ADHD APPROVED | Start Small
Updated: Jan 7
Developing an effective strategy to overcome overwhelm.
My name is Rebecca Hirsch. I am deeply passionate about writing and video games. I also bake- I make excellent brownies. I have ADHD.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at a very early age. I’ve always had access to medicine, but not necessarily good coping strategies- at that time, many therapies were focused more on appearing ‘normal’ than on being successful. One thing I’ve always had trouble with is starting things. Once I’ve begun, it’s easy enough to finish, even if it takes hours, but the process of beginning something new is absolutely agonizing. There are many strategies that those of us with ADHD use to help ourselves get started, and not all of them are effective for everyone. Regardless of whether or not you have ADHD, these strategies and skills can still be useful. Today, I’m going to share what I call the ‘Cups Strategy.’
Most of my strategies are developed from learning how to clean up after myself. With the Cups Strategy, the objective is simple; pick up all the cups in my bedroom and move them to the sink. Usually, once I’m at the sink, I’ll find myself rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. And maybe after that, I find that the floor needs to be mopped, or that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded. Before I know it, I’ve cleaned the whole kitchen, and done my laundry too. But my goal wasn’t to clean the kitchen, my goal was to get the cups out of my bedroom.
The first time I actually had to force myself to do this was in my freshman dorm. The bathroom sink was disgusting, as dorm bathrooms usually are, and the water pressure was pitiful, making things difficult to clean. I hated doing it, and so cups began to stack in my room. Everything else in college was just as difficult for me to force myself to do. The laundry machines were awful, walking to class in the rain sucked and doing my homework was boring. So I had to begin to force myself to do one small thing- get these cups out of the bedroom. And that helped me to be able to do other things as well.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU
When people set goals for themselves- whether it’s cleaning, setting new year’s resolutions, or starting a new business- they often set the bar too high. They don’t create realistic, achievable goals. And because their goals are hard to reach, it’s easy to decide that it’s too hard and that there’s no point in trying. That’s where my strategy comes in. You don’t need to deep clean the whole house, you just need to get those cups out of your bedroom.
Maybe in your life, that looks a little different. You could be starting a bank account, or checking your messages, or researching for just ten minutes. With the ‘Cups Method’, you’ll often find yourself on a roll once you’ve started, and you’ll want to keep being productive. However, just like the ‘Cups Method’, it’s key that you don’t think of it as, ‘I’ll wash out the sink and load the dishwasher and mop the floors and-’, because that’s not a realistic goal, and that’s also not the point. The point is to do one, small, simple thing that can help you right now. If you can’t do anything after that, that’s okay, because that’s all you set out to do. But, as I said, once you’ve started being productive, you’ll probably find it difficult to stop.
TIP TO REMEMBER: IT’S OKAY TO STOP
One challenge with the ‘Cups Strategy’ is knowing when to stop. Just like I have issues with starting a task, I also have trouble with transitioning to a new one. I can occasionally trap myself in a seemingly infinite number of tasks because I don’t want to do something new. This is why you need to pay attention to your needs. Even when doing something important, even if it takes all day, make sure to take a few moments to evaluate. Have you eaten? Are you thirsty? Have you been outside? Build-in time for yourself to do these checks so that you don’t run yourself into the ground by accident.
Starting can be difficult for all of us, ADHD or not. A lot have big dreams and aspirations, and it’s good to dream. But it’s important to remember to start small. Before you get to where you’re going, you need to identify your next step.