Rage against the Routine
My ADHD brain's dislike of routines
I know, I kinda ghosted you! I was feeling pretty demotivated and I couldn’t jump over the mental hurdle parked in my upper right brain.
But I’m back!
Have you ever tried to stick to a routine but you struggled to be consistent no matter how hard you tried?
Like you get super pumped up because you told yourself you’re going to give the gym another go or stick to your nighttime facial or dental routine, but it flops.
Raise a hand if you’ve been there? 👋
Rach vs the Routine
Trying to stick to a routine feels like I’m putting my on-the-go ADHD brain in a cage, that it doesn't want to be in. I know that routines are meant to be helpful but I can’t help but feel restricted and bored with having a daily routine.
I mean, I don’t hate the idea of routines. I would love to be able to be consistent with a routine. It would make such a difference in my life.
Sometimes I forget to do things, I’m demotivated, or I simply procrastinate. But I’m learning to work with my ADHD brain instead of against it.
I am a walking example of organized chaos, it’s my default setting. A routine seems incompatible with my Brain’s operating system.
It’s like giving your pet food that it doesn’t like hoping that it would finish the food on its plate one day.
ADHD and Routines
For many people, sticking with a routine helps with productivity, a healthier lifestyle, and their wellbeing.
I think many people with ADHD, including myself, find it challenging to stick with routines because:
We struggle with managing ADHD traits like procrastination, impatience, poor organization, concentration, etc.
Problems with Executive Functions like task initiation, flexibility, planning, and time management.
Co-occurring mental health conditions, like depression, or anxiety.
Procrastination is a symptom/trait of ADHD inattentive type. Procrastination is the main ADHD trait that hinders me from being consistent with a routine.
For instance, I know that I need to maintain a daytime and nighttime facial routine to clear my mild acne. This requires me to follow a step-by-step process of applying a range of cleansers, toners, and facial creams.
In the evenings, I procrastinate to the point of falling asleep so my facial routine goes out of the window.
Some of you are probably thinking “why don’t you do it before you feel sleepy” or “why don’t you set an alarm”.
These are the right questions.
I mean I don’t plan to not do my nighttime facial routine. I would like to clear rid my skin of acne once and for all. My brain just needs the extra push and I’m working on this.
Impatience, a symptom/trait of ADHD-Hyperactive Impulsive type.
I’m ashamed to say that I am indeed part of the ‘microwave’ generation. I like to see immediate results of the fruits of my labor.
Before I knew I had ADHD Combined Type, I would read so many self-development books about the importance of forming effective habits and routines in order to be successful.
I would try so hard to implement these tips but they just wouldn’t stick! I’d beat myself up for being lazy and I felt guilty for not trying hard enough.
However, I think a lot of the advice in these books is tailor-made for the Neurotypical brain that doesn’t struggle with executive functioning.
I feel like when ADHDers put ‘effort’ into something, we use all of the power and might in our brains, and we just burn out.
I’m learning to not tie my self-worth to immediate achievements or results. Things take time and in some cases, it’s better to not rush the process.
Do I think sticking to a routine would help me manage my ADHD better and achieve my goals? Yes!
Do I see myself becoming a routine robot in order to achieve this? No!
Look, I agree with the benefits of sticking with a routine. But I think as ADHDers, it’s better to quickly discover what doesn’t work for us and pivot to what could. This could save us a lot of time and be drowned in feelings of guilt and shame.
Now, there might be some routines you will need to maintain for various reasons. For example, I NEED to do a better job of my dental nighttime routine of brushing, flossing, and mouth washing. I’ve had 3 root canals this year, and I will need to get 2 crowns in the next couple of months. This is the result of poor dental hygiene over the years which I absolutely need to turn around - dental work doesn’t come cheap, I have the monthly payment installments to prove it!
An alternative approach to being a routine robot could be:
Must-Dos - A maximum of 1-3 ‘must dos’ for the day. You and I both know that having too much on our plate leads to overwhelm or frustration.
Incremental steps - Rome wasn’t built in a day and your routine won’t be either, and that’s ok! Build a routine over time and switch it up.
Daily markers - Instead of creating an overcomplicated schedule, you could make a note of things you’d like to complete in the morning, afternoon, or evening. This allows room for flexibility as you’re not constrained by set timings.
Self Reflection - A routine is great, but maybe it’s worth considering if you actually have the desire/interest to keep up a habit. If not, it might be the reason why you struggle to be consistent, don’t be afraid to let things go.
I’ve made a pledge to myself to try and stick to my ‘Must Dos’. My facial routine, my dental routine, and my prayer/reading the Bible routine.
What pledge will you make? Comment or Tweet me!
Work with what works for you.
Rach with ADHD.
Yes, you described me pretty well. I turn 69 this week, and sorry but it doesn’t get any easier. I have learned to accept myself as my crazy brain presents me to myself….got that? I am a Lutheran Pastor and I believe, teach and confess that God loves us as He made us. So we who have hyperactive right brains tell marvelous stories (sermons for me) that are not in any way linear, but rather like a mosaic. That means I can celebrate when I actually do all of the things on my calendar (at least the ones I remember to put on the calendar in my phone (I am an Apple product fan since 1983) but I don’t beat myself up anymore when an appointment someone makes with me disappears from my calendar app but I remember it anyway…or not….Just remember that God loves you as He made you, medications that are useful are a blessing and….what was I writing about again? God loves you! Enjoy your life!
I’ve struggled with creating routine for my whole life, constantly falling off and back into unfulfilling habits. What I have found most helpful are the following:
1. Create ‘anchor habits’ which are those things you do no matter what that give you a sense of achievement. For me, the main one is getting onto my yoga mat every day, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, no matter what time of day it is. I also make sure I drink a glass of water every single morning when I wake up and I am trying to anchor writing in my journal before bed.
2. Make your routine task-based instead of time-based. I have a series of ‘blocks’ I need to work through every day and it doesn’t matter what time I start my day, I just work through those blocks in order. Sometimes it means time is taken away from certain things (depending on work schedule) but once I dropped the reliance on clock time, I find I am able to work through all my blocks most days, which keeps me on track for future days.
3. Meds. Meds have helped more than literally any self-help book or article ever can or will and I will advocate for people to go on meds whenever possible! ADHD meds have been shown to dramatically assist more than 80% of those who take them and getting rid of the stigma around mental health medication is so so so important for our well-being and success!