Rituals are essential for people with ADHD
My last post was about Alex, who recognized he needed to create a Project Status Form to keep track of the many steps of a major project on his job. Of course, a form like this would be useless unless it was updated regularly. Since Alex’s intentions for maintenance activities like this had led to failure in the past, Alex was concerned that creating such a form would be a waste of time.
Adults with ADD / ADHD tend to have poor track records with consistently performing basic maintenance or follow-through activities. This is often because we count on remembering to do them (unlikely!), or that when we do remember, we don’t feel like doing them because they’re boring, or because we’re too involved in doing something else at the time.
For a basic maintenance activity to be done consistently, it needs to become an automatic habit. Habits are best formed by repeating something over and over in a deliberate, ritualistic way. Only by repetition does something become an almost unconscious part of your repertoire.
Alex needed to create a ritual of checking his Project Status Form regularly until working with it became an automatic habit.
How to create a ritual
Tie the ritual to something that you already do regularly. Rituals are most likely to become habits when they’re tied to something you already habitually do. Alex already was in the habit of getting coffee as soon as he got into work, and then checking his email. So he modified the morning ritual to include pulling up the Project Status Form and updating it before opening email.
Use reminder tools. Don’t hesitate to make use of notes, entries in your calendar or reminders in your phone — whatever it takes to interrupt your train of thought in order to integrate the new ritual into your day. Don’t expect to automatically remember a new ritual — that’s just setting yourself up for failure.
In the beginning, Alex needed a reminder to update the Status Form before opening email. So he posted a sticky note on his PC screen that he couldn’t miss. In fact, posting that note was the last thing he did before leaving work each night… in effect — becoming another ritual.
It may take trial and error. Your first attempt to create the perfect ritual may not actually turn out to be the best solution. Trying a ritual consistently for a week should give you an idea of whether it needs tweaking.
In Alex’s case, he found that filling in his Project Status Form first thing in the morning was difficult because the work wasn’t fresh in his mind. It made more sense for him to do it towards the end of the day instead.