Updated: Apr 17
Habits are a tricky subject for us with ADHD. Building them requires more effort than we can often muster.
Even when a habit seems firmly established, it can vanish without our noticing. People with ADHD are consistently inconsistent.
The secret is to build flexibility and variety into the habit right from the start to make it ADHD-friendly, not to strive for impossible consistency. Instead of trying to form habits the way neurotypicals do, learn how flexible habits help you win. Consistency is too boring for our ADHD brains and therefore neither feasible nor required.
Don't fight your ADHD brain; accommodate it
Nope, the next book, podcast, expert, or blog (not even this one ;-) ) won't "fix you" and finally make you consistent. Inconsistency is part of ADHD. Accept it. Accommodate it.
Building healthy habits is hard for anyone and especially so for people with ADHD. First, we're forgetful - so remembering the cue for a habit is difficult for us. Then we get distracted easily and end up doing something else instead. Our impulsivity doesn't help, either, making it hard to stick to our plans.
And then there's the big issue of boredom. We hate it so much that we'll lose a habit we liked because we get bored with it. So what is an ADHDer to do?
Have mini, midi, and maxi versions of your habits
My favorite hack is inspired by the book "Elastic Habits: How to Create Smarter Habits That Adapt to Your Day" by Stephen Guise. By having various "sizes" of the same habit, it's much easier to keep the habit going as life happens. For example, the mini habit can be ridiculously small so that you can manage it even under crazy circumstances. The midi size is what you can realistically do on an average day. And the maxi version is your stretch - what you can manage on a good day.
There is a lovely German saying called "Kleinvieh macht auch Mist" (literally translated as "small livestock also produces manure") to remind us that every little bit helps. So while five minutes of cardio exercise or one minute of meditation may feel pointless, they add up and are a lot better than doing nothing.
The differently sized options help keep streaks going (how many days in a row you engaged in the habit). Visually tracking habits can be motivating, but a broken streak has derailed many a sensitive ADHDer, including myself. Self-acceptance is vital here, too. Remember, inconsistency is the norm with ADHD. Just get back up again.
Now add even more variety
Most likely, the flexibly sized habits are not enough to keep your ADHD brain motivated and engaged. It's worth anticipating this from the start and planning for extra variety.
Here are some tips that have worked for my clients, friends, or me:
change the location in which the habit takes place often
reward yourself before doing the maxi version of the habit (or any version if you're having a rough day)
put on music
put on disco lights
put on glitter
use a magic wand to make difficult habits easier
put on a different outfit and imagine you're someone for whom this habit is easy
enlist a (zoom) partner (but make sure this is someone who understands ADHD and won't judge you)
In my experience, this is markedly different for neurotypicals, where consistency seems to make things much easier, and some of these tips would be counter-productive.
What additional tips do you have that help us with ADHD establish and maintain habits? Please contribute in the comments below and share your experience or write to me if you don't want to expose your name and I'll add your comment anonymously; thank you!
Maybe you're also interested in this post about how we're consistently inconsistent and how we can get back on track again more easily when something has caused us to go astray once again.
"Elastic Habits: How to Create Smarter Habits That Adapt to Your Day" von Stephen Guise - Link to the author's website