multitask in a constructive way by writing and doing all the other necessities (research, gathering memories, editing) while I was writing the book, but not prior to writing. I started writing first. I can’t emphasize that enough.
So this brings the next problems: what about sticking with it and finishing? If your thinking about those things before you start then they will likely keep you from actually starting. In upcoming blog posts I will talk about those two things. We have more ‘things’ that keep us from starting than we may realize, but once we become conscious of them and learn to go beyond them, starting projects, assignments and just about anything gets much easier.
Is there really a magic key? No, there’s nothing magic about it, but we spend too much of our time searching for just that ‘one thing’ that will get us where we want to go, or do what we want to do.
Go – start! Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Can you name one ‘thing’ that keeps you mentally frozen, unable to actually start something no matter how much you want to? Or, have you found that perfect method, system, routine or perfect organizer, planner, or software or other tool that will finally help get you started?