Habits That Serve You Are Key to Success When You Have ADHD

When U.S. News and World Reports profiled Daniel Arrigg Koh, he was the chief of staff for city of Boston, under former mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2017. Mr. Koh has an ADHD diagnosis, which, he says, was an asset.

“I view ADHD as an advantage,” Mr. Koh tells Jennifer Lea Reynolds in Good Habits of Successful People with ADHD. “I often have many balls in the air and am multitasking. ADHD forces you in general to be stricter with life habits. You have no choice but to discipline yourself and become more productive as a result.”

Creating good habits when coping with the symptoms of ADHD is the key to success for Mr. Koh. He says the habits that worked for him in the former mayor’s office were:

  • Keeping a positive mindset
  • Making meetings brief
  • Establishing regularity
  • Making the best use of technology
  • Organizing his inbox—deleting or archiving unneeded emails at the end of the business day

Although building habits and routines is not always easy, keep in mind that the occasional slip-up doesn’t mean failure.

“You learn to let some things go,” Mr. Koh says. “If something doesn’t work perfectly, it’s okay. I try to stick as closely to my schedule as I can and maintain my positive habits.”

Creating habits for success

ADHD affects a person’s executive function abilities, making it harder to stay organized. Therefore, routine becomes an important part of behavior management of ADHD.

People are more successful at creating and sustaining habits when they are the ones who identify the new habits they want to incorporate in their lives, rather than trying to do what someone else thinks they should be doing. Researchers recommend selecting the new habit and taking the steps to add it to your daily life as a starting point, rather than trying to delete an unwanted habit or behavior.

“Aim for small and manageable behavior changes,” says habit formation researcher Benjamin Gardner, DPhil. And don’t get discouraged as you stumble at the beginning; it can take up to ten weeks for a new habit to finally settle in.

“Behavior change achievements, however small, can increase self-efficacy, which can in turn stimulate pursuit of further changes,” Dr. Gardner says. “Forming one ‘small’ healthy habit may thereby increase self-confidence for working towards other health-promoting habits.”

Starting a new habit when you have ADHD

How do you begin a new habit that can help you be more successful, either at work or in family and social life? Some people may want to work with a mental health professional or a coach who specializes in ADHD when they get started.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues developed a “toolbox” to help a person create a plan for a new habit:

By using the steps in the toolbox, a person can identify and plan how to achieve a new habit, says Dr. Gardner.

“Learning new habits is hard for anyone, let alone people with ADHD,” says Edward Hallowell, MD. “It can seem like you’re sabotaging yourself, but you’re really not, you’re just reverting to the old habit.”

Dr. Hallowell also suggests working with a coach to help you identify and create new habits.

“At first you’ll revert to the old routine,” he says, “but if you continue and stick with it, with the coach you can actually internalize these habits and have them stick.”

Dr. Hallowell’s suggestions to help you achieve your goals:

  1. Do what you’re good at doing.
  2. Delegate what you’re bad at to others, as often as possible.
  3. Apply your energy to a creative outlet.
  4. Get well enough organized to achieve your goals. The key here is “well enough.” That doesn’t mean you have to be very well organized, just well enough organized to achieve your goals.
  5. Ask for and listen to advice from people you trust.
  6. Make sure you maintain regular contact with a few close friends.
  7. Go with your positive side. Even though you have a negative side, make decisions and run your life from your positive side.

From Dr. Hallowell’s Seven Critical Habits for ADHD Adults

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