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Old 08-11-12, 10:33 AM
Haakenlid Haakenlid is offline
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Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

I've been reading about how to change habits and developing effective coping strategies. This post is about my struggle with one such strategy for the past week.

Some strategies that are suggested in most books on coping with adhd are concepts such as to-do lists, positive reinforcement (feeling good when you master something) and breaking large overwhelming tasks into smaller, easier tasks. This all makes sense to me in theory, but of course in reality it's a real challenge to make it work.

I've been reading the Kindle book Your Life Can Be Better: using strategies for Adult ADD/ADHD by Douglas A. Puryear, a psychiatrist with ADD. He suggests that when you are trying to make new habits you should only focus on a single habit at a time. This makes a lot of sense, and I realized that I in the past often try to change all my habits at once.

After struggling with changing several bad habits simultaneously, like overcoming procrastination, scheduling all activities, getting in touch with old friends etc. I would of course fail miserably after just a few days. I would get depressed and lose faith in my own ability to ever be able to get better habits and reach my life goals.

The result would be negative self-talk, depression, anxiety for several months until I could muster the motivation to try again.

So this last week I've tried to focus on a single coping strategy suggested in the book: The list of five. This is simply to keep a single to-do list of a maximum five items at a time, which I should consult and revise several times a day, checking off items that I've accomplished.

In my life at the time there are several important "projects" that I've been neglecting for months due to procrastination combined with anxiety. A physical representation of all of this is the growing pile of papers containing letters, bills and all sorts of documents that I should have dealt with over the last several months. Instead I put them in a pile in the corner of my room.

So I put as one of the items on the list of five: "organize the pile of paperwork into binders" - actually doing anything about any of the papers was not on the list. I'm trying to break large tasks down into smaller ones, and sorting the pile would be the first step in several large overwhelming projects that I have been avoiding for so long.

The "list of five" have been working mostly fine for smaller tasks, which I do not feel anxious about, but I've been struggling so hard with the sorting of papers. For more than a week I've checked off almost all of the tasks I've put on the list of five, but not this single scary task.

Until today, when I finally got started with the papers. Even if I felt physical anxiety symptoms, almost to the point of nausea, and I even broke down in tears at one time, I did get started with sorting the papers. I resolved break the task down into sub tasks, so I will have to continue going through the papers tomorrow. But I did get started.

I suppose I should consider this an achievement of sorts. I would really like to make it into a habit to always keep my paperwork in a system. Putting every letter and document into folders when I receive them, so I can find them again when I need them.

However I'm feeling very ambiguous about it. The anxiety I felt, the tears and the negative thoughts are very real and immediate - they are here and now. Any positive consequences of having my paperwork sorted are in the future, and uncertain. And the payoff also requires that continue progressing with all these overwhelming tasks that I've been avoiding for a long long time.

Any tips on how to summon the elusive sense of accomplishment that I would need to make the strategy of habit forming positive reinforcement work?

Actually, I'm noticing that the act of writing this down sort of helps put everything into perspective. The anxiety seems a bit less bad, and the potential positive outcome from doing the task seems a bit more real.
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Old 08-11-12, 10:53 AM
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

Sometimes with tasks that seem overwhelming having someone to help makes it easier. I recently went on vacation to the jersey shore for 5 days. I had my neighbor watch my dogs and god bless her, she did all the laundry in my laundry room which was ridiculously over filled. Ever last piece. Now of course, i have to put it all away but just knowing someone cared enough to help me out was trememndous. I cried when I saw her and brought her flowers.
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Old 08-11-12, 11:49 AM
Haakenlid Haakenlid is offline
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

heh. I didn't even think of that. I guess I feel very much by my self at the moment, and cannot even begin to think who I could ask to help me.

In general asking for help is something I feel very anxious about. On one hand I can see that I could need help from others. On the other hand I would like to be independent, and I also feel that I would be a burden and I'm afraid that asking people to help me would ruin my relationship to that other person.

I suppose that is one more issue I need to work on. It didn't even cross my mind to ask anyone to help me.
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Old 08-12-12, 04:22 AM
Verile Verile is offline
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

I have no tips on how to summon a sense of accomplishment, I think we're all stuck on that one. Have you considered trying something more primal, like a material reward, maybe a favorite food, that you reserve only for such occasions?

I wouldn't suggest actually keeping your rewards in the house, of course, because there's a risk you'll turn to them any time you feel bad. Something you can go out and get and feel good about, like you earned it. I've used buying new video games in the past.
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Old 08-12-12, 06:13 AM
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

I can't think of anything helpful on the rewards side, but for help with paperwork, could you hire a professional organizer? I did, once. It just got me started, but she taught me some very useful things, like helping me understand what I didn't need to keep at all, and that some things only needed rough categorization - not everything needs to be filed in date order.

It was a little expensive, so I didn't continue, but I am rethinking that, as I really need the help.

Eventually, the organizer would help me develop systems so that there would be a workflow and concrete criteria for making decisions. Currently, I struggle with the decisions in paperwork and avoid altogether.
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Old 08-12-12, 10:59 PM
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haakenlid View Post
Any tips on how to summon the elusive sense of accomplishment that I would need to make the strategy of habit forming positive reinforcement work?
As far as I'm concerned, that is unfortunately impossible.

First of all...Trying to open the door to satisfaction feels like...it's hard to explain, but it feels to me like I have to also open the door to anxiety and fear at the same time. Maybe like, in a twisted way, accepting that I have succesfully accomplished something I didn't want to do means accepting that sometimes I have to do things I don't like, but that's clearly impossible for someone with ADD (the brain cannot make you do purely executive tasks which you are not stimulated by) so my brain would rather ignore that reality than be reminded that life isn't about doing what it likes every moment. I think this is the anxious part of me.

Second, I dunno about you, but try as I might, I cannot build a staying feeling about ANYTHING. Everything is extremely ephemeral, to a point where it's scary. Unfortunately this means that even if I manage to be happy about what I just did and I somehow completely realize that my work was all my doing and that it was a satisfying experience overall (despite my first point above), I will not be able to build a habit out of the experience and will have to start over from the beginning EVERY TIME.

Maybe that's just me, though. Every morning it feels like I wake up an empty slate, and I slowly work aspects of my life and myself that I remember back into my mind, but those aspects vary because I am very slow and have very low cognition power and memory, so it's like I'm a different person everyday. Pretty sure I have the SCT though, that might mean I'm a bit different.


In short, I've recently given up the mindset of "I'm gonna start evolving aspects of me that will make me more functional" for the mindset of "I agree to watch for and note urgent tasks and deadlines, and when I have free time, evaluate how much I'm willing to do a task, weigh my will against the urgency of the situation, and if the rational brain court judges that I must execute the task NOW (very rare ), torture my brain into doing it one way or the other (stress/emotions)"

...Dunno if that makes sense. I very much hope it does. I am the kind of guy who has a lot of ambitions, so please consider that I am not just a spoiled child trying to convince himself that it's okay to stop trying. I have tried and still try very very hard.

Oh yeah last thing. I've also come to this technique of making small lists. It's useful once I manage to make myself look at it, but just that, as you know and for the reasons I stated above, is an ordeal in itself. Anyway more technically I find it useful to make a list in Excel, with the first column being in a dark, striking color and being the main and short description of the task. The columns next to it are highlighted in gradually lighter columns as they are more and more specific subsections. This way, I can break down things I have to do into visual small tasks that I can do easier.
See, here is an example.
http://i.imgur.com/tT0lg.png

Making the list itself is short and an accomplishment in itself, and then I can be "satisfied" by doing one of the sub-sub-tasks from time to time instead of looking at the bigger task and going "oh, **** it"

Last edited by Fortress; 08-12-12 at 11:18 PM..
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Old 08-13-12, 07:16 AM
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

Reading ovdr the OP, i see myself.

I think, by focusing on a few simple strategies, you have the best chNce for some success.

What wirks for me, are things thst are brain deadly simole.

In terms of encouragement? You will only feel better if you do it. If tge method is not total torture for you, and if yiu do not zone out, success will make you feel better
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Old 08-14-12, 10:38 AM
FreewayFlyer04 FreewayFlyer04 is offline
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Re: Sense of accomplishement and positive reinforcement

List of five, cool idea, gonna try it. One suggestion that I use now, and have for many years, and that works better than any other tool or concept, as far as reaching a sense of accomplishment, is: (and it is a list...)
1. (draw small triangle here) Item to be done.

When I accomplish that item, I just fill in the triangle.

I carry a small pocket style notebook with me everywhere, and the bad part is of course it has several pages of line items, with empty triangles. However, when I flip it open, and see one of those triangles filled in, it does feel good.
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