A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend, a friend who has ADHD. We were actually taking turns asking each questions, from a list – a list pulled from a psychological test. This friend enjoys reading and analyzing psychological tests 🙂
One of the questions was something to the effect of “What, in the life, do you regret?”
My friend responded: “I wish I was more disciplined.”
Now…what you should know about this friend is that she’s a law school graduate. She’s a brilliant lawyer. Extremely dedicated to her work. And well-known as an advocate in her specialty field. She’s certainly accomplished more “of note” than I have, in my life, and she’s done it with ADHD (and no meds). And here she was saying to me “I wish I was more disciplined.”
We all have an idea of what discipline means. Generally, I think most of us would agree that discipline involves hard work, and some kind of regularly applied effort. However, I think that people with ADHD sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, attribute an extra dimension to the word. For many of US, discipline means “that thing that people who don’t have ADHD know how to do, that I can’t seem to do, no matter how I try” or “that thing that I try to do, and that I can do in short spurts…but then it all falls apart and I can’t keep up”. Discipline.
We internalize this inability to synch with our surroundings…we internalize this feeling that we cannot produce in a linear way or that we cannot follow through in a way that people do when they have “discipline”. How many times have we started projects that we haven’t finished? How many times have we promised someone that we would do something for them…and then forgotten, or been unable to follow-through? How many times have we told ourselves we would not wait until the last minute to finish a project, and then screwed ourselves by waiting until the last minute? We tell ourselves that “people who have discipline don’t do these things” and “I just don’t have the discipline to follow through”.
In thinking about this concept, this concept of “discipline”, I realized a few things about how I feel about it, and how I feel about myself.
I realized that I’m always going to experience moments where I wish that I am more than I am.
I realized that I’m always going to have a hard time following every project straight through to completion.
I also realized that in many ways in my life, I have demonstrated my own brand of discipline. It’s easy to count our failures and weigh them more heavily than our successes, without realizing that life, if lived correctly, is going to include some failures. By correctly, I mean that I believe that a life should be spent at least trying. We cannot learn and grow without trying new things, and trying some of the things that scare us, and trying the things that we need to try in order to do right by the people around us. I’ve got trying down pat.
And I have developed my own kind of discipline. One that isn’t perfect, but that tends to be more successful for me than the “idea” of discipline that I sometimes torture myself with. I often forget, when I am in the middle of frustration, that I have a way to deal with a lack of motivation…then I remember. That’s right. Don’t force it. Go do something else for a while. Flit from branch to branch. Obviously, this isn’t always an option in life…but often I find that it is. I budget how my time is spent, most days.
Many people need a change of pace to restart their creative/productive juices. The challenge with me, and the way my ADHD works, is that sometimes (like lately) I have to constantly shape-shift my approach…because the novelty of a particular approach wears off so fast that I have to come up with another way to motivate myself. That’s exhausting. But…necessary. Over the course of days, this may not feel revolutionary, or like I’m accomplishing much…but over the course of years, I find that it begins to look like something. It looks like finishing a graduate degree. It looks like learning how to paint. It looks like getting my bills paid. It looks like maintaining a job and earning an income. It looks like me, in my car, pissed off because I can’t get myself to focus…and then remembering that I just need to let that feeling go, and find something shiny on my to-do list to focus on.
It takes work, but ADHD doesn’t mean that we don’t have “discipline”. It means that we need to work harder to find ways to demonstrate it. It means that some days will look like “fuckit, I’m exhausted, I’m tired of everything feeling like work, and I’m going to go be a blob”. It means that some days look like “fuckit, I fucking hate all this bullshit and you can’t make me do it and I’m not going to and fuck you I’m never doing this again” and then coming back to it the next day and going “oh hey, wait a minute, I see a new way to do this and I’m going to keep going”.
For me, routine doesn’t always work (in fact, it often infuriates me)…but for some people it really does work, and if that works for you, great (I highly recommend trying it, before dismissing it). For me, what works better, is adjusting my sails as I go along, sometimes moving in circles, but always with my mind on the goal.
Motion doesn’t always have to be forward-only.