Routine: A Love Hate Relationship

Things to do.First, a very happy welcome to my new followers. Yay! I’m dancing around with excitement, you’ll just have to imagine it! Seriously, it’s infinitely nicer to have people to talk to and the more the merrier! Not that I have a problem with talking to oneself, because I don’t. That’s a perfectly sane coping mechanism.

I follow the blog 99u by Behance, where I read a very short post about why routines are important and I couldn’t agree more. If you’re an adult with ADHD, routine will absolutely make or break your ability to achieve success.

Like many adults with ADD, I am very forgetful and absentminded. To some degree, writing everything down in an organizer helps. But I can’t write everything down. For example, if I get distracted when putting on makeup, I’ll forget where I was and leave out the mascara (true story). Or I forget antiperspirant (also true story). Seems simple, but the same memory goblins attack those who forget to pick up their kids or deposit checks or pay the rent, all frequent laments on the ADHD channels I follow.

Establishing a routine gives you another tool to combat the memory goblins. It’s essential in the morning when you’re not awake yet and the ADHD brain is catching up after being asleep for several hours by bombarding you with 1,000 ideas while you’re in the shower, 500 of which are things your brain says you need to do right at that moment or the world will end. Before you know it, you’re 30 minutes into the shower without having shaved your legs because you were thinking and you’re running late which is stressful.

The ADHD brain is a wonderful thing, capable of amazing accomplishments. However, occasionally, or maybe more than occasionally, it’s like a puppy. The routine is like throwing said puppy a chew toy. The repeated behavior, lather, rinse, repeat, etc., becomes a set of actions to your brain and once you start, it says, “OK, we’ve got a job to do here,” and it stops wandering about. For example, every morning, I perform the same getting ready rituals, in the same order.

Sounds normal, except for many ADHD people, you start off brushing your teeth, you know you need to shower but you see that the kitty litter needs scooping so you do that. When you throw it away, you see dishes that need to be washed or put away so you do that. Then panic. Back into the shower. Ok, done. Then onto makeup but halfway through, you get kicked out of the bathroom. You pass your work bag on the way to the bedroom to get dressed. Deciding to pack the bag, halfway done and whoops, need to get dressed. Oh, now the bathroom’s free. Ok, certainly will remember to put on pantyhose, so back to makeup. Where was I? Oh, brush teeth. Whoops – hair needs to be done. And so on. Fast forward and I’ve forgotten the mascara and pantyhose and my phone because I got interrupted during bag packing and I’m late.

So performing the routine, nothing more, nothing less, in the same order really helps. You know there is a time set for each task so no need to try to do everything at once because as long as you stick to the routine, all will be ok. And it is. Aside from cat variables, like hairball vomit, or kid variables (the Pumpkin is not quite on routine yet but we’ve had great progress this summer so far) the mornings go well.

Of course, there’s a flip side. Routine is boring. Motivation goes out of the window when something is boring. ADHD people crave stimulation and new and exciting things. Once the newness wears off, and something becomes routine, it often goes into the procrastination hole or become painfully boring. This is clearly illustrated by the Pumpkin, who doesn’t need meds to function normally for the first week of school. By the second she’s struggling and by the third she’s completely off the hook; disruptive and forgetful and we’re back on the meds.

Personally, I like routine. I find the certainty comforting. However, I believe this has come with age and realization. The first stage was to recognize that the discomfort that came from something being non-stimulating or tedious wasn’t a logical or trustworthy feeling. In fact, going after stimuli was somewhat self-destructive. The second stage was to embrace routine because it reduces stress. Stress is bad and the older I get, the more I want to avoid it.

It took a long time, years actually, but I’ve learned to embrace the routine.

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