Goals and My Neurodivergent Brain

Why setting and sticking to resolutions is hard for my Autistic-ADHD brain and how I've learned to make goals work for me.

Goals and My Neurodivergent Brain
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

HELLO! Hello, Blog. Hello, Internet. Hello!

Today, on January 31, I’m here to wish you a Happy 2022.

January is the grace period for New Year’s greetings — you’re not late as long as it’s within this 31-day time frame that always drags on for what feels like three years. Say Happy New Year in February, however, and pfft, where have you been? It’s been 2022 for three years already. It’s practically 2023.

That’s what it feels like anyway.

I’m the type of person who needs a vacation from my vacation. It has always taken me a while to get back into the flow of things after any substantial change to my routine. Returning home to Asheville after spending two months in New York is definitely one of those instances.

Walking through the door to my house on January 2 sort of felt like walking into an old, deserted building. Everything was exactly as I left it when I first set out on my planned two-week-turned-two-month vacation. It was very disorienting.

Not to mention the overwhelming social pressure to completely overhaul every aspect of your life that accompanies the yearly shift from December to January.

Why is it that all the other months of the year have the luxury of fading effortlessly into the next but moving from December to January always feels like teetering on the edge of a cliff?

How My Neurodivergent Brain Makes It Difficult To Set Goals

deadline concept with calendar and alarm clock on pink
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

I See Things In Terms Of Now And Not Now

I am time blind which means that unless there is a clock right in front of me, I have no idea how much time has passed. I over/underestimate the time it takes to complete tasks. I hyperfocus and often find myself dazed and confused when I look up to see the sunset after feeling 100% confident that I just watched the sunrise.

In my head, time races by and stands completely still.

I spend a lot of time looking for things I’ve misplaced or trying to remember the racing thought that sped through my mind only seconds ago only to have it replaced with another racing thought that demands my immediate attention.

It fails to see the big picture (the entire year ahead) and instead focuses on the current moment (Now and Not Now). My brain simply cannot make sense of anything other than the present moment which you’d think would be good. Mindfulness, right?

No, what this means is that prioritizing tasks is almost impossible because if I have 3 million important thoughts racing through my head and only this one moment to act, which one do I choose? It’s paralyzing.

I know that some who people rely on the Eisenhower Matrix to plan their time. That is, separating tasks into four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, Not Important and Not Urgent.

Eisenhower Matrix Graphic by ToDoist*

My Brain Processes Everything As Important And Urgent

Everything must be done at once. There is danger in putting anything off because my mind will either forget it or lose interest because my motivation and energy levels are fleeting and I don’t have any control over when they come and go. I can’t trust myself to finish what I’ve started unless someone else is waiting for me to do it and sometimes even then I have difficulties following through.

Today, as I write this blog post, I think about how I started it on January 25 with every intention to work on it every morning until it was done but it’s taken me this long to get back to it because for some reason,my mind rebels against self-imposed deadlines. I don’t even know how many time-sensitive blog posts I’ve started to write in the past that I couldn’t bring myself to finish just because I knew that I had assigned it a deadline that no one other than myself was even aware of.

That’s not to say that I'm better at writing blog posts when I tell someone about them. No, that just the pressure to get it done perfectly or not at all.

No Limits
Photo by No Revisions / Unsplash

Perfectionism And Rigidity Stifle Fun And Creativity

Task initiation has always been an issue for me and until I was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism, I saw it as a personal failing. I never saw myself as an artist or creative because for nearly 35 years, the only thing I knew for sure about my brain was that it was constantly full of ideas but prioritizing, let alone acting on, any one of them seemed to take an enormous amount of energy, effort, and time — all of which, for reasons I couldn’t yet understand, felt completely out of my control.

It’s hard to unlearn a lifetime of unrealistic expectations and rules — things I was doing simply because I thought it was the way I had to, not because it was the way that worked for me.

Slowly, but surely, I’ve begun to cut myself some slack and let myself do things my way. When I wrote about my ADHD diagnosis, I alluded to the sense of freedom and self-forgiveness it had afforded me. I have yet to finish my blog post about my Autism diagnosis but I can say for certain that that sense of freedom and self-forgiveness has grown exponentially since then.

The clarity and self-awareness I’ve gained from truly knowing my brain and why it is the way it is has helped immensely in letting go of some of the perfectionism and rigidity that has ruled the majority of my life.

Darling, you're Different
Photo by Varvara Worldwide / Unsplash

Understanding My Brain And Its Limits Has Made It Easier To Set And Stick To Goals

In the past, I avoided making resolutions because I believed that I had to do everything exactly as I promised myself I would, that I had to follow the plans exactly, or else what was even the point?

Resolutions I made at the beginning of the year were set in stone. I was uncompromising and unwilling to change the plan even though the standards I held myself to were ridiculously unrealistic and based on a lifetime of thinking my brain was neurotypical. Realizing that it’s not has made all the difference.

I’ve learned that adding some flexibility into my intentions for the year not only makes me want to achieve my goals but makes it easier to as well. I’ve learned that I can act on all of the ideas floating in my head as long as I stop trying to get my brain to work in ways it has never and will never be able to work. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as one “normal” way to do something and to not let the “shoulds” from myself and others dictate how, when, and why I choose to act.

Lastly, I’ve learned that the best way for me to ensure that I complete a task or reach a goal is to break it down into smaller steps, which is why this blog post is only the intro to a multi-part series. (Please notice that I refrained from stating how many parts this series will be in order to embrace flexibility and let go of some of the rigidity in my life)

Prioritizing Creativity, Accepting Reality & Managing Expectations, and Embracing Imperfection

Photo by Sincerely Media / Unsplash

I decided to break my 2022 goals into a series because as I was typing them out here, I noticed a few very clear themes that I feel deserve their own blog posts:

I hope that if you struggle with goal-setting, this series will make you feel a little less alone.

As always, thank you for reading!