It’s fun and it rhymes, but what does it mean really to say that “pills don’t build skills”? It sounds kind of harsh, but it’s the reality of our situation. If you’re taking it, the medication can make a huge difference, but there may be times in our lives where we either can’t take it, or it’s not enough, or you may choose to go the non-medicated route. That’s why we need skill building.

It’s important to understand where we feel we are deficient, as well as whether those deficiencies negatively impact our lives. Then, we can pinpoint what skill is missing and make a plan to strengthen our abilities!

Getting Started

If you’re anything like me, as soon as you identify a skill you want to work on, you are ready to jump in right away. That ADHD hyper-fixation kicks in and you want to drop everything to focus on your new “thing”.

The enthusiasm is great! Hold on to it! But diving in without a plan means you’ll either set yourself up to fail, or lose steam after a few days and forget all about it while you move on to the next thing.

If you really want to work on a skill and make it stick, you can follow these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Write it down
  3. Schedule it
  4. Map it out
  5. Practice daily

Follow below for a deep dive into each step!

Step 1: Take a Deep Breath

Easier said than done right? But the pause is key. You might be in the middle of a meeting at work, or doing the dishes, or walking the dog, or any activity that requires your focus too.

Take that deep breath, try to calm your thoughts and recognize that while you’ve had an idea, you will not implode if you don’t immediately get moving on it. If you need to say it to yourself out loud, do it! Talking to yourself out loud can actually help reinforce your thoughts.

Meditation can help tremendously with this kind of mindfulness. Keep an eye out for a post on meditation soon!

Step 2: Write it Down

The small act of writing something down can make you feel like you’ve already gotten started. I recommend keeping a notepad within reach at all times, since our ADHD brains are constantly on overdrive and these ideas can strike at any moment.

I keep a notepad at my desk, by my nightstand, and in the kitchen because those are the areas in which I spend the majority of my time.

Step 3: Schedule It

Schedule time to work on it, as soon as you think of it. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’ll remember at a more convenient time.

If you keep a physical planner, write down time later in the day or week to flesh out the skill building activities and plan. If you use your phone, put in a calendar item or a task with a specific date and time.

Your future self will thank you!

Alternatively, you can have a weekly time you dedicate to working on all your ideas, and consider this one to add to the list. You can’t control creativity and when the ideas will flow, but you can schedule time to make more detailed plans.

Step 4: Map It Out

This just keeps getting harder and harder doesn’t it? First, you need to switch off your overactive brain, then put aside your brilliant idea, and then make a plan?! Yet, I promise the up-front frustration you experience will far outweigh the future frustration of never feeling like you’re improving.

Delayed gratification may not be your strong suit (maybe it’s a skill to work on!), so say this out loud if you need to – “I will make a plan and follow it because it’s more likely to lead to success”.

Then, write down your plan! Consider the following questions:

  • Where do I struggle today?
  • How does it affect my social life/work life/relationship(s)/self-view?
  • Is it something I can work on daily?
  • What are the techniques I will use to learn this skill?
    • For this one, there are a lot of ADHD books and guides solely dedicated to working on skills to overcome executive functioning deficiencies – I like “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD” by Russell Barkley
  • Is there someone in my life who can help me practice without judgement?
  • What is my measure of success?

Make a plan and save it somewhere easy to find. That could mean printing a copy and taping it on the wall of your home office. Maybe it’s a note you keep on your phone, or a document on your desktop. But make it easy to refer to it as often as needed.

Step 5: Practice Daily

I’M SORRY! It got worse. But I truly recommend practicing it every day, and making it count.

There’s no definitive study on how long it takes to learn a skill (10,000 hours is probably excessive) and it will vary from person to person, but if you practice a little bit every day it becomes a habit – and habits stick with us far longer than whims.

Each time you practice it should be a real effort, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss an opportunity! Recognize that you missed out and reflect on what happened.

Habits stick with us far longer than whims

If you need a physical reminder to practice, make one for yourself. I’ve seen a lot of women (and men!) be too ashamed to use physical aids because they feel “childish”, and they decide that if they just try harder, they’ll remember. But you might not remember to practice and that’s okay! Don’t ever be ashamed to do something for yourself that makes life a little easier.

Finally, Congratulate Yourself!

This isn’t an official step, but something you should do constantly. Whether you’re working on a specific skill or just trying to overall improve your happiness or situation, take time daily to congratulate yourself. The you of today is probably better and wiser than the you of yesterday.

We tend to fixate on what’s going wrong, so take a moment to reflect on what’s going right, and revel in your own awesomeness!

What skill are you working on? Comment below or tweet using #GlitterBrainBlog!

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