For the past several years, I’ve known that one characteristic of many folks with ADHD is an inability to connect with their future selves. As Dr. Ed Hallowell says, “In the world of ADHD there are really only two times: now and not now.”
This is the time of year when many people are taking actions to improve the lives of their future selves. They sense a new beginning, a fresh start with the beginning of the New Year. They set new goals, make plans, and even make serious resolutions to change themselves in ways that will make their lives better. If you have ADHD, this whole phenomenon may seem a little distant, since it can be hard for you to see past today.
It is only recently that I have become aware of the extent to which that inability to connect with the future has been a part of my life. The use of vision boards or flow charts or any tools for planning ahead has never come easily to me. It is very difficult for me to take actions that will affect my life for years to come because I feel little or no connection to what seems an abstraction—myself in the future.
Occasionally, however, I can work on a very specific project with a distant deadline and pace myself to complete the task on time. Just recently I did that when I made two large, coffee-table-book-sized photo books for our twin adult children’s birthday. There was a specific date when I would need the books – their milestone birthday in December 2014.
I was keenly engaged in this project on many levels, so it drew me into the future. I felt a strong connection with each of my children through their pictures from birth to the present, so there was sufficient interest to keep me involved. There was an element of challenge in that I needed to review tens of thousands of photographs (no exaggeration!) to choose the ones that would appear in the books, and then I had to scan the majority of the chosen images that had been taken before the start of the digital age.
There was a strong element of creativity involved as I placed the more than 750 images of each child into the layouts of the 100 pages in each book. And finally, there was a deadline, my children’s birthday which I had determined would be the time to present the books.
Did you notice the four bold words in the previous paragraphs? If you’re interested, look back at my blog post from October 29, 2014 for some comments on the work of Dr. William Dodson who, as far as I know, came up with the four characteristics that will keep an ADHDer engaged. They are those four bold words – interest, challenge, creativity, and a deadline. My photo book project had all four characteristics, so it’s not surprising that I was successful in presenting two beautiful books to my children when we celebrated their birthday last month.
You don’t need to have all four elements present to engage. If something is of sufficient interest, for example, that in itself may be all you need to plan and execute your project. If you need to engage with something in the future but it seems so far removed that you can’t even get started, see if you can invest the project with interest, challenge, creativity, or a deadline to pull yourself into the future and get the project going.
Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)