When I was 17 years old, I was excited about starting university. As I read through the brochures, I imagined myself on the student council, writing ground-breaking articles for the student magazine, being a trailblazer and a mover and shaker. I could not wait. In reality, I didn’t do any of that. For four years, I continued as I had done in secondary school, hiding in the wings, avoiding the limelight, remaining silent and introverted.
What’s this disconnect all about? In my head, I wanted to be something I wasn’t. Why didn’t I take part in the opportunities available? What got in the way? In this little scenario from my younger self, we can learn a lot about the ADHD traits and how they can trip us up.
With ADHD, your mind goes from zero to a thousand in one jump. How does a shy country girl who moves to the city expect to become a trailblazer overnight? From shy to trailblazer is a massive step and takes time. If you are about to make such leaps, you might want to ask yourself these questions.
“Why do I want this?”
“Who do I need to BE in order to make this leap”?
“What skills do I need to be this?”
“What skills do I have and what are missing?”
“What development layers do I need to work through to go from shy to trailblazer?”
“Who do I need to help me”
“Looking at what I need to do to get from zero to one thousand, do I still want this? Am I prepared to do what needs to be done to get there?”
“What sort of person do I need to be for this job?”
First baby steps, then mastery
Notice how my goal to join the school magazine was blown up to Pulitzer prize-winning proportions. ADHDers are perfectionists and their ideas are big. It’s no wonder that a lot of their brilliant ideas are never executed but languish on the pile of tarnished dreams.
It’s helpful to dial things back to the beginning and start with baby steps. Yes, you can strive to be a super star, but first start with something doable. In this scenario I could have joined the student paper as a volunteer, learnt how things worked, got comfortable, and then asked to submit an article, and then keep trying until my skills were polished to a level of ‘good enough’.
If you notice you are not taking action on the goals you’ve set for yourself, (and yet keep talking about) check in to see if you need to first dial the goal back to something doable. Ask yourself: What is the first baby step I need to take? Then ask: Can I do it now? If the answer is no, then it means the task is still too big.
Speed Up by Slowing Down
ADHDers are fun, exciting people, who tend to have the pedal to the metal most of the time. Slowing things down slightly, taking baby steps at first is a great way of preventing you from stalling, and paradoxically, by slowing down, you will speed up.
One step at a time is better than scary leaps
Time and time again, I have clients who make grand, audacious goals that get the dopamine flowing, only to have a meltdown two days later when overwhelm takes over. It’s fun to set big goals if they motivate you, but it’s important to have baby steps in place as well, steps that lead you eventually to the bigger goals. You won’t be afraid if your daily steps are doable, give you a sense of achievement and move you forward.
So, if you have decided to make a radical change in your life, or to take on a new skill, or step up into a new role at work, make sure you start small, not scary.
As for that 17-year-old me, I am still an introvert, but I now know how to stop sabotaging my dreams and how to help that inner introvert step confidently into the spotlight.