Being Neurodifferent Means Change Needs to Come at the Micro Level for the Greatest Success

“Instead of aggressively forcing yourself into a boot-camp mentality about change, give your mind permission to make the leaps on its own schedule, in its own time.” –Robert Maurer

Want to trigger some people with ADHD to never do something? Try to have them make big changes to their life in a short time frame. I can tell you from years of experience, it does not matter what age the person is, their inner three-year-old gets triggered and they not only don’t move towards the change they want, they now are fighting to even consider it worth their time. Anyone who knows and loves someone with that type of ADHD response knows what I am talking about, they have seen it firsthand.

Years ago, I learned that the way to make life-changing shifts is in teeny tiny ways. Ways that the inner three-year-old doesn’t even notice. There really isn’t an inner three-year-old hiding in anyone. Change is perceived as a threat. It all comes down to brain chemistry and certain fear-based systems (the amygdala) being triggered. Once that fear center is triggered, it dumps a whole bunch of chemicals (dopamine, adrenaline, and other junk) into the body and that messes with everything and makes processing thoughts even harder.

When I am coaching clients, we might have some big goals or plans, but I know and encourage them to drill down to the smallest step forward and just go for that in the coming days. I see so much more progress when we do it that way. By making minor, gradual changes, a person can ease past the brain’s alarm system and avoid setting off the warning signals.

Recently I had a client who was working with a therapist, (something I highly recommend) but the therapist was new to working with an adult with ADHD and he would encourage them to make these huge changes in the next week, using their willpower. Guess what happened? My client would totally rebel, and not only did they not do the thing, but they also went in reverse from the task. The therapist did finally catch on, mostly because my client explained how this wasn’t working. Watching this just helped to support my observations over my lifetime.

I recently read a book that focused on the value and importance of small steps for change. ‘One Small Step Can Change Your Life’ by Robert Maurer.  Have you heard of the Japanese concept of kaizen or “continuous improvement”? That is what this book is based on. The power of taking one teeny tiny micro step daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly. Like a tree, over time your progress will grow, and you will move closer and closer to your goal. You are always aiming at positive change.

Do you have something that you are working on changing? Great, let’s use that as an example.

Ask yourself a small question. By small, I am referring to not mapping out the whole plan for getting from here to your goal. A small question is one like, “What can I do in five minutes today to move me closer to ________.” You might not get an answer back, that’s ok. Throughout the day keep asking the question. ADHD brains typically enjoy a good puzzle. Your brain will work on the answer, you might not even realize it. That is because your subconscious gets involved which is a good thing too.

If you feel yourself getting at all resistant, your question wasn’t small enough. Don’t worry, just create a question half the size of the one you asked. Example: “What’s the smallest action I could take connected to ____________.”

Once you find a good question that maneuvers around your amygdala you can place it on a stickie note, write it on a mirror, frame it in a hallway, tape it to a door. My point being, don’t keep it locked in your head, place it where you can see it, thereby engaging your brain in solving the mystery.

I have a personal example: It took me three years and the support of my health coaching group to improve my daily water intake to where it needed to be to support my brain. I was always asking the question, “How can I drink more water and not have to think about it so hard.” I set alarms, I bought water bottles with notifications on them and an app, I would set up four bottles of water in the kitchen each day and many other things. I learned a little something from each experiment that moved me forward to the next experiment. Do you want to know my answer to the question? For me, it was all about the container. If the water container had a free-standing straw, one that was not metal and the straw did not have to be pulled up each time, I would drink that water down, quickly refill it, and not even think about doing it. It was all natural and almost instinctive. It wasn’t a fast process. It was a worthwhile endeavor and now that I have the answer it’s easy, I am never without my water container, and I am always drinking water and my brain is working better.

Here is the really cool thing, when change happens at a slower pace, it also changes the chemistry in the brain. How great is that?

Back to our challenge I asked about earlier. Another thing you can do is “mind sculpture” Ian Robertson developed the term. Dyslexics have been doing this for years. Using the creative 3D mapping part of your brain to go through a mental rehearsal of a future activity, not coming from a place of total fear. You can do this again and again, seeing yourself successfully completing the process each time. In your mental run-throughs, you can address any scenarios you think might interfere with your success and resolve them in your rehearsal. Your brain is so great that it stores that information for later and if one of those interfering situations happens in real-time, your brain already has an answer and doesn’t perceive it as a threat, it just puts in the solution. Repetition with this option is also valuable.

Another way to take small steps forward on your challenge is to team up with someone else that is working towards the same goal and also taking small steps forward. When you work as a team, it is easier to not give up. It’s easier to not forget what you were working on, and you fact-check the BS your fears send out when they do realize that you’re up to something. How do you find someone to team up with? Ask. Ask in your friend circles, ask in your religious groups, ask your neighbors, ask at work, ask where you volunteer, or ask on social media.

Finally, do you reward yourself for progress? Can you reward yourself for progress? For some of my clients, rewarding them before they complete the whole goal triggers the amygdala and they might give up on the goal completely. It just doesn’t seem fair and who cares, it is how their brain works. Figure out how you react to rewards and then support yourself in the best way possible. If little rewards work along the way, great. If saying nothing and just moving forward works, do lots of that. If you are a ‘don’t celebrate the progress’ type, you do need to start to celebrate the completion of the project. This might even have to start in small ways. Something as simple as telling someone else that you completed the project. Maybe even showing them some of what you did to get it completed. Taking time to review and enjoy your success sends positive good chemicals into the brain and those chemicals are helpful to having a happier and better working brain.

Kaizen is all about continuous improvement – moment after moment, day after day. So be persistent and patient. And try to enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination. When it comes to ADHD, dyslexia, and mental health this is my number one recommendation. Keep learning and exploring.

What one little inspiration or insight did you gain from this? Now go and apply it.

Thanks for reading this and hope to connect again soon,



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