Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a challenge for everyone who faces it, regardless of their age. ADHD is typically quite frustrating, both for the person who has it and for the people around them. Among other things, disorganization, forgotten appointments and forgotten commitments often create a barrier between individuals and their goals and relationships.

But there is good news. It is possible to minimize the troubling symptoms of ADHD.

Disorganization

Lack of organization is one of the primary complaints of those that live with and work with persons with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Disorganization and forgotten commitments have a negative impact on the individuals a person with ADHD interacts with. They can be completely oblivious to how they affect others or in complete denial. Those in denial blame their troubles on a world too “hung-up” on time frames. They rationalize that the revolving door of crises in their life is due to circumstances outside of themselves.

The Blame Game

This rationalization evolves into excessive justification – also known as “storytelling”. ADHD individuals will often produce stories to excuse their disorganization, lack of follow-through or tardiness. When confronted, their defensiveness rises even higher.

Others with ADHD beat themselves up convinced they are somehow defective. These people produce stories of a different type where they blame themselves for being incompetent or worse. These people are sure something is wrong with them and feel discouraged and depressed by their inability to overcome their challenges.

Both types of storytelling are counterproductive. The constant excuse making and storytelling wears out both the person with ADHD and those who care about them.

What Do You Think?

The first step is for the individual to take responsibility for changing their negative behaviors. This begins by understanding the factors associated with ADHD that result in unreliability and disorganization. When the individual understands that the factors are connected to brain processes, they can stop blaming others or themselves for their behaviors. By learning to work with how their particular brain functions instead of fighting against it, those with ADHD can make progress.

Excessive storytelling results from looping thinking that happens in a portion of the brain called the cingulate. This looping thinking insists that someone or something else was to blame. Storytelling kicks in to “explain” what else was to blame. The adult with ADHD needs to learn how to break this type of thinking.

Movement, particularly walking, has been found to assist in “rebooting” stuck thinking. Walking provides just enough stimulation to help the subconscious work through jammed thoughts and behaviors.

Ultimately, the individual must learn to monitor and soothe their own defensive and non-productive thoughts. Activities that promote a sense of contemplation and mindfulness can help with this process. These activities might be driving, cooking, listening to music, or sitting by a river. The adult with ADHD needs to find a way to build in quiet and contemplative spaces in their natural day to day activities.

When the individual is unable to remove themselves from stressful circumstances, breathing exercises can help. The left brain’s desire to allow childlike tantrums, to throw out negative images and memories, and to catastrophize, tends to quiet by calming the mind through breathing exercises.

Connecting with natural life processes (i.e. the breathing exercises), and connecting with nature, typically works to stimulate right brain activity to promote balance between right and left mind functions.

When the adult with ADHD is able to recognize and accept the characteristics of ADHD as part of their overall life challenges, work can begin on the actual behavior challenges of poor organizational skills.

Executive Function

Organizational skills are part of what is called executive function. Executive function is the mental skill that helps you get things done. This takes place in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, or frontal lobe. This area of the brain controls decision making, short-term memory, and many more tasks. It also uses a lot of energy. This is why staying focused can make you so tired.

For a person with ADHD, executive function often is not operating as well as it is supposed to. This not only causes fatigue but also is the reason for the disorganization.

There really is a physiological source for the disorder. But just like other challenges that unique learners face, there are ways to compensate for the weak areas in your system with intentional strategies that do the job instead.

Start Small

Adults with ADHD often have an “everything or nothing” approach that sabotages any efforts they try to make. For example, a person who wants to “get organized” might buy an elaborate planning system. The elaborate system has too many components and the individual quickly becomes discouraged and abandons it entirely.

The person with ADHD must resist the temptation of all or nothing. What will work best for a person with ADHD is simple processes and strategies broken into small steps.

Take the example of a person who is chronically disorganized and constantly losing track of things, from keys to appointments. Rather than trying to turn into a person who is always organized, the person with ADHD should start small and focus on just one problem that disorganization is causing.

Instead of trying to fix everything, create one micro-system that consists of a small bowl near the entry door of the home. After unlocking the door and walking inside, the person can develop the one small habit of dropping their keys in the bowl.

It is surprising how much this one small habit can reduce stress. That small success can then be built on by developing these little mini-systems around other organizational challenges.

By focusing on one small area at a time, the person with ADHD can succeed without overtasking an underperforming executive function. The habits become a system that does the job of the executive function.

Building these habits into systems that overcome the behaviors commonly associated with ADHD takes time, but significant progress can be made. It is important to remember that changes aren’t always evident right away. The person with ADHD must stay committed to the process of developing these mini-systems and stay patient with the results.

Strategies to Try

Here are three easy things you can do to combat disorganization and excessive storytelling.

Breathing Exercises

  • Breathing exercises are an office and traffic-friendly way to stimulate right brain balance and relaxation to blend with left brain moment-by-moment problem solving:
  • While seated in your car, focus on localizing your breath deep into your lungs.
  • Feel your rib cage swell at the base when you inhale and soften down when you exhale.
  • Purse your lips to exhale as though you’re are breathing out through a straw. While breathing in this manner, imagine breathing in calmness and blowing out tension.
  • Breath 3 or 4 times in this manner every hour.

Start Small

Making changes must occur in small steps.

  • Identify one or two areas for improvement at a time.
  • Develop mini-systems, such as a place to always put your keys, the mail and your wallet (or purse).
  • Develop a simple system to keep an active “to do” list easily available.
  • Celebrate your successes, they make it easier to progress onward.

Unlock Your Stuck Thinking

When you feel like your thinking is getting locked up or you are hearing yourself making excuses, try these strategies:

  • Take a walk.
  • Engage in sensory activities, like aromatherapy, a warm bath, listening to music, etc.
  • Practice contemplation and mindfulness.
  • Engage with nature.

Unique learners, those children and adults who learn in different ways, who don’t have ADHD may still struggle with some of the same issues; time management, organization and sensory system hypersensitivities. The strategies that work for ADHD will work for other unique learners too.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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