Consistency in humans varies depending on their neurocircuitry. ‘Neuro-typical’s find it easier to get up at around the same time and in general adhere to routines like exercise, toothbrushing and a 9-5 job with less struggle than the ‘neuro-diverse’, such as adults with ADHD and very often, highly ‘creative’ types with a million ideas and skills. It is not a matter of “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?”
Whether ‘neuro-typical’ or ‘neuro-diverse’, consistency boils down to the same thing: returning. Computers reboot. We choose to return to our habits, although it can feel like a choice-less choice for better or worse. What I mean by ‘choiceless choices’ are addictions. For better as in positive addictions like exercise, or worse as in alcoholism, addiction satisfy our craving for dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure.
Negative addictions are easy to form, because they result in an instant dopamine hit. Sugar, caffeine, drugs, alchohol, chocolate (although I would argue that chocolate being a negative addiction is circumstantial, but I’m definitely biased.) It is dangerously easy to establish and then be compelled to return to the act of consuming these things, and then it become hard not to.
Ergo, you have a very inconvenient form of consistency.
What we want to develop in order to create consistency in our lives are positive addictions like consistent sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and other self-care necessities. These things our dopamine hit, but not in the same immediate way. We have to be willing to enact them. Each time we return to these behaviors, we are developing positive consistency, because we have returned to the desired behavior. These behaviors result in feelings of wellbeing which are pleasurable, and if we return to them often enough, we can become positively addicted to an established baseline of wellbeing.
Each time we return to a desired behavior, I recommend conjuring a dopamine hit by way of celebration. Simply affirming ‘that’s l like me’ and giving yourself a checkmark next to a regular habit you write down can be enough. When we cross things off list or check a box when we complete something, there is a small chemical reaction within us associated with early conditioning when we do. It’s Pavlovian; it feeds our reward center.
Dogs and children develop good behaviors via positive reinforcement. So do we, as adults, regardless of our neuropsychological makeup. But for adults with ADHD, those who identify ADHD symptoms in themselves such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and procrastination, positive reinforcement becomes even more important. Research has established that the unmedicated ADHD brain contains higher levels of a protein known as DTD (dompamine transporter density) which ironically, results in lower levels of dopamine. This is why people with this type of brainwiring have a higher craving for stimulation and a lower tolerance for administrivia or whatever else they deems ‘boring’. All the more reason to give your brain something to look forward in order to establish good habits.
Accountability provides the needed dopamine hit as well; showing up without following through creates discomfort, whereas reporting a win is pleasurable.
Having a system in place to create positive reinforcement and accountability when you know something is good for you (but it doesn’t come naturally) is vital.
It is important to note that consistency doesn’t have to mean everything happens at the same time everyday, or even everyday for that matter. I find it works best to view the week as a whole, and commit to your returning to certain activities a certain number of times. Start low, like once or twice a week. Sustain that for a month (it’s ‘only’ twice a week, but you’re being consistent!). If three times a week is your goal, build up to, otherwise you may be setting yourself up for failure (inconsistency).
When you allow good habits to develop this way, and you experience their benefits over time, that is the beginning of establishing a ‘positive addiction’. At some point, it won’t feel good not to do it!
Then, you can start to rest easy. And when life derails you, you can always return.
If you’ve gotten to the end of this blog and are interested in getting some professional help with decision making and developing consistency with ADHD, contact me! If you’re reading this in time, I also have a program coming up in May made for someone like you: a 4 week intensive called the ‘Goal Setter to Goal Getter Program’. Check it out here!