In my last post, I talked about why people with ADHD often have difficulties with transitions – both short-term transitions like switching from one task to the next and long-term transitions like making major life changes.
So much for the problem. Is there a solution?
Yes, to an extent. There are definitely steps people with ADHD can take to make transitions more manageable. Here are three coping strategies for transitions that work for me.
1. Create habits
As I mentioned in my last post, people with ADHD often find it difficult to move from one task to the next. Impaired executive functions can make it harder to efficiently make the necessary switch from one state of mind to another.
One way of coping with this problem is to make the switch more automatic by making it part of a routine. You might find that if you can get your brain in the habit of always doing a particular task at a certain time, it requires less conscious control to get your brain in the right frame of mind to tackle that task – because, after all, it’s habit!
For example, you might always do a particular task at a particular time of day, like right after you wake up. Make it as automatic as brushing your teeth.
Or if you have several tasks you regularly do, you might find it helpful to always do them in the same order, so your brain gets accustomed to the rhythm of going from one task to the next. The basic idea here is that when you get used to doing tasks as part of a routine, you end up having to do less planning out of the transitions from one task to the next, which makes the transitions themselves easier!
2. Generalize your coping strategies
Then there’s the question of long-term transitions – major life changes like moving to a new job or city. As I covered in my last post, the problem with these transitions is that they can obliterate your coping mechanisms. Suddenly, the MO that helped you get things done in your old environment doesn’t apply.
The solution here is to generalize your coping strategies. That is, consciously review the coping strategies that have worked for you in one environment, and identify the aspects of them that would work generally in other environments.
For example, say you’re graduating college. Throughout college, you’ve always had a particular place where you find studying easier than in other places. Soon, you may no longer be able to rely on going to that particular place to be productive, but you can figure out what about that place helps you work well.
If it’s a coffeeshop that you study best in, maybe you’ve discovered that you focus better in places with some background noise to keep you stimulated? If it’s a library, maybe the key is that you need absolute silence to concentrate?
Try this exercise any time you move to a new job, city, etc. Look at what worked in your old life, then reflect on why it worked and how you might be able to replicate these factors in your new life, even if the exact details of your coping mechanisms are different.
3. Go downhill
It’s all downhill from here. And I mean that in a good way. After all, it’s a lot more efficient to start at the top and move downhill than start at the bottom and work your way up.
What I mean is that, when we’re talking about coping with transitions, it’s a lot easier to transition from something hard to something easy than vice-versa. This principle applies to both long-term and short-term transitions.
With long-term transitions, the idea is that, as much as possible, you want to transition from less ADHD-friendly environments to more ADHD-friendly ones.
Starting a new job? That transition is going to be a lot easier if you’re moving from a job that’s less accommodating of your ADHD to one that’s more accommodating rather than the other way around!
Recall that the problem with long-term transitions is that they undo some of the coping strategies you’ve developed. But if you’re transitioning to a more ADHD-friendly environment, this is less of a problem, since you might need fewer coping strategies anyway!
Finding environments that fit with your brain is one of the keys to managing ADHD, so always be on the lookout for transitions that will take you “downhill,” in a good sense – from less ADHD-friendly places to more ADHD-friendly ones.
The principle of “going downhill” also applies to short-term transitions. When you’re completing a series of tasks, the natural ADHD impulse is to start with the easiest and most interesting one. But then you have to transition uphill – each task becomes successively more difficult and boring, making those transitions very tough indeed.
As much as possible, try to complete tasks in a downhill fashion, leaving the more interesting tasks as a reward for completing the more difficult ones. Make the feeling of gliding downhill a reward in and of itself, and you’ll find that transitions become less taxing.
ADHDers may come up short in their ability to naturally redirect their brain from one task to the next, or one environment to the next. But if you “hack” your life by consciously ordering it so that you develop habits, generalize your coping strategies, and move downhill, that can counteract some of the effects of this deficit. Of course, these aren’t the only ways of coping with transitions, so I’m looking forward to hearing any of your ADHD transition coping tips in the comments below!
Image: Flickr/Hugh Millward