ADHD and Habits: Simple Steps To Follow Through With Ease

Let’s be honest… sticking with habits can seem like a challenge at any time.

Add summertime to the mix, with its flexible schedules and shifting routines, and so many of us feel tempted to throw in the towel.

We tell ourselves it’s probably better to wait until “things go back to normal” in the fall.

And we leave ourselves to the whims of whatever comes.

Sound familiar?

Now don’t get me wrong, flexibility in the summer is awesome!

In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about these three months.

But as ADHDers, our brains also crave structure and scaffolding.

We do better with some predictability in our days.

So what can we do?

How can we support ourselves to thrive this summer?

That’s exactly what we’re covering in this two-part summer habit series on episodes 98 and 99 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

This week is part two, and we’re digging into the strategy of sticking with our habits so we see the growth and momentum we want.

(Did you miss part one of the series? No problem! You can check that out here.)

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… 

  • Key strategies to establish your habits
  • Simple approaches to stick with your habits
  • How to get “back on track” when habits slip (because let’s face it – we’re ADHDers!)

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #99: ADHD and Habits – Simple Steps To Follow Through With Ease (Transcript)

Welcome to episode 99 of the podcast! WHAT?! Come on. 99 episodes? This is so fun. How are you? What’s happening this week? What habits and goals do you have on your mind?

Why this topic

This week we are digging into part two of our summer habit series. Last week in part one of the Summer Habit Series we talked about how to get clarity on the specific habits you want to start, maintain, alter, or pause. We talked about the importance of finding clarity in why you want to do it and how to identify obstacles that might get in the way.

This week we’re getting into the strategy. We’re talking about how we want to think about our habits. We’re exploring how we want to approach them. And how can we set ourselves up well, so we’re sticking with it and seeing the growth and momentum we want.

Overview

Today we’re going to look at the main components of a habit – and for this, I’m pulling from some of the tools and concepts in James Clear’s powerful book Atomic Habits, which I cannot recommend enough. I highly highly suggest checking out his work if you are interested in digging into habits further and learning all of the different ways you can maintain these habits in your life. I will link to the book in the show notes.

Then we are going to talk about the general approach to either establishing good habits or breaking bad habits. And the ways that we can remind ourselves to stick with it. Finally, we will explore some different strategies to help you stick with your habits this summer, which you can put into practice and see what works best for you.

So by the end of this summer habit series, episode 98 and 99, you will not only have clarity on the habits you want to establish and maintain and know exactly why you want to do them, but also have the tools you need to put the habits in place, carry them out, and stick with them no matter what.

So if you haven’t listened to episode 98 yet, part one of this series, I do recommend checking back to that one so that you can put all of the different strategies into place and set yourself up for success.

Habit Basics

So let’s first start talking about the different components of a habit. Generally, when you dig into habit research, you will find that people tend to break down habits into smaller parts. Some people break them into three parts other people break them into four parts, both are effective. Today I want to talk about James clear’s approach of breaking the habit into four separate parts, which he labeled as the cue, the craving, the response, and the reward.

(I think I may have mentioned these labels way back perhaps in episode six or so, but since we’re almost 100 episodes from that, I figure we can use a little refresher.) 

Clear suggests that we can look at our habits and break them down into these four different sections. And within the sections, they follow one another in what he calls a habit loop. So you see the cue, it triggers a craving, that craving drives a response, and we have a reward.

And as I talk through this right now, I am very aware that there are some direct connections to the concepts of the model that I talk about on the podcast quite often. We have our thought, which creates a feeling, which drives our action, and leads to his results. Just as we have a Q, which we have a thought about, which triggers a craving in our body, which makes us have a response, which provides a reward for our results at the end. The model is always working my friends.

Habit Loop

So what does this look like specifically? Well on its most basic, it might look like me having a dry throat or thirst, which causes me to crave water, and so I have a response of drinking water, and the reward is that I have quenched my thirst I am no longer thirsty. So that would be on a very basic level of the habit loop.

Another habit that is more intentional on my part is my thought work each morning. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to spend some time every morning before I start my day doing a thought download, coaching myself, and working through any of the thoughts that might not be serving me. For this habit loop, my cue is seeing my journal on top of my keyboard at my desk. The craving is wanting to empty all of the flurry of thoughts in my brain on the paper. That craving drives my response of opening the journal and writing. And the ultimate reward of that is having more clarity and intention as I begin my day.

So I would invite you to think about the habits that you want to establish that you’ve identified from the last episode. And with each of those habits, I encourage you to think about this habit loop. What is the cue? What is the craving? And what is the action or the response that you take from that craving? What is the result that you create? Do you have those clearly identified in your mind?

Get really clear on those separate areas for yourself.

The Cue is Key!

And as you’re thinking about this, I really want to stress the importance of having clarity on what your cue is. Having clarity on that trigger that’s going to prompt you to follow through on the habit is everything. And this is especially true if you have ADHD and you’re going to forget. When you have that cue, it’s one more way to remind yourself that you do, indeed, want to follow through on that habit.

We can think about cues in different ways as well. There are the external cues and there are internal cues.

Internal and External Cues

When we think about external cues, these are probably the most obvious. So it might be a reminder that goes off on your phone that reminds you to do something. It is my journal on top of my keyboard; that external cute reminds me to start journaling. It might be a person. Maybe you have a friend who is always your walking partner. 

It could be a specific time. If you have a certain bedtime, you have that cue that it is time to get ready and go to sleep. Or maybe you have a certain time that you do your meditation each day. So time can also be an external cue.

And then we also have the internal cues. This is usually how you are feeling. So maybe you have a cue to eat when you’re hungry. Or you have a cue to go to sleep when you’re tired. Maybe you have a cue when you’re stressed you go for a walk to process that emotion. Or if you’re feeling confused or your brain is fuzzy, maybe that’s a cue to do without download and see what’s spinning around in your brain.

There are benefits to both external and internal cues. Generally, I rely on external cues when I’m trying to do something or complete something consistently, whether that’s journaling, exercising, practicing a new skill, reading each day, etc. Because I don’t feel the same way every day, I generally have an easier time relying on the external cue for those types of habits.

With that being said, internal habits can be really powerful in different situations. For example, if you wanted to establish a habit of intuitive eating and you want to learn how to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, tuning into your internal cues is incredibly powerful. Similarly, if you’re trying to learn what your circadian rhythm is and how much sleep your body needs, perhaps you rely on your body clock and you goto bed when you feel tired rather than pushing past it. So in different situations, relying on internal cues can be an incredibly powerful practice. 

As you think about identifying your cues, you can also consider whether you want to rely on external versus internal cues. And then from there, what type of external queue. Is it location-based? Is it a reminder or something like that? Or is it a certain time or a certain person that will help cue the new behavior? Get that super clear in your brain for yourself.

Starting and Stopping Habits

Another thing you want to consider when you are creating your habits has to do with making them as easy as possible. How can you set yourself up so that following through on the habit is nearly a no-brainer? How can we integrate it into your routine so it feels smooth and seamless?

One of the concepts that James Clear suggests that I really like is to make the good habits appealing and easy and the bad habits you want to break unappealing and hard.

It’s such a simple concept, but it’s so powerful. If I want to establish a new habit, I want to make it as easy as possible. We want as little friction between ourselves and the new actions that we want to take. Because the less resistance we have, the easier it is to follow through.

Make it Easy

So I’m going to use eating more vegetables as our new desired habit to demonstrate this idea in a sort of extreme way. Of course, there are many ways that we can create a habit to incorporate more vegetables into our diet every day. If we were on the extreme end of making it hard, maybe I decide that I have to plant and grow all of the vegetables that I’m going to eat.

Now if I am a newbie to eating vegetables, and at the moment, my main form of vegetables comes in the form of potato chips, the likelihood of me sticking with a habit of planting, growing, cleaning, cutting, and preparing my vegetables is pretty darn slim. It’s probably not gonna happen.

From there, we could make it slightly easier by getting a CSA box and you go to a farmstand and pick up your vegetables each week, but you still need to clean them and prep them. Or maybe you get whole vegetables from the grocery store. And then from there, you could make it even easier by getting bags of cut-up vegetables. From there you can make it even easier and get the prepared trays or something like that. So there are all of the different ranges of easy. When we are starting a new habit, we want to make the process of doing the action as easy as possible.

So as you’re thinking about your habits that you’re establishing, and you’re planning out the different steps, is it as easy as possible?

Make it Hard

And on the flip side, if you want to stop a habit, ask yourself – how can I make following through on this habit that I DON’T want to do as challenging and unappealing as possible? How can I make this harder?

For example, I used to have a bad habit of picking at my nails, and it drove me crazy. Nevertheless, I would do it, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. So to help me break this habit, I decided to make it challenging and unappealing to do it by painting my fingernails. When they were painted, it seemed both harder and unappealing. I didn’t want to mess up my nails that finally looked nice! And suddenly, that habit seemed much less appealing. 

So if there is something that you want to break, what can you do to make it more challenging? If it’s checking your phone, maybe leave it in the other room. If it’s going on social media all of the time, maybe it’s deleting the apps from your phone and only using it on your desktop. There are different ways that you can play around with it to help make it more unappealing and more challenging for you to stick with whatever habit it is that you want to break.

And building on that, we then want to shift our focus to what we want to start doing. Because as I’ve talked about in other episodes, when we focus on what we don’t want, it’s still on our mind. So we also want to focus on what we want to start doing instead.

For example, if I want to stop scrolling my phone at night, I can leave the phone in the other room to make that more challenging. But at the same time, I wanna focus on what I want to start doing during that time instead. Maybe I want to start reading my book maybe I want to start playing games maybe I want to start going to bed earlier. Whatever it is, get that clear in your mind so you know what you want to start doing so you can focus your energy there.

Mini Recap

All right. So we have talked about the habit loop and the importance of identifying our cue, craving, response, and reward.

We’ve talked about getting really clear on each of those components, and knowing whether you’re relying on internal or external cues.

And we also explored the importance of how to establish a new habit or break an old habit based on how easy or appealing we make our habit loop.

Now let’s talk about some different ways to help with following through and sticking to our habits.

Troubleshooting Your Habits 

First of all, I want to return to the basic habit loop structure to help us with our first strategy, which I simply call troubleshooting. So let’s say you established your habit, and you think that you’ve created a pretty simple habit loop for yourself. But after a while, you notice that you are running into some roadblocks, you’re not sticking with it as regularly as you’d like to, and you’re feeling a bit stuck.

This is often a great time to check-in and ask yourself, where is the train coming off the track?

Am I missing the cue? Is it not obvious enough? Perhaps the craving isn’t strong enough? Is the actual behavior or the habit itself too big? Or is the reward not strong enough for the amount of effort involved? So checking in and doing this troubleshooting to help identify the main roadblock first is a very powerful step, and from there we can move to the next strategies.

Chain Events

One of the approaches that I really like to help with following through on new habits is inserting them into a chain of events that I’m already doing regularly. And this is one that I worked on recently as I shifted around my morning and afternoon routines.

In the winter, I tend to walk Bruno in the afternoon after I’m done coaching for the day. It’s usually the time and the weather is the warmest, and it seems to work out well at that time.

However, now that the days are getting quite a bit warmer and it’s like much earlier, I find that walking in the morning is the best time to take him so that we’re not so overheated on these hot summer days.

So I had to flip some things around. For example, in the winter my chain of events for my morning habits looked like this: first I workout, then I get ready, then I do breath work, then I do thought work while having breakfast and drinking my coffee. That was a chain of events that one thing led directly into another and it was an established routine.

Now I have switched them around and the process is first I work out, then I walk Bruno, then I get ready, then I do thought work and breakfast. And now I’ve swapped my walking and breath work time so that my breath work happens with my afternoon routine.

So it’s basically like creating a workflow for your habits. For those of you who use workflows at your job, it’s the same thing. It is the sequence of events that you follow. And one leads directly into the next.

Reduce Decisions

The next tip that I would suggest experimenting with is reducing decisions. I think I may have talked about this way back in episode 59 about 21 ways to simplify your life. But this is especially true when you want to maintain a new habit.

When you have a ton of different decisions that you need to make in order to stick with that routine, it becomes more taxing on your brain. It’s more work for your brain. So we want to give our brain as much support as possible by eliminating unnecessary decisions.

If you want to read more often, don’t keep a stack of 15 books waiting for you to read. You will get stuck in analysis paralysis trying to decide which book you want to read during the 30 minutes you have set aside for reading that day. Choose one book. Go all in. And read it. And don’t start another one until you’ve either finished this book or decided intentionally that you don’t want to finish it and you’re ready to move to the next.

If you want to be more active, try not to overcomplicate the process. It can be very tempting to want to do all of the different classes and programs and work out approaches and strategies. As you establish the habit, go easy on your brain. Make it as easy as possible.

I think I mentioned that I use one online program for my workouts, and I simply alternate between a handful of different workouts. Strength training one day, then dance, then yoga, then a cardio/HITT. And I alternate that routine over and over, the videos change each day, so things stay fresh but so there is no question on what I’m doing. I don’t have to make a decision.

I just have to open my computer and press play on whatever pops up next. Super simple. Decisions made.

This is another area where you can use the if-then strategy for simply establishing the habit and reducing decisions. So if it is 4 o’clock, then I meditate for 30 minutes. If it is 12:30, then I check my email for 30 minutes. If it is 8 PM, then I put away my phone for the night and start reading. By making these decisions ahead of time, again, it’s so much easier to move forward. Because it’s less work for your brain when you’ve already made the plan.

Recap

All right. So you know your habit loop and you’ve made it as easy as possible. We talked about how to troubleshoot the situation if we get stuck and stop sticking with our habits for one reason or another. And we explored the importance of making it as easy as possible, especially by reducing decisions and chaining our habits together with pre-established habits so you know exactly what you want to do each day.

Now it’s time to put it into practice. Now it’s time to dig in and start following through on these habits that you’ve identified as top priorities for the coming months ahead. And anytime that you find yourself feeling stuck or not following through, check in with yourself. Troubleshoot what’s going on. And then also check in with the thoughts that are swirling around in your head. 

The follow-through is where the mindset and the coaching come in. So often we know what we need to do. We have all of the tools and strategies we could possibly need. But we’re just not sticking with it. If that sounds familiar, check in with yourself. What are you thinking to yourself? What is your brain offering you over and over: “it’s too hard. I don’t want to. It’s so confusing. It’s too much work. I don’t have time. I’m too busy.” 

If any of those thoughts sound familiar, it’s time to dig in and coach yourself. Are these the thoughts that are serving you? Are these the thoughts that are helping you move forward? And are they creating the results you want? This is one of the biggest areas that I explore with my clients. 

Of course, we talk about strategy.  And of course, we talk about tools and concepts. But once those are locked in, and we’ve found the strategies that work, then it’s time to coach our brain. Then it’s time to figure out how to stick with the challenges or stick with the obstacles even when things feel hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re too busy or don’t have time or any other excuse that the brain can offer. Because I promise you, that you can stick with it. You do have time. And you can absolutely be a person who follows through on their habits.

And if you would like some support in this area. If you would like to take what you’re learning here on the podcast to the next level and really expedite the transformations in your life, you should absolutely head to imbusybeingawesome.com/coaching and sign up for a free consultation with me. We can talk about all of the different habits and goals you want to establish, will talk about ways to get you there. And will explore whether my one on one coaching is a great fit for you and your goals. So again, head to imbusybeingawesome.com/coaching, grab a time that works for you, and we’ll talk!

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