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Why New Years Resolutions are Harder if you Have ADHD

As the months fall away like snow, we come to the time of the year that involves reflection and being berated with media messages over why next year will be, ultimately, better, because you won’t do any of the terrible things you did this year.

The end of another year signals a wave of messages about what next year could bring and what we should be doing. New Years’ Resolutions are the culmination of this; a perfect snapshot into the relationship we can often have with life that is often rooted in a shame and guilt cycle.

For anyone, it can be a stressful time. Focusing on all the ways you haven’t achieved is not usually particularly satisfying.

When these resolutions and these shoulds look to diet culture, exercise, calorie counting, or overworking and productivity, they can become toxic affairs, leading to mental health problems, physical health issues, and burnout. 

For ADHDers, the likelihood of having an unhealthy relationship with these New Years’ Resolutions is heightened. 

It’s simple: ADHD impacts executive functioning, which helps a neurotypical person stick to routines, carry out tasks from beginning to end, and even start them in the first place. What are, at their core, resolutions? A resolution: to stick to a routine, carry out a task from beginning to end and start something new in the first place. 

“This year I’ll change,” you might say to yourself, signing up for that monthly book club, or the gym (again). You’ll invest in all the gear you might need, and then, one day, you’ll skip the class, and everything will feel like it’s over.

This is not just the experience of people with ADHD, but, for those with ADHD, it is this feeling of “failing” (which, of course, is not true) reverberating across their life that can make resolutions feel daunting, or shameful…because why try when you know you’ll never do it?

These problems only become confounded for those who are diagnosed later in life, or who may have co-morbid disorders which makes these resolutions even more difficult. 

ADHDers may have gone a large majority of their life thinking that it is a problem with them, they are the reason that sticking to their resolutions is so goddamn hard. Words like ‘lazy’ and ‘scatterbrained’, phrases like “not trying hard enough” float around like labels, and these critical voices translate to the inner critic. 

Hester Grainger, Co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, who was diagnosed later in life in her fourties, found exactly this problem: 

“I used to set myself resolutions and get frustrated when I gave them up after a few weeks. Simply by setting them, I wanted to rebel against them

“Resolutions are difficult for lots of people to stick to, but when you are neurodivergent it can all feel too much. Having Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria really can mean that you beat yourself up over them.” 

Not only can the idea of resolutions be trickier for ADHDers to conceptualise, but the actual resolutions themselves can often be a stopping point. 

What makes this worse is that, for some with ADHD, making lists and plans may be a way of overcompensating for symptoms such as lack of object permanence, and memory problems and is a way to give dopamine, what we notoriously lack, by imagining how our life will dramatically change. 

So, we very much go into the new year wanting to achieve these goals.

The problem is that the idea of resolutions are usually big issue things: get “in shape”, eat “better”, keep the house tidier, and there is no pay-off that ADHDers can imagine at the end of it.

When does being “getting in shape” happen? What does it do? ADHDers need clear, often smaller, goals with a clear motivation to do them that’s embedded in a reason why, something to be excited about, rather than “just because I should”. 

The way we frame resolutions can be a great starting point to make them inclusive for neurodivergent disabilities. 

“Ruthless reprioritisation is an ADHDer’s secret weapon to battle burnout,”  Julie Bee, an entrepreneur focusing on burnout suggests. 

“If you tend to procrastinate (like I do), ask someone for help with accountability on specific tasks. Give yourself a break from time to time. Some days you just cannot do the thing. The task will be there tomorrow – address it then.”

Reframing resolutions into ideas or themes we can then be flexible with as opposed to time-focused, unspecific, and often larger than life, goals allows us the space to give ourselves kindness. 

Keeping in mind the bigger picture, the why behind resolutions, is also important so we don’t force ourselves into trying to “fix” ADHD traits which will, inevitably, result in frustration, as well as focusing on smaller, specific goals. 

What’s the solution, then? Should we all be lazier? It sounds like a joke, but, perhaps. 

Perhaps we need to re-frame laziness to simple grace and kindness. Obsession with relentless labour and productivity does nobody any good

Overall, however, we need to rethink our mindset toward these resolutions and step away from constantly achieving for the sake of it. 

Instead, allow every individual a chance to decide if engaging in goal setting this way is healthy for them.

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This piece is sponsored by Hello Pumpkin, a wonderful shop full of magical handmade gifts, by our friend Anneli Roberts.

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