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Try a Micro-Change to Keep Things Feeling Fresh to Your ADHD Brain

“I put a sticky note on my monitor, and that worked for a little while, but I just don’t see it anymore.”

“I set an alarm for the time I am supposed to start getting ready, but lately I just turn it off when it rings without really taking notice.”

“I picked out a great to-do app, but it only helped for a couple of weeks.”

People who have ADHD are attracted to things that are new and novel. Newness catches our attention and creates motivation and focus. Sometimes this is a really helpful trait, and sometimes it can backfire. One of the problems with relying on novelty is that things that are not new seem boring and therefore nearly impossible to direct our attention toward. How many times have you tried a new tool or system, like a brand new planner, only to abandon it weeks, or even days, later? Is it because you don’t think it’s helpful to use a planner anymore? Probably not. It’s just that your new planner is now old and has lost its appeal.

One tactic that I often recommend to my clients is called micro-changing for novelty. Micro-changing for novelty means mixing it up a bit and asking: "What is the smallest possible change I can make so this will seem new again?" And when I say "change", I mean teeny, tiny changes. Like printing your daily calendar on a new color paper, going to workout at a different time of day, or switching from working at your desk to working at the coffee shop. These little changes will catch your brain’s attention and help a task feel fresher and more rewarding, but without creating utter chaos. For example, a professor who has ADHD and often caught herself avoiding writing tasks would switch from typing on her keyboard to using her speech-to-text software while writing, creating a tiny feeling of newness to help her motivation.

The other cool part about micro-changes is that they can help curb the all-or-nothing thinking habits of many people with ADHD (which I wrote about here). My client Sherri wanted to start a little meditation practice for herself. She decided to meditate for 5 minutes in the mornings before work. When I met her the following week, she said, “Man this meditation stuff is really stressing me out.” She was trying to get her meditation in while rushing around trying to get to work on time, which wasn't working for her, so she decided that meditation just wasn’t for her. In Sherri’s mind, it either worked or didn’t work, which is a good example of all-or-nothing thinking. When I asked her to think of a tiny change she could make to see if she could make it work, she decided to change the time of day for her practice to after she got home from her job. That micro-change was the ticket to Sherri being able to follow through with her plan.

Here are some tried-and-true micro-changes that my clients have used to create novelty and motivation for themselves:

  • Have two planners. Use one until you get bored with it, then switch to the other. Then, when that one gets dull, switch again.

  • Take notes using a different colored pen.

  • Print forms you use often on various colors of paper.

  • Change the time of day you do that mundane activity. One client alternated from doing dishes at night before bed for a couple of weeks to doing them in the morning while his coffee is brewing.

  • Change your location: work at your desk, at the tea shop, at the local library, in the lobby, at someone else’s desk.

  • Change your position: sit, stand, walk, even recline. Set a timer to switch position regularly.

  • Rely on one to-do app, then switch to another.

  • Move the orientation of your desk at work to give it a feeling of being new.

  • Move your sticky note from one location to another. Good spots are: on the mirror, on the seat of your chair, on the computer monitor, or your steering wheel.

  • Change your alarm or notification ringtones regularly.

Micro-changing for novelty can help you stick with a new habit or routine without succumbing to boredom. Give it a try and send me an email to let me know how it goes!

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