Last week we started an eight-week series about executive skills and character strengths, because the last weeks of the year can be intense with seasonal demands and expectations.
Today we’ll look at the executive skill of task initiation and the character strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence.
“Task initiation” or “getting started” is a challenge for most folks with ADHD. The fact that people around us see us as lazy, uncooperative, or slow when we can’t get started adds to our sense of failure. As we internalize those negative messages, we become our own harshest critics.
Why can it be so hard to get started?
ADHD brains require more stimulation than neurotypical brains.
They tend to avoid tasks that do not appear to offer enough of the stimulation they automatically seek. A new project needs to be interesting, novel, creative, challenging, or urgent for ADHD brains to engage.
Here are a few things that might help with getting started when the task isn’t sufficiently interesting:
- Bring to mind the value you will receive from completing the task (clean kitchen, homework turned in on time, increased health and well being, etc.) Visualize the end result and let your vision pull you into taking the first step.
- Consider whether the size of the task feels a bit overwhelming. If so, break the task down into smaller pieces. Smaller chunks are easier to bite off.
- Find a playful way to make the task more inviting. You might make your task into a challenge or a game in order to engage your brain. ADHD brains are drawn to things that are “sparkly,” so use your creativity to make the task more sparkly.
- Consider whether you might be imagining that the task needs to be done to a high standard, while it actually would be fine and more appropriate to complete it to a much lower standard. This perfectionistic thinking can make the anticipated task seem difficult and good to avoid as long as possible. If you suspect that your perfectionism is contributing to your not starting, try approaching the task as a stimulating opportunity to experiment with challenging your perfectionism by aiming for a standard of “good enough.”
One of the 24 VIA Character Strengths is Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. This strength involves noticing and appreciating objects or moments we find beautiful or of a high quality. All of us have this strength in varying degrees. This is a wonderful time of year to use this strength. Here are a few suggestions, but please add your own:
- At the start of a new day, pause when first going outside to appreciate the beauty of the day, no matter the weather.
- Attend a performance or art gallery, and fully take in the beauty and excellence of the art.
- Take a long walk in nature with the intention of paying attention to your surroundings — no earbuds allowed!
- Notice the care being taken by people in your community to create a beautiful setting for the holidays, and acknowledge your appreciation (at least to yourself).
- Notice the ways your relatives express beauty and excellence, even if you find yourself strongly disagreeing with or disliking them. We are all a mix of characteristics, and finding the beauty in others helps us find it in ourselves.
If you are interested in learning more about executive functions or character strengths, these are some places to look:
Peg Dawson and Richard Guare have written several books about executive skills in their “Smart but Scattered” series. Here’s a link to Peg Dawson’s page on Amazon.
The VIA Institute on Character is the place to learn about the 24 character strengths we all possess. Anyone age 10 or older can take a free strengths survey on the VIA site. We human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative, so regularly bringing our strengths to the front of our minds is extremely helpful!