Soooo many ADHD women are talking about new year overwhelm, and what to do about it.
You can join a new program, buy a new planner, hire a new coach.
You can resolve to cut out sugar, set timers, journal every day.
But this is the thing…
…Goals and resolutions don’t work well for many of us living with ADHD.
Yet we are bombarded every January with the idea that we must set goals and make resolutions.
I wrote an article years ago about why I don’t do new year’s resolutions, and how I prefer choosing a theme instead.
I found a post on instagram this week that basically said the same thing. Who knew I was so ahead of my time?
In 2016 my theme was personal growth. In many respects I did grow that year, as well as the years that followed.
But as Rick Greene explains – ADHD makes it difficult for us to see progress.
All we see at the end of each year are unmet goals and intentions. And these unmet intentions come into focus at the same time we are expected to pledge ourselves to make new ones.
I didn’t make my business goals this year, but I doubled what I did last year. Any rational person would say doubling your business during a pandemic is a big win.
But my inflexible ADHD brain is saying, “You failed. All that work was for nothing. How embarrassing. You should probably just quit.”
Flexible thinking with ADHD
I wrote an entire article about why flexible thinking is hard for us.
We with ADHD evaluate our performance, and compare ourselves with other adults constantly.
We are taught that we should set big goals, work really hard, and then we will be successful. If you fall short of your goal, you either didn’t work hard enough, or you did it wrong.
Failure is your fault. Or so we are indoctrinated to think.
I monitor my performance in everything – parenting, writing, business, relationships- as either good or bad.
My brain doesn’t see learning or growth. I’m either doing as good as, or worse than, everyone else. This is a very common cognitive distortion with ADHD.
But we don’t live in a black and white world. Most of life is not** pass/fail.
The only way to become more flexible in our thinking is through practice, and potentially reframing how we set and measure goals.
Goals and the ADHD brain
Goals are particularly hard for us because we know what it feels like to lose interest, or work hard at something and still fail.
Motivation is bullshit even for neurotypical brains.
One of our members explained that she will set totally unrealistic, outrageous goals so she can get excited to meet them.
She challenged herself to work out 25 times in the month of December. When she started to resent that goal, and it looked unattainable, she pivoted to make the goal 100 workouts by mid-February.
She knows this intense schedule isn’t sustainable long-term, but that’s not the point. The point is to commit to something difficult, and prove to yourself that you can be flexible, even pivoting if you need to or moving the goal post.
In her words,
Be gentle with yourself. It’s not either or, black or white, this way or nothing at all. Build on what you already have, what you already know. Stop pretending everything has to be started over from scratch. Or that every effort has to be exact or it’s a failure. It has taken me till now to learn this. I have been too harsh with myself for too long.
Goals can be living things – changing in shape and form over time.
Also remember, there’s often more than one way to meet a goal. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
Avoiding new year overwhelm
While scrolling instagram the other day, various ideas popped up for New Year’s resolutions.
- – build a million dollar coaching business
- – lose weight, get in shape
- – eliminate sugar/dairy, go vegan
- – write and publish your first book
I noticed some of the junk targeting ADHD adults as well.
- – get more done
- – learn time management
- – stop procrastinating
- – get organized
- – accountability to follow through on your goals
No matter where you look you will find this not-so-subtle pressure to set goals and “think big.”
This is exhausting for those of us that battle perfectionism, fear of failure, and emotional dysregulation.
In addition, ADHD moms have competing goals and demands on their attention. We all want to be amazing mothers, but we often have a business or personal goal that competes with the parenting goal.
It’s impossible to meet several competing goals and do it well.
Based on conversations I’ve had with other ADHD women, this pressure to set resolutions is not working. Every year we try some new system, or planner, or “coach.” And every year we end up overwhelmed.
The simple solution to New Year Overwhelm is to swap the word goal with the word THEME.
Choosing a new year theme
A theme for the new year offers flexibility and fluidity. It’s more gentle.
A theme allows you to make small, incremental movements forward without measuring every centimeter of progress against a specific outcome.
More to the point, a theme leaves room to grow and removes the fear of failure.
Choose a word, phrase, or even a song to represent how you want your year to look. It should represent your hopes, ideas, and vision. The word will represent several aspects of your life at once.
For example my word for 2021 will be flexible. The word can be applied to my personal growth, my plants, my relationships with others, even my business.
I want to stretch, adapt, and thrive – so I need to be more flexible in my thinking and in my actions for that to happen.
Another word I considered was calm, because I need more tranquility in all areas of my life.
Here is a list of potential words from Moving Parts Psychotherapy. Hers is the post that inspired me to rewrite this article.
You cannot completely escape the pressure to set goals and make resolutions this time of year. If you like doing it, and it inspires you, by all means DO IT.
But if you’d like a simpler, gentler way to deal with the New Year overwhelm a theme is a great place to start.