Want to learn how to follow through but don’t think it’s possible?
Good news; you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s the deal. So many people with ADHD have convinced themselves they never follow through.
They think they can’t stick to anything. They tell themselves the story that they always drop the ball. And soon enough, they’re questioning, “what’s the point in even trying? I never finish anything anyway.”
Sound familiar? I thought so.
Believe me, I get it. I used to think the exact same way.
But then I realized something incredibly important, which challenged all of those stories.
And this shift helped me both recognize where I’m already following through, and also increased my ability to stick with things when I’d otherwise throw in the towel.
And best of all – I dropped the negative self-talk and judgment along the way.
So long, inner critic.
If you’re ready to do the same, tune in to episode 156 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast today.
You can stream it above, listen on your favorite podcasting app, or if you’re a visual learner, check out the YouTube version below. Let’s do this!
You can listen to 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 Episode 156: How To Follow Through When You Have ADHD, You Will Discover How To…
- Think about follow through in a way that supports you and your goals
- Recognize and learn from the areas in your life where you do follow through
- Two actionable strategies to help strengthen your follow through muscle today
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Episode #156: How to Follow Through When You Have ADHD (Transcript)
Today we’re talking about follow-through and more specifically, a deep dive into the belief that so many of us hold – especially those of us with ADHD brains – that sounds something like, “I never follow through with anything.”
We have developed these beliefs over years of gathering evidence. As the saying often goes – and as science proves and reinforces – what you focus on grows. It’s the idea of confirmation bias.
When we get an idea in our mind, we tell our brain, “this is what I think is true. So do your job and find lots of evidence to reinforce this belief.”
So, your brain goes to work, and that’s exactly what it does. It starts finding all the evidence to add to your case that you never follow through with anything.
And soon enough, that case is so strong that you can’t possibly believe anything else.
Today I want to start shaking that belief.
I really want to challenge this thought that so many of us have that we never follow through, or we never stick to anything.
It’s time to stop telling yourself you aren’t reliable when it comes to getting the job done. Because the truth is, I just don’t buy it. And I don’t think you need to either.
To help your brain open to this possibility, I will share with you my thought process behind follow-through.
I’ll share my perspective in hopes that it helps your brain will start thinking differently about it as well.
My belief is this: You are a person who follows through. And by the end of this article/episode, I hope your brain will at least consider the possibility that I’m right.
Now, if at anytime your brain wants to completely reject anything I’m saying, that’s OK. Give it some space.
These might be very new ideas, and your brain is doing its job to resist anything that is new or out of the ordinary when it comes to our thinking patterns.
It can feel scary when unfamiliar ideas challenge our well-worn beliefs. So, if your brain puts up a wall, and you start thinking, “Nope. You’re wrong, Paula.” That’s OK. You can respond to your brain, “You’re probably right. She’s probably wrong. But let’s just hear her out.” Then see what you can learn.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Let’s Discuss Success & Failure
Rather than starting with the concept of follow-through, I want to begin by looking at the notion of success and failure.
There is a concept that people in the personal development space often talk about when it comes to the idea of success.
The idea is that success is built upon a pile of failures.
Success doesn’t just happen instantly. Success happens because you have tried and failed so many times, and you’ve learned along the way from each attempt, that success becomes inevitable because you’ve learned so much about what works and what doesn’t along the way.
One of my teachers, Brooke Castillo, often says the only reason why she is so successful in her business is that she has failed so many more times than other people. Why? Because she has a willingness to try and fail over and over and over.
She is willing to learn from each experience and not make these failures mean anything about her as a person, that’s why she’s so successful.
I think there is a lot of truth to this, as when we can separate ourselves from our failures and not make them mean anything about us but rather an opportunity to learn and grow, that’s exactly what we do.
We learn and grow and do even better the next time.
One of the members of our Busy Awesome community sent me a video of this compilation of comic strips one day from the artist @successpictures. Some were funny, some were ironic, some were direct, and all were intended to encourage.
One of the visuals that stood out to me was a split screen depicting two scenarios. On one side was a person looking really distraught holding up a pile of bricks. Each brick said the word failure.
Then the other side of the screen showed that same person taking each brick and building a staircase with it, which ultimately led to success.
I think this is a really powerful perspective. It helps demonstrate the importance of mindset and how we choose to think about challenging experiences in our lives.
We can take the same circumstance where we expect something to go one way and it goes another and either call it a failure and sit in a sense of dejection and disappointment.
Or we can get curious, open up to the opportunity for learning and growth, and build on it and move forward without making it mean anything about who we are as individuals.
Are you with me here?
Success & Failure As It Relates To Follow Through
So if we take this concept that the person who has the most success is successful because they are willing to fail more than other people. I want to now play with this idea through the lens of follow through.
Again, so many of our brains think, “I never follow through on anything. I always drop the ball. I never stick with it.” Here’s what I want to offer.
What if the reality is that you do follow through on things, and the only difference is that you simply do a lot more things than a neurotypical brain. Therefore, you have more opportunities to not follow through.
Now, this might stand out to you more because you are trying more things, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not following through at all.
It might just mean that you have more ideas, more interests, and more courage to try things.
Just as a person who is successful has the willingness to try and fail so much more in order to be successful. They build their way to success – brick by brick – from the pile of failures.
I want to offer this idea because you are willing to try so many different things, you may have a bigger pile of ideas and experiences to learn from.
You can strengthen your follow-through by learning from each new idea and building on it, brick by brick, as we follow through on the things that matter most to us.
So how do we do this?
How To Follow Through: Examine & Challenge The Stories You Tell Yourself
As is often the case, it starts with how we choose to think about following through or not.
The first step in changing your results and becoming a person who truly believes that you’ll follow through is to examine and challenge the current stories you tell yourself.
I’m going to start by giving you a few examples of situations in my life where I could have chosen to tell myself I never stick with anything, but because I thought about it in a different way.
This positive thinking allowed me to fully embrace that I am a person who sticks with it.
I am a person who follows through.
I am a person who makes her big ideas happen.
You can do this too even with an ADHD brain that has so many brilliant, amazing, incredible ideas pouring out of your mind at 1,000,000 miles a minute.
I hope that these examples that I offer will help spark some ideas for you, and help bring up areas where you might be telling yourself you don’t follow through.
Then we will talk about two powerful strategies to help you shift your thinking and recognize your incredible ability to follow through.
Now some of you may be thinking,
“Really? You’re just telling me to think differently about following through and believe that I do follow through? Isn’t that being delusional?”
If your brain is thinking this, that’s totally normal. Nothing’s gone wrong.
What I have to say to that, is both yes and no. Every story that we tell ourselves is a delusion.
The truth is this, each one of our beliefs is a thought you’ve told yourself over and over and gathered lots of evidence to reinforce it. When you have a really strong belief, you’ve simply strengthened it by practicing it and gathering lots of evidence for it. Because – again, what you focus on grows.
Example: Red-Tinted Glasses
I have this pair of red-tinted glasses that I wear at night. They are extreme blue light blocking lenses that I put on after the sun goes down to help my eyes and brain get ready for sleep; it supposedly helps not throw off my circadian rhythm by blocking out the bright blue light that signals to your brain that it’s daytime.
When I wear these red-tinted glasses, everything looks super wonky. As you might imagine, there are much fewer colors available for me to see with red lenses.
Everything is tinted in a shade of red. And things that are usually red look black. It’s very strange for the brain. Now I’m not color blind, so when I take those off, I can see so many other colors. They’re not blocked from the lenses.
Think about allowing our brain to strengthen other beliefs and gather evidence in the same way.
By challenging this story that you never follow through and looking for evidence that you do, it’s like taking off those red-tinted glasses and allowing your brain to see everything else that’s actually there.
When you can see the other colors outside the different shared of red, it’s like being able to see other evidence in your life that you do follow through, because the lenses aren’t blocking it.
When we can start seeing this truth, that’s when we can start showing up differently in all areas of our life and start following through even more than we do now.
Example: Buying a New Car
Think about when you’re thinking about getting a new car. You decide on the brand, make or model, and suddenly you start seeing that car everywhere.
This is your confirmation bias working. It’s not that there are suddenly that many more cars of the same make or model on the road, you’re just seeing them more often.
It’s the same with your beliefs. You have been believing and reinforcing the story that you don’t follow through. So of course, that’s what you see so often.
Take Notice of The Evidence That You Do Follow Through
Today I want to help your brain start seeing the other evidence – the other cars on the road – that you haven’t yet been able to see because your confirmation bias has been focused solely on the story that you don’t follow through.
I want to slow down the brain a bit to think, wait a minute – look at all these other cars on the road. Look at all these other pieces of evidence that support the truth that I do follow through. Let’s focus on those.
When we can start seeing that truth, that’s when we can start showing up differently in all areas of our life and start following through even more than we do now.
My Personal Examples of Follow Through
My Career Path
One area that could be really easy for my brain to slip into negative self-talk and build up the story of not sticking with it is my career path.
It would be very easy for my brain to tell a story that I never stuck to the career path I chose.
My undergraduate degree was in instrumental music education; I wanted to be a high school band teacher. But as I neared the end of my degree, my music theory professor spoke with me about grad school and inspired a whole bunch of new ideas.
So, I followed those ideas and decided to pursue musicology. Rather than telling myself at the end of my undergraduate career, “ugh, I can’t believe I’m not sticking with this career I worked so hard for; I never stick with anything.” I instead decided to go all-in on this new idea.
So, I got my master’s and my Ph.D. and completed my musicology degree and I began working as a professor.
During that time, I got diagnosed with ADHD, and I started learning more about what having ADHD actually meant beyond the stereotypes of 11-year-old boys with an inability to focus. And again, my new ideas and fascination with learning lit up.
I then found coaching and dove into that, and I made the career switch again. Much to the surprise and worry of my poor father, I left this life of academia to become a coach.
Now, this entire time, I could have been beating myself up.
I could have slipped into the sunk cost fallacy – which is another episode that I have on my mind. But for the briefest of brief ideas around sunk cost fallacy, it’s the idea that because I spent so much time and energy in my education and emotional turmoil in going through life in academia, it would be a waste to not stick with it. I’ve already invested so much time and emotion into the career that I should just stay.
So I could have gone down that path. I could have shamed myself for not sticking with it, but that’s just not the way I saw it. That is not my truth. Is this delusional?
Someone else might think so. But I certainly don’t.
In fact, I think that I needed to go through each of these different experiences:
- I needed to do my student teaching and learn how to work with students and teach effectively in my undergraduate years.
- I then had to learn how to do proper research.
- I had to learn that I can develop my own ideas and have confidence in my ability to think both creatively and analytically about complex topics and add my own perspective. And I learned how to do that in grad school.
Heck, the reason why I first considered all of my challenges with time and productivity and focus had to do with ADHD was because I took training from student accessibility services to help my students, and I realized during the portion on ADHD that they were describing me.
I had to go through each of these experiences. If I wasn’t willing to keep following my interests, I wouldn’t have found coaching where I am now.
When I look back, there’s also a recurring theme that unites all of these experiences, which also suggests that I was following through the entire time.
This was my dedication to helping my students and now my clients learn how to express themselves creatively and effectively in a way that works for their brains.
I helped them do this through music, through research and writing, and now where I’ve put it all together as a coach for fellow ADHD brains as you learn how to live into your strengths and work with your brain to thrive in life.
If I wasn’t willing to embrace the fact that I wanted to pursue these different interests, and instead focused on beating myself up for not sticking with the things that I initially chose, my life would look much different.
So again, it’s not that I didn’t stick with it. Rather, I needed each of those experiences – each of those bricks – to learn from and build on in order to create my successful career now as a coach.
How I Move My Body
Another area where I could easily fall into the story that I never stick with it, are different forms of movement.
I will go through stints of running, and then yoga, and then lifting, and then walking, and then dance, and very short-lived bouts of HIIT workouts.
Again, I could beat myself up by saying that I never stick with one thing. I never follow through on my yoga practice. I never stick with my running practice.
When I step back, the truth is that I do stick with it, as my ultimate goal is to move my body in a way that…
- Feels good for me
- Releases the dopamine that helps me feel clear and focused.
By changing up the different activities, I am working with my brain’s desire for novelty and challenge and fun.
In fact, I am quite consistent with movement. It may not be the same type of movement, but that’s not a problem. Because my overarching objective is movement. And I do that.
It could look like switching hobbies and not sticking with just one.
For example, I’ll go in phases of crocheting, then sewing, then playing around with my Cricut machine.
Sure, I could say I never stick with it. I can make it mean something negative about myself and my ability to follow through.
Or, I could focus on the truth that I am committed to the art of creating. Where I do follow through is in fulfilling my need to create, which is I think an inherent need in all of us as humans.
I hope that these different types of examples from following a career path to developing habits, to practicing hobbies, helps you see some areas where your brain might have judgments.
Yours might not be the same as mine, but chances are there are some areas that stand out to you where your brain says, I never follow through here.
Once you identify thems, we can start questioning these stories. Is this actually true? Or is it just confirmation bias working?
Is Follow Through a Problem Or Not? 2 Different Perspectives
So how do we do this? Well to do this, I invite you to practice two different perspectives.
Here are your action steps. I invite you to consider these two different perspectives when thinking about the areas where your brain believes you never follow through.
1. Keep Trying Til You Find Your Thing
The first perspective is that rather than thinking you don’t stick with it, what if the truth is that you need to keep trying different things until you find your thing.
Nothing has gone wrong here – instead, your brain is doing a great job of helping you find your thing.
Again, I fully believe – without a shadow of a doubt – that this was the case for me with my career path. I needed to keep trying new areas of focus to learn different pieces that ultimately contributed to where I’m meant to be – a coach.
What if the same is true for you in the areas that you’re thinking about right now?
What if you’re meant to keep trying new things to find your sweet spot – your zone of genius.
The truth is this. The brain – and the ADHD brain especially – craves newness and novelty, and as Dr. Ned Hallowell talks about, it craves “the right kind of difficult.”
We need to find that thing that lights us up and provides just enough challenge to keep you engaged.
ADHD brains aren’t going to settle for “meh,” because it’s not engaging enough.
This is beautiful. Our brain helps us keep searching until we find the thing that we’re meant to do so we’re not settling.
As a side note, I think this is why I work with so many ADHD brains who are entrepreneurs, business owners, artists, and people in the law profession or health care profession. These are areas that are constantly changing, and keep you on your toes, and they provide that type of challenge that really lights up the brain in different ways.
What if rather than telling yourself, you don’t follow through, the truth is that you’re sticking with it as you figure out that thing that lights you up?
You’re staying open to trying new things as you figure out the one thing that you LOVE.
What if you’re in that process?
Exercise for you:
If this thought resonates true for you, I’d invite you to…
- Step back and look for common themes from all of the different experiences you’ve already had in your life.
- Use these experiences as opportunities to learn and inform your journey as you keep moving forward.
As I mentioned with my career path, with each one of those experiences, the thing that lit me up the most was the mentorship and the support, and the focus on helping individuals learn how to express themselves in a way that works best for them. That’s my throughline.
As for your areas of focus – even if they seem different – I’m willing to bet there’s a throughline for you, too.
2. Take a Step Back & Zoom Out
I invite you to zoom out or step back from the specific activity/focus area where you’re telling yourself you never follow through.
The example I gave was with movement. When I zoom out rather than focusing strictly on sticking with yoga, or running, or weightlifting, and I instead focus on the truth that I am consistent with movement, I realize that I do follow through on things.
The same is true for you.
Perhaps this is relevant for your around a certain hobby, or personal development and mindfulness, or friendships or relationships or organization.
When you take one step back, I have a feeling that you will see the patterns of follow-through come to the foreground.
Now here’s the deal, are there also times when you want to increase your follow-through even further? For sure.
Maybe you’re moving abroad so you really want to follow through on learning a new language. I’m all in. This is something that I work on with clients in my group program, We’re Busy Being Awesome. We look at this idea of sticking with and following through on individual things. And we’re going to take a deeper dive into this concept next week as well.
But for now, I want to offer you this. If you want to really stick with things more often, the most important thing we need to do is stop telling ourselves that we don’t stick with it.
For example, if you want to stick with learning that new language and not move away from it, we need to press pause on that soundtrack that “this is just what I do. I don’t follow through on things.” because this is just not true.
If anything, you follow through on brushing your teeth most days. On feeding yourself food.
Start somewhere because you do follow through. We need it to zoom out and find those unifying themes.
You want to show your brain the evidence that you do stick with it.
When you do this,
- It sets yourself up for success going forward.
- You have opportunities to learn from these areas where you do follow through.
- You develop a stronger belief in yourself that you are a person who sticks with it.
Digging Deeper into these Perspectives on Follow Through
Let’s think about these two different perspectives.
I will keep learning language as our example.
If you think to yourself, I can’t stick with learning this language. I never stick with anything. You feel defeated.
When you’re feeling that defeat, you shut down, you beat yourself up. You might use confirmation bias to look for all of the other examples in my life where I don’t stick with things.
And because you feel so defeated and you find all of this evidence to reinforce the defeat you think, “See? Here’s another example and there’s another example.”
The result you create for yourself is that you don’t stick with learning the new language either.
You think, the reason why I’m not sticking with learning the language is not that I’m a person who doesn’t stick with it. It’s because I’m telling myself this story that I don’t. That’s a huge difference.
Even if we shift that thought just slightly and think to ourselves, there are times when I stick with things. There are times when I follow through. That slight adjustment in belief creates a sense of openness and curiosity.
When we feel curious, we start asking questions.
We think to ourselves,
- What worked when I was following through here?
- What was important to me in this situation?
- What can I learn from that experience to help me stick with learning this language?
And when we’re asking these powerful questions and staying open and curious, we make it so much more likely that we do stick with learning this language and following through on it.
And from there, we add one more piece of evidence to this new belief.
We start building our confirmation bias that we are people who do follow through.
And again, it all starts with shifting that thought.
Notice the areas where you tell yourself you don’t follow through and then take a step back.
How might it be true that either,
a) Each of your past experiences has helped you learn more and inform your next decisions as you find the thing that truly lights you up?
b) When you zoom out, what are the very clear patterns of evidence that support your ability to stick with it and follow through on the things that matter most to you?
When you find those pieces of evidence, ask yourself,
- What can I learn from this?
- What are the patterns here?
Your brain is good with patterns – so challenge it to find them and then use that information to serve you as you work on the next area in your life and strengthen that follow-through muscle even further.