It’s often said that people with ADHD tend to have an impaired ability to plan ahead. This is, of course, absolutely correct. But it’s also a little clinical just to say that we struggle with planning ahead and leave it at that.
What I mean is that for people with ADHD, a failure to plan ahead isn’t an abstract impairment we have. It’s something that has real, emotional consequences in our lives.
One of the emotional consequences of not planing ahead is an ongoing sense of being overwhelmed and stressed out. Failing to plan out how to manage our time or tackle the different tasks we have on the burner gets us into situations where we suddenly have more things than we know how to do, or where we have one big task to do but not enough time to do it.
A lack of planning can also lead to a sense of regret over damaged relationships. Both close interpersonal relationships and other relationships like ones with our colleagues can be jeopardized when bad planning causes us to not follow through on commitments, or to bring chaos and disorganization into other people’s lives.
Not planning adequately also gives rise to feelings of frustration and disappointment when we fail to achieve our goals. This is true both for long-term goals, like in our careers, and for seemingly more simple goals such as not having two weeks’ dirty dishes pile up in the sink.
Finally, most people who have trouble planning ahead are probably familiar with feelings of self-reproach and self-criticism. After the consequences of poor planning become apparent, you might find yourself asking how could I be so stupid? Why did I do this again?
Sometimes, we notice the emotional effects of planning impairments before we identify not planning ahead well as the problem. It’s possible to feel the resulting stress, frustration and self-criticism acutely before becoming aware of the patterns of behavior that lead to these feelings.
But as we begin to look more closely at where these feelings are coming from – with the help of a therapist, for example – it becomes clear that while failing to plan ahead sounds like a practical problem, it’s one that has emotional consequences.