How to Transform Your Life with ADHD Using the 4 Stages of Growth

Are you building a new skill?

Are you navigating a change or transition in your life?

Or are you working toward a challenging goal that has you stepping out of your comfort zone?

If so, then I think you might love episode 106 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

We dive into a powerful four-step framework that accompanies any growth and change in your life.

By the end of the episode, you will:

  • Understand the differences between each of the four stages
  • Identify where you’re at in regard to your own goals
  • Know how to best support yourself in every stage so you can expedite your growth

Listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover How To… 

  • Understand the differences between each of the four stages
  • Identify where you’re at in regard to your own goals
  • Know how to best support yourself in every stage so you can expedite your growth

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #106: How to Transform Your Life with ADHD Using the 4 Stages of Growth (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode number 106. Hello everybody. How are you? What’s happening in your neck of the woods?

I issued myself a 30-day yoga challenge recently, which has been quite an interesting event. I am a fan of yoga, and I do it about once a week usually … but I wanted to challenge myself to step into the practice for 30 days. I always love how centered and grounded I feel after my sessions. And I am quite possibly the world’s least flexible human in the world so I know it’s good for me in that respect, too. And since it has both brain and body benefits, I thought why not? Let’s try this 30-day challenge. 

I am about a third of the way into it — 10 days in. My experience so far along the way is what got me thinking about the topic for our podcast today. And that topic is all about the four stages of growth and change. It’s a topic that I’ve had brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time as I’ve worked with my clients on developing new habits and skills and stepping into new areas of growth. As I’ve gone through these stages of skill development myself. (Or lack of skill development as it may be.) I thought I would dive in and share this concept with you today; I certainly have plenty of fresh examples on my mind.

4 Stages of Change & Growth

So like I said, we are talking about the four stages of growth and change, which I think is a highly relevant topic for us busy awesome humans. Because those of you who listen to this podcast are goal getters. You are ready and willing to grow and step outside of your comfort zone. You are up for the challenge and you’re ready to try new things. I see these stages unfold with every client I work with at some part of their journey. And the more goals they set and the bigger the challenge they approach, the more they work through these stages.

Because this is such a prevalent sequence of events for our community, I wanted to highlight the different stages. I think there is so much power in having awareness of what the stages are. Additionally, it’s helpful to use this concept as a tool to measure where you’re at in your journey. Because you may be in different stages of growth depending on the area of life you’re examining.

Bringing awareness to these different stages, and identifying the obstacles that often come up along the way, we can get clarity on the best ways to support ourselves throughout the entire process. When we feel tempted to call it quits. When we want to throw in the towel because things get hard. We can check in with our current stage, remind ourselves of the different tools available, and keep ourselves moving forward.

I was first introduced to this concept through the book The 12-week Year by Brian P. Moran. Though, the original work comes from psychologists Don Kelly and Daryl Connor. Now, the original intention of this concept focuses on how we as individuals navigate change in our lives since it can be an emotional experience. This is especially true for those of us who have difficulty with transitions. You see this a lot with ADHDers and other neurodivergent brains who have trouble with executive functioning. Transition and change can be especially challenging.

4 Stages of Skill Development

But as I studied this concept, I realized that this framework for change applies to so many areas of growth. Whether it is establishing a new habit, learning a skill, working toward long or short-term goals, it applies. So whether you are learning a new language, or developing a habit to stick with your schedule each day.

Whether you’re learning to maintain boundaries. You’re paying off debt. Or you’re trying to stick with a 30-day yoga challenge. These are all examples of growth and change. This four-step framework does a great job of providing structure and clarity while helping us raise our awareness of both where we’re at and the trajectory of our growth.

Today we are talking about these four stages of growth. I’ll give lots of examples for each. Then we’ll talk about how to best support yourself within each one of these stages. So regardless of where you’re at, you know how to support yourself. You’ll set yourself up for success to keep seeing the progress forward that you want.

Stage One: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Stage one, which was originally labeled uninformed optimism, is the beginning stage of any challenge or goal. In my world, this often sounds like, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be amazing!”

You are super excited to get started. You are dreaming big and living in possibility. Your creative brain is racing — full speed ahead. It’s thinking about how amazing this new habit or goal or chapter in your life will be. We often find ourselves romanticizing the experience. We slip into the belief that “there will be better than here” like we talked about last episode number 105.

I like to call this stage: “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For example, maybe you are traveling to Italy and you set a goal to learn some basic Italian first. So you purchased Rosetta Stone or you bought a bunch of Italian books and you’re thrilled to start. You can’t wait to make it happen. This is stage one.

I’m working with a client who loves planning and finds so much joy in creating what she calls her “blinged-out schedule.” I’m sure all of my fellow planner fanatics out there can relate. Creating the blinged out schedule would be stage one of the scheduling process, with the remaining stages being the actual follow through. 

In undergrad, I majored in K12 music education. I had to learn all the different instruments so that I could teach them. During that time I got really excited about learning guitar. I was so excited, in fact, that I decided to buy one. And you would think that — as an instrumental music education major I would have anticipated the remaining three stages. You’d think that I would have known the challenges ahead — but I didn’t. I got sucked into the excitement and Romanticism of my acoustic guitar but never really thought through the fact that I actually had to learn to play that guitar.

And then more recently — as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode — I decided to do a 30-day yoga challenge. I thought it sounded like a fun idea. I love to challenge my mind and my body in new ways, so I thought this would be a great way to do that. Plus, I totally want to embody the more present, mindful yoga vibe, which often seems a little out of reach for me.

So with stage one, we tend to be in an optimistic state. And frankly, this is not always a long-lived timeframe. As I said, it’s that space when you don’t know what you don’t know. And you’re driven by your excitement and the possibility that awaits you. Now, this is a beautiful stage. And there is so much opportunity to really dig in and embody that excitement that you’re experiencing and pull from it when your commitment inevitably wavers when things get more challenging in the later stages.

How to Support Stage One

So if you find yourself in stage 1, I suggest three different strategies to support yourself and set yourself up for success. Before fully committing and deciding to go all-in, I encourage you to perhaps learn a little bit more about what is involved from start to finish. What are the details of this experience? What is required of you? If I would have done this when I had the grand idea of learning guitar, I probably wouldn’t have bought one. So step one, make sure you have a general idea of what you’re signing up for in this commitment or goal that you’re working toward. This helps us navigate the impulsivity of the toddler brain a bit.

Then step two, once you are committed, get really clear on why you are so passionate about it. Tap into this natural excitement that you feel so strongly right now. And write down all of those thoughts. Capture each one so you have them as a reminder for yourself when things do get challenging. Keep these thoughts front and center, because they’re creating your motivation. 

So often when we get to stage two or three, we start believing that we’ve lost our motivation or we’ve lost our drive or our interest in the goal. That’s not true. We just started thinking something different. By capturing these thoughts that generate your excitement, you can remind yourself of it whenever you need to.

And then step three, I recommend deciding on some general benchmarks to help measure your growth. How will you know when you reach your end goal? What does “done” look like? By creating clarity for yourself, you know where you’re headed on this journey.

Stage Two: The Messy Middle

Once we move past stage one, we then enter stage two, which I call the messy middle. And I have an entire episode dedicated to this topic of the messy middle. So if you want even more information on this stage specifically, or if you find it that you are in this stage in a current area in your life, definitely check out episode 91.

So in stage two, we have removed the rose-tinted glasses. We start learning a little bit more about what is involved in making this change in our lives whether it is adopting a habit, learning a new skill, making a transition etcetera. 

Often we find that we perhaps underestimated the amount of work involved or the amount of time it will take to reach the end goal. Perhaps we hit challenges or roadblocks along the way. Maybe we feel emotional resistance when things get hard and we start telling ourselves it’s not working and we’re super frustrated.

And the messy middle is generally when we want to quit. This is when we slip into overwhelm or defeat as we think to ourselves, there is no way I can possibly do this. There’s no way I can get it all done. Or one of my common thoughts, “well… this is a lot more involved than I thought it would be. I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

So maybe you mapped out your week and you have everything fit neatly in time blocked sections. But now that it’s time to stick with it, you perhaps realize you created a schedule for the robot version n of yourself rather than the human version of yourself. Silly human. When will you remember you need to sleep?

And frankly, this is where I am at with my yoga challenge right now. Ugh. When I started, as I mentioned, I had romanticized how amazing it will be to have that zen-like mind and both mental and physical flexibility. 

And going into the challenge, I thought that most of the videos in the challenge were about 20 minutes. So when I anticipated adding it into my morning routine, I didn’t think I’d add too much. But then I found out that throughout the challenge most yoga routines are closer to 45 or 50 minutes, which was more time than I anticipated. And there are days when my toddler brain just does not want to do it. I know that I’ll feel better at the end, but the struggle is real. I don’t want to do it.

And this is where we need to be careful. I know for myself with my ADHD brain, this is where it’s very easy to let my new ideas and distractibility pull me to the next challenge or the next thing that I want to do. It feels so much better to jump to the next goal so I can feel that excitement of stage 1 again. 

I often see this with clients as well. They want to jump from one goal or focus area to the next each week. The brain wants us to keep feeling good, so it’s always focusing on the next piece of excitement. And this is the work. This is where we dig in and coach ourselves and remind ourselves why we do – indeed – want to stick with whatever it is that we’re working toward. This is when we can return to our list of reasons why we are passionate about the goal that we created in stage one, so that we can remember.

Now, I also want to offer a side note. If you realize in stage two that you did not have all the information you needed, and this project or goal or habit is not a good fit now that you’ve learned more. And you’re considering stopping, that’s okay too. I am not here to tell you that you need to stick with something and follow it all the way through even if it’s not a good fit and you hate every moment of it. So don’t use these concepts against yourself. When you get really honest with yourself, you know if it’s something that you want and the toddler brain is just making really loud excuses, or if it’s genuinely not a good fit right now.

So if you see this goal or project that you’re working toward IS something that’s important to you. If you know that you do want to follow through to completion. Remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling – whether it’s discouraged or frustrated or overwhelmed – is completely normal. You’re right on track. You are in the messy middle. And when you feel tempted to start finding all the reasons why you don’t want to work toward the goal or you don’t feel like sticking to the habit or you want to skip the yoga that morning, this is the opportunity to remind yourself otherwise. This is the opportunity to remember why you started.

Often Things Get Messier First

A couple of weeks ago one of my clients offered a thought, which I think summarizes stage 2 really well. She is decluttering and organizing her house this summer, and she mentioned the concept that things have to get messier before they get organized.

And like I said, this is really the concept behind stage 2. Stuff gets hard. You keep uncovering more things you need to declutter organize or figure out. You have to pull everything out of the boxes and see what’s there. And that doesn’t mean anything’s gone wrong. It just means you are in stage 2.

How to Support Stage Two

So how can we support ourselves during this time? As I mentioned, one of the things you can do is return to your list of reasons why you want to stick with this goal or habit, or area of focus. Remind yourself why you were so passionate about it when you began. 

Additionally, another powerful way to support yourself is to establish a minimum baseline for yourself. What is the bare minimum that you are willing to commit to no matter what? I have an episode on the minimum baseline concept way back in episode 25, which I highly recommend checking out if this is a new idea to you. But decide ahead of time that minimum.

As I worked on this episode, I decided that for my yoga challenge, no matter what I would do 10 minutes of yoga. So even if I didn’t do one of the full videos of the 30-day challenge, I would at least get on the mat for 10 minutes. That way I kept the habit going, it felt doable, but if I was short on time or really not feeling it one day, I didn’t have to push myself through a 45-minute routine.

And finally, stage two is a great place to reinforce some form of accountability as we talked about in last week’s episode. Creating accountability either with yourself or someone else can really help expedite your movement through the messy middle. So whether you create an accountability group with your friends, you post it on social media, you work with a coach, creating accountability in addition to establishing a minimum baseline and reminding yourself why you want to stick with it can really support you through stage 2

Stage Three: Gaining Traction

Once we get to stage 3, this is when things start gaining traction. While you still hit roadblocks, and things still challenge you, you’ve moved past the questioning stage where you’re not sure if you’re going to stick with it. You know you’re in it. You know you’re going to make it happen. So when those obstacles come up, you’re not feeling quite so defeated. Instead, it’s just a problem to solve. It’s part of the puzzle. But there’s not so much drama behind it. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you are starting to put different habits and systems in place to ensure you keep moving forward and stay on track to get there.

So if we return to the calendar example, maybe you’re following through with most of the tasks with relatively little procrastination and resistance. There are definitely days that your mind gets the best of you and your toddler brain convinces you that things are too hard or it’s better to scroll Tic Tok than write your report. But on the whole, you’re seeing that forward momentum.

Or if you’re learning Italian, maybe you finally see enough progress to know that your effort is paying off, even though it’s hard, you want to continue putting in the effort. If you are organizing or decluttering your space, the “making a mess part” is largely done and now you’re starting to slowly create order. Are there still boxes and stuff everywhere? Yep. But you’re no longer pulling the mess out of the boxes. You’re now starting to declutter, remove the excess, decide what to keep and where it goes.

And how do we support ourselves in this stage? Well, once you get to stage 3 of gaining traction, you can support yourself by creating a system of checking in either weekly or daily with what’s working and what’s not. You can find ways to lock in habits that help you maintain your behaviors more easily and build up your momentum. You can ask yourself regularly, how can I make this easy? How can I simplify this further?

Stage Four: Good As Done

Once we get to stage 4, which I call good as done, you’re near the last 10 or 20%. Now, this can be a dangerous part for some of us who struggle with the last details of completion. This is when our brains can get bored and start looking for the next new idea or the next new, exciting challenge. Since the last 10 or 20% is often detail work, it can be one that trips us up. And on the opposite side of the coin, perfectionist brains can get wrapped up in these details and never actually complete the thing. Instead, they keep tweaking.

In our calendar example, this might look like you really locking into your current system. You have your schedule figured out, you know how long your tasks take, and you are using your system well. You trust it. You’re getting things done. But then you feel tempted to try out the newer planning system you just learned about or the latest app that just came out. Or maybe there are one or two areas that you still notice yourself wanting to procrastinate.

With our decluttering and organization example, this might look like those last bits that don’t really have a home. It’s the knick-knacks that float from place to place because you don’t want to part with them, but you also don’t know where to put them. You know what I’m talking bout, right? This was always one of my biggest challenges when I’d unpack from a move or even a big trip if I got souvenirs or gifts or something.

So if you notice yourself in this last stage, and you know it’s as good as done but you find yourself spinning in that last 10 to 20%, this is a great opportunity to return to what done looks like. We don’t want to leave things almost complete. And we don’t want to spend excess time tweaking and perfecting if we’ve already reached done. So get really clear on what “done” is and then work to exactly that. 

Additionally, it can be really helpful to break down the steps into very small bite-sized pieces as you ner complete. When there is only a handful of stuff left to do, when we can write them all out one by one and follow them, it removes any necessary brainpower. It alleviates extra work for your brain, so all you have to do is look at the list and follow through. And if you pair that with a time limit that is non-negotiable, it’s a powerful way to complete those last steps.

So if you’re in this last stage of writing your book, give your editor a deadline that you’ll get them your draft. If you are in a stage for decluttering in organizing your house, set a date to have people come over so you have to have it done. If you’re in the last ten percent of a project, tell your boss you’ll have it on their desk by Friday afternoon.

By getting clear on what done looks like, breaking down the steps to alleviate any additional brainpower, and giving yourself a hard deadline, you’ll have that project done. And before you know it, because you are a busy awesome human, you’ll be ready to start all over again in stage one with the next project or goal.

So this week I encourage you to think of the goal or the habit or the project that you are working on. Where are you at within these four stages? Are you in stage one where you’re running on excitement? Are you in stage 2 with the messy middle? Have you reached stage 3 when you’re gaining traction, or maybe you’ve reached the final stage where it’s as good as done and you’re finishing up detail work. Once you’ve identified which stage you’re in, then use the corresponding strategies that we talked about in this episode to keep you building on your momentum and moving forward to success.