Have ADHD? This Is Why It’s Important To Define Success For Yourself

As ADHDers and high achievers, the next novel idea or fresh opportunity often fuels our pursuits.

We have creative goals, new inspirations, and innovative perspectives that we cannot wait to explore.

We love imagining that feeling of success when we make these visions happen.

But here’s what I’ve also found.

While we love these big ideas, we rarely pause to define what success looks like specifically.

We never give our brains that clear objective, which means we have no way of seeing how far we’ve come.

Nor can we tell if we ever get “there.”

Instead, we keep moving the bar on ourselves.

We tell ourselves we’re not far enough.

We’re not making enough progress.

We need to get better results.

And in episode 135 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re taking a close look at this practice.

We’re talking about why it’s important to define success for ourselves to reach our biggest goals.

We’re exploring why doing this essential step is such a struggle in the first place.

And you’ll learn a simple, step-by-step approach to help you define success for yourself today.

You can tune into the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:  

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

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • Why it’s important to regularly define success.
  • Why defining success is such a struggle in the first place. 
  • A simple, step-by-step approach to help you define success for yourself today.

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Episode #135: Have ADHD? This Is Why It’s Important To Define Success For Yourself (Transcript) 

You’re listening to the I’m busy being awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode number 135.

Hi friends. How are you? what is happening? Today we are kicking off part one of a two-part series all about success and defining what success means to you. We’re going to have an overview of this concept today. We’ll talk about why we struggle with identifying success for ourselves and also why it is so important that we do, as well as specific steps to put that into practice. And then next week we’re going to zoom in on productivity and time management specifically, so we can answer what success looks like in that realm specifically.

These next two episodes are going to be jam-packed with lots of goodness, and I hope you are as stoked as I am to dive in. And to kick-off this examination of success, I first want to talk about the actual definition of the word.

Define Success

When you look up the word success, you will find a handful of different variations on what this word means. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, success is the correct or desired result of an attempt. And a degree or measure of succeeding.  Again, success is defined as the correct or desired result of an attempt. And a degree or measure of succeeding.  

Now normally, I think it’s kind of annoying when dictionaries use the word you’re trying to define within the definition. (Success is A degree or measure of succeeding.) But with this situation, the definition led me to look up the definition of succeed, which I think is even more helpful for our topic today. To succeed means “to do what you’re trying to do, or to achieve the correct or desired results.” And as we’ll talk more about today, I think that these latter two definitions for succeed are especially important to consider when we think about what success means to us. 

Now, why the topic of success? Why are we talking about success today? Well, I think as high achievers and goal-getters, and ADHDers, we are often driven by the next idea or the next opportunity, and we often have this striving to do more. We have new goals, new inspirations, and fresh perspectives that we cannot wait to pursue.

And I think this is a beautiful thing… as long as we are pursuing these goals for a reason that feels good and genuine and at a pace that’s realistic. As long as we’re not trying to hustle for our worth or prove that we are “good enough” to others or ourselves by reaching the next achievement. Instead, we want to make sure we’re going after these big goals for the sheer experience or the excitement or the growth that we have.

In other words, we want to check in with ourselves and set the intention of working toward these big goals because of who we become along the way. Or simply because it would be fun to completely blow your expectations out of the water and make things happen – just because it’s fun. When we’re thinking about goals and plans and projects in that way, it’s fantastic. 

Internal and External Motivation

However, as you might guess, we aren’t always driven by this positive, internal motivation for success. Plus, we rarely take the time to even define what success actually means to us as individuals. From the definitions I mentioned alone, it’s clear that success can mean so many different things to different people. 

And as I continue finding with my clients, we all define our success based on different criteria. Some people might define success based on a certain level of income, while others might define success based on working a certain number of hours per week. Some might define success based on how much time they spend with their family each week, while others might define success based on a certain weight you can bench press.

Now here’s the deal; because there are so many different measures of success, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. It’s easy to start “shoulding” yourself for not measuring up to someone else’s definition – especially when you haven’t paused to identify what success means to you specifically. So this is the first reason I invite you to get clear for yourself. When you have specific criteria for yourself, it reduces the chances of getting swept up in the constant race for something that’s not actually important to you. It helps you keep your blinders up undistracted by everyone else’s race.

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Measure Your Progress

Plus – and this is reason number two – once we identify what success means to us, it makes measuring our growth and our progress so much easier. When we actually know that success means, whether that’s making x amount of dollars each year, working Y amount of hours per week, spending Z amount of time with your family each day, or bench pressing this specific number pounds on the bar, you can check-in and see where you’re at. You can see how much growth you’ve experienced from where you started. And you can start setting benchmarks. You can start seeing your progress, which allows you to build momentum on your growth.

Reason number three why we want to set clear criteria for success: it helps prevent the elusive moving targets we face so often. As high achievers and ADHDers, it’s easy to keep moving the target on ourselves. We keep thinking to ourselves, I’m never far enough along. I haven’t made enough progress. And because we never measure our progress, and we never define what success means, we have no proof to the contrary. Instead, we just keep strengthening the belief that we aren’t far enough yet. And we continue moving the target out farther and farther.

I think an easy example here is health-related. Let’s say you want to get in shape. Okay, so you could start working toward that. But without the measurement, you could just keep telling yourself, I’m out of shape. Or I’m not strong enough yet. But by intentionally identifying what success means to you, it’s so much easier to recognize your growth and how far you’ve come. It’s easy to see your higher weight for the bench press or your faster mile time etc.

Now building on the idea that our definition of success is different for every person, we have reason number four why you want to define it for you. And this is because when you get clear on what success means for you, it makes it so much easier for you to remember why you are pursuing this goal in the first place. It helps you know and remember what is important to you because you took the time to choose it. 

For example, perhaps you wanted to work less, and you defined success as working 30 hours instead of 40 each week. Well, now it’s not some vague goal that your brain can easily dismiss with a thought like, “eh, it’s fine. I’m probably working less overall.” or get stuck comparing yourself to others who might be working 50 or 60 hours. Instead, you made time to identify your clear expectations and you can remind yourself, THIS is what success is to ME. For me, working 30 hours while I get my work done equals success.

Change Your Beliefs

And finally – our fifth reason why I think it’s so critical to clarify your definition for success is that – especially as ADHDers, we have so many stories about ourselves and our abilities. We have so many beliefs that we aren’t successful, that we can’t follow through, and that we never stick to anything. But when we slow down and identify specifically what success is, and we make it measurable and clear for our brain, it becomes easier to gather evidence to challenge those beliefs. It makes it so much easier to find proof for our brain as it thinks, “hey, I am a person who can stick with things. I am a person who can set a goal or intention and take action on it. I’m a person with lots of success. I have the data to prove it.”

Now, as I alluded to in passing, the obstacle here is that most of us do not take the time to define success for ourselves. We do not slow down and say “this is what success is. to me.” “This is what it means to succeed in this area of my life or for this project I’m working on.” “Here is how I know but I’m on the right track.” 

And there are a whole bunch of reasons why we avoid this process. There are so many reasons why we keep our objectives vague rather than getting super specific about the income goal. Or identify the number of hours worked. Or log the amount of time you spend on social media or the consistent number of unanswered emails in your inbox. Knowing this, I think it’s important to explore two leading reasons why we avoid defining success and how this avoidance holds us back. 

We Think It Takes Too Long

First of all, for a lot of our brains, getting really specific just seems tedious. Frankly, it feels so much easier to tell ourselves, I know what it means to be successful in this area. I know what it means to be well paid in my job or to work fewer hours. I know what it means to get in shape. To use social media less. And to stay on top of my inbox. Breaking it down is just a waste of time. I’ll know it when I see it.

But here’s my question: is that actually true? Do you really know what it means? Get honest with yourself here. Do you know what it means to work less, make enough, be in shape, use less social media, etc? I know that even though I have similar thoughts, when I take a closer look, the answer is no.

9/10 times, when I tell myself, I’ll know what it means when I get there, I never do. If I don’t know what success is. If I don’t know what “done” looks like. I either give up very quickly because I don’t have any way of measuring my successes. And since I can’t see those gains regularly, I feel defeated. Or alternatively, I beat myself up constantly because I have no way of measuring my gains. I have no way of looking at my data and knowing it’s working or it’s not. And so I use it as further evidence that I can’t do whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.

For example, I am working with my business coach on creating clarity around the priorities in my business. And I’ve noticed wanting to resist getting specific here. I notice my brain wants to think, “as long as I keep posting on social media, creating my podcast, sending out emails, guest-hosting on other podcasts, teaching free trainings, creating workbooks, coming up with new offerings, and the list goes on and on. As long as I keep doing everything, I’m bound to have some success.” 

Now, intellectually, I know this isn’t true. I know this is a prime example for myself where I have far too many things on my list. So I either A, drop the ball on something. Or B, I shift into constant overworking and never allow myself to slow down.

And so what we’re working on, is creating clarity on what success is for each one of those avenues. Because once I know this measure of success, then I can start measuring. I can start gathering data on what helps me serve you listeners as well as possible. Getting more specific helps me better understand what resonates the most with you, what you find the most helpful, and what’s in best service to the I’m busy being awesome community. 

On the other hand, if I stay vague. If I try to do everything without creating any definition of success for, then I’ll never have that information. And when I don’t have that data, it will ultimately slow me down in my overarching objective of helping as many people as possible work with their brains to create their ideal lives. Now, does it take some time to get specific? Sure. But it also is incredibly effective in helping you move forward faster. It helps you get to your end result — get to what success is for you — much more efficiently.

It feels Safer Not To Define Success

The second reason why we feel resistant to defining success is a reason that I hear a lot from clients. We tend to avoid specificity because it feels safer. We try to protect ourselves from potential disappointment, embarrassment, shame, and all of the other lovely emotions that tend to come along with goal-setting and ADHD. Because if we don’t set specific benchmarks for success, if we keep things vague, then we also protect ourselves from those uncomfortable emotions if we don’t hit the mark. If we keep it open-ended, then we don’t have those specific measures to use against ourselves if things don’t go as planned.

Now, as a side note,  please remember that it’s not whether you hit the measurement or not that causes your uncomfortable emotions. It’s not whether you worked the hours you initially planned or whether you stuck with your schedule for the week that causes your emotion. It is what your brain thinks about that circumstance that makes you feel uncomfortable. 

It’s when you work 60 hours instead of 40 hours like you planned, and you think to yourself, “I’m so slow at my job. I can’t do anything right.” It’s those thoughts that makes you feel discouraged. It’s when you don’t complete half of the items on your schedule and you think to yourself, “I’m terrible with planning; I’m just not a person who can follow a schedule.” It’s your thoughts that make you feel so defeated.

Now here’s the deal, it may feel safer in the moment to avoid getting specific. I will give that to you. When you keep things vague, you technically can’t fail at them. When you have nothing to measure your progress by, you have no way of telling yourself with certainty “I missed the mark.” This is true. But here’s what I also know. What seems to be the most common thought process when we don’t define what success means to us, is that we keep moving the bar. I alluded to this earlier. We keep moving our expectations and using the lack of specificity against ourselves.

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Again, so many of our brains are well-practiced in creating desire to do more, and create more, and provide more. And because of this, it’s easy for the brain to think, it’s never enough. It is so easy for the brain to jump to the worst-case scenario and offer thoughts like, you should have done more. You’re not successful here. You could be doing better at this. You’re not successful enough yet.

And those little words “enough” and “yet” are so sneaky. We tend to throw them into sentences all the time to judge our progress. I’m not quite there yet. I’m not making enough yet. I am not working efficiently enough. I’m not spending enough time with my family. I don’t have enough clients. I’m not strong enough yet. I am not fluent enough in this language, etc. 

Because we never set the bar in the first place, we keep moving it. We have nothing to measure ourselves against, and so we use it against ourselves. I know this is certainly the case for me. For example, let’s say I work from a long list of tasks that I eventually want to complete, rather than blocking specific tasks throughout the day. When I do that, I know my brain completely overlooks everything I got done and only focuses on what I didn’t get done from that list. 

If I skip the crucial step of time blocking my schedule so I have clarity around what I can realistically get done in the day, my brain immediately focuses on — as Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy describe it — “the gap.” My brain focuses on all the things I didn’t complete from my list, rather than all of the work that I did do. It focuses on the gap – the lack – and it tells me I should have done “more.”

And we will talk much more about this concept of the gap in next week’s episode. I recently listened to the book the Gap and the Gain by Sullivan and Hardy, which shares some powerful concepts about how we measure our progress; (I’ll link to it in the show notes.) 

But basically, when we don’t define success, this creates one of those key scenarios where it’s so easy to focus on this gap. It’s so easy to zero in on the gap between where we are and where we think we should be because we don’t have specifics. While on the other hand, when we do pause and define success, we can start measuring our gains. We can focus on our progress forward from where we started and what we have achieved so we can keep building our momentum.

And again, we will talk about this concept too much more in-depth in the next episode. But this week, I invite you to think about different areas in your life where you often hear those sneaky words of enough and yet show up in your mind. Where are you telling yourself different flavors of, “I’m not far enough along yet” or “I haven’t done enough yet”?

How To Define Success For You

I encourage you to get clear on where those areas are showing up most often. And then spend a little time choosing how you want to measure those areas specifically. And you can do this starting out on a big scale or a small scale. You could look at your definition of success in terms of creating a successful project for work. Or you could think about it with broad strokes of living a successful life. However, you want to approach it is totally up to you.

But again, I recommend zooming in on those areas where you’re often beating yourself up for being in the gap. Notice where you’re often telling yourself you’re not far enough along. And once you identify one of those areas, ask yourself, “how do I want to measure this? What is important to me about this area?”

I know I keep using career examples in this episode, but I think it’s powerful because we all have so many different definitions of success within a career path. Some people might define success based on an income level. Others might define success based on time freedom and being able to work wherever you want and whenever you want without a rigid schedule. Maybe you define success based on the number of people you’ve helped or the number of promotions or awards received. You get to decide this. The important thing is that you do decide. Then you can zoom in even closer and ask yourself, what are the reference points I can use? What are the different benchmarks or the specific criteria that I will measure?

So again, you can practice defining success for small projects, or it could be bigger picture success in your career or your relationships. You get to choose. But I encourage you to get specific for yourself. Identify where you are often telling yourself “it’s not enough.” Identify where you are stuck in the gap of “not enough.” And get clear on why this area is important to you. Next, choose your own criteria to measure it. Decide on the reference points that you will use, and then start measuring it. Give your brain that data.

Remember, when we have objective data, it becomes math, not drama. When we have the numbers and the factual information, it’s so much easier to ask ourselves, what’s working and what’s not? And how can we learn from both in order to create even more success?

So that is my challenge for you this week. Use those questions to define what success means to you. And then next week we’re going to do a deep dive into success specifically in the realms of productivity and use of time management. So if those areas are on your radar, make sure you had the little subscribe button so you don’t miss it!

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