According to professional organizer Judith Kolberg, anything we plan in life has three parts, one of which we often forget. First, we need to prepare (A). Second, we need to act (B). And then third, we need to complete what we started (C). Often on a busy day we leave off the last step. We get through, or partially through, the middle and move on with our lives.
Tonight, I need to get dinner on the table. For starters, I need to find a recipe and shop. Then I need to cook the meal and eat it with my family. And then lastly I (or we) need to clear the table and clean the dishes. If I skip the last step, the dishes will be crusted and dry and waiting in the morning.
The same goes for my son. To complete homework he needs to write down the assignments at school and get his books home. Once there, he needs to focus and complete the work. Finally, he needs to return his materials to his backpack and remember to hand it to the teacher the next day. Otherwise, he gets no credit and he gets in trouble with his teacher.
The Lost Step in ADHD
Having ADHD may mean missing the third step even more often than the rest of the world. Over and over again, day after day, bills start to get paid.. but not mailed. Meals are thrown together... but not cleaned up. Art projects begin... but end in a pile of partially started canvases. The car keys are on the couch, the mail is under the wet umbrella on the kitchen table, the milk is out from the morning and that report is now a week overdue. The house is a mess, nothing has been actually completed and it's time for bed. It's exhausting, stressful and strains families. It keeps people from thriving.
As is frequently true, recognizing the pattern is the first step towards change. Someone with ADHD will often find themselves in the middle of one activity and mentally involved in the next. We all have that tendency, and yet with ADHD it becomes even more intense. The pressure mounts because all of a sudden it's the end of the day and you remember... uh-oh, the bills aren't done, the kitchen is a mess, the mail is drenched, the milk is turning and what was it I was in the middle of right now? There is distracted attention paid to what's immediate and not so much left for reaching an intentional end to any particular task.
Creating a new habit may seem difficult or impossible at first, but it isn't when you borrow a tool from the original mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The goal is to create a habitual pause that brings us back and helps us nail the landing. It may take weeks or even months, but you can learn it to the point where it becomes instinct. I'm paying bills, oh wait I need to mow the lawn, let's see, where's the mower, and... pausing, you return your attention, place the stamp on the envelope and into the mail it goes. Only then do you move on.
Learning to STOP
To create this pause, practice the acronym 'STOP' with each transition. Before getting up from the table, leaving your desk or shifting your activity at any time during the day:
• Stop what you're doing.
• Take a few breaths.
• Observe what's going on for you, internally and externally.
• Pick what would be best to do next.
Having paused and checked in, what would it take to finish what you started? With children, you might even review the three steps before beginning a task. Take out the milk and a glass. Pour and drink the milk. And then... step three, put milk in the fridge and the glass in the dishwasher. Check the assignment pad, finish the homework. And then... put it in the backpack. Create reminders to STOP over and over again through the day. Eventually, this pause in transitioning becomes a habit, consistently getting you and your child from point A to point C -- a complete and well-considered conclusion.
Follow Mark Bertin, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markbertinmd