“The Personal Mottos That Transformed My ADHD Life”

I never thought I’d have a life-changing revelation in the cereal aisle at Walmart, but that’s exactly what happened. As I tried to decide which breakfast option to buy, my thoughts went something like this:

I don’t know what to get.

I really want Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

But I can’t get that. I should get the Special K.

Shoulds and musts are instilled in us from the time we are very little. Some of these rules are valuable. Others are more arbitrary, but they still end up governing our lives as rules. In this case, I had made a rule dictating which cereals I can and can’t buy.

That’s when it hit me.

Wait, there are no rules! I can buy what I want. I can do what I want!

ADHD Motto #1: There Are No Rules

My Walmart moment may not seem like a big deal, but it was an epiphany to me. You see, growing up, my parents taught me very specific ways of doing just about everything. From folding towels to emptying the dishwasher, everything had to be completed a certain way, which was both helpful and harmful. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult that I understood why I struggled so much to keep up with my everyone else’s rules and norms.

[Read: My 25 Rules for Life — a Practical Cure for ADHD Shame and Stagnation]

Living — or trying to live — by rules set by neurotypical brains is one of the most frustrating aspects of living with ADHD. Worse than that, we don’t always recognize what’s happening — that we’re beating ourselves up for stumbling over rules that don’t work for our neurodivergent brains.

After that Walmart moment, and with an understanding of how my brain works, I constantly remind myself that there are no rules. There is no “right” way to do a thing. There’s only the way that works for me.

How many trash cans should I have in my office? There are no rules — as many as I need. Do I have to fold my clothes before putting them away? No. There are no rules.

ADHD Motto #2: Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Poorly

Hold on, perfectionists — stay with me here.

My second motto came from a post I saw on social media, which reads in part: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly… because doing it poorly is better than not doing it.”

[Read: Intention Deficit Disorder — Why ADHD Minds Struggle to Meet Goals with Action]

I don’t have to tell you that getting things started is immensely difficult for ADHD brains. There’s overwhelm, for one, and then there’s fear of failure, all of which can keep us at a standstill, perpetuating the cycle of exhaustion we tend to create.

But this motto gave me permission to do what I can and forget about the big finish line. To me, this motto helped me see that getting 10% of a task done is better than getting none of it done.

Maybe I absolutely cannot bring myself to do all the dishes — but I can do the glasses, only. Laundry is exhausting — but I can focus on folding just my shorts. No, I cannot write a 40-page paper right now, but I can jot down some ideas. By giving myself permission to do a little at a time, I actually reduced my stress and increased my productivity.

Adopting the Two Mottos for Your Life

These mottos have helped me practice self-compassion and affirm my own neurodiversity.

Embracing the fact there are no rules, and that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, helped me adapt and learn to accept things as they happen, not as someone else says they should.

But in my own work helping adults with ADHD, I hear a few concerns when I share these mottos with my clients. Mostly, my clients worry that they’ll spin out of control if they become too self-compassionate — that being hard on themselves is the only thing keeping their lives in check. I’ve been there, and I know that this black-and-white form of thinking keeps us trapped.

Start with these four steps to work toward living with more self-compassion. Perhaps you’ll use these mottos or develop a few of your own:

  1. Watch for patterns. Which tasks do you frequently struggle to get done? Where do you find the most resistance and hot spots in your life?
  2. Troubleshoot with your brain in mind. Time to get creative. Do you struggle to put away your clothes? I’ve seen some people replace their hangers with S-hooks, or even install a pegboard in their Does trash pile up on your desk? Move your trash can within arm’s reach.
  3. Break down daunting tasks. Think smaller steps and remember my second motto. If breaking down a big task is difficult in itself, use a tool like Magic ToDo – GoblinTools to break it down for you. (Seriously, it’s fantastic.)
  4. Remember, there’s always tomorrow. There will be days when we can’t get everything (or anything) done. Those are the days when we need to talk to ourselves as we would to our best friend. We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to, and that’s OK — we can try again

Personal Mottos for ADHD: Next Steps

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