September 20, 2022

How to Set Realistic, ADHD-Friendly Goals

It’s that time of year when I want to set 100 goals. BIG GOALS. I want to do all the things and I want to do them all perfectly.

On today’s episode, we talk about why ADHDers struggle to set realistic goals, and how to make sure that we don’t set ourselves up for failure by setting outlandish, unreachable goals.

You’ll walk away with a more grounded sense of how to set goals that you can actually accomplish! Let’s go.



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Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B.

Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD Podcast, episode number 177. I am medicated, I am caffeinated. And I am ready to roll. Hello, hello, hello, hello. I’m so happy that you’re here with me today listening to this delightful Podcast. I’m wearing a cat t shirt. It’s making me real happy. It’s bringing so much joy to my day. And I’m curious if you ever do that, do you choose your clothes based on whether or not they’re going to improve your mood? Because today I needed an extra pep in my step.

So I decided to wear crazy cat T. And I’ve got to say it’s working. It’s really working. And my focused clients. When I popped on the screen this morning wearing a cat t shirt. They were like our world what is happening. But it was fun. It’s really fun. Anything for that little hit of dopamine, you know what I mean?

Let’s today we are going to be talking about setting realistic goals. And I think this topic is perfect for September because a lot of times in September, we’re transitioning, we’re like summer is ending and kiddos are going back to school. And it just seems like the perfect time to set some goals. This is the time of year, when I have the urge to buy a new planner and decide what I want out of my life. I’m setting my business goals for 2023. And I’m just really getting my head around what’s possible. And you know what I want? I don’t do that as much in January as I do in September. I don’t know about you. But I think for me, it’s like the transition of weather and the transition of you know, summer to school. It really gets me amped up for some good goal setting. And as I was thinking all of this through and coaching a bunch of clients this week, I wanted to share a concept that I’ve created around goals, because I found that goal setting is really really, really hard for ADHD years. Like obviously, that’s not news. You already know that. But it’s important to chat about why why is it so hard for ADHD ears to set realistic goals? I coached so many people in focused who just lament the fact that goal setting seems impossible, because they’re never really sure if the goal that they set for themselves is realistic. And when they do figure out like, Oh, this isn’t going to happen.

This isn’t realistic. There’s so much shame and blame and self judgment for that, that it really deters them from ever wanting to set goals. Again, maybe you have experienced that. I like to call it goal fatigue, you’re just kind of tired of like setting the goal and not accomplishing it. It’s your fatigued goal fatigue. So I want to take a moment and say setting big goals is awesome. But it’s not awesome. If it just leads you to paralysis. It’s not awesome if it just leads you to avoid and do nothing. Am I right? So what we’re chatting about today is how to set small doable goals. So let’s start just by kind of like giving an overview of the executive functions and how ADHD plays into it being difficult to set realistic goals. If you’re new around here, executive functions are the set of skills that allow you to get the stuff done. Working memory, ability to understand time, emotional regulation, self awareness, inhibition, self motivation, planning, and problem solving. All of these are appeared for someone with ADHD, which means that setting and accomplishing goals can be very, very difficult. Like with our knowledge of executive function deficiencies, of course, it’s difficult for us to set realistic goals, because we constantly underestimate how long things are going to take. And we forget all of the steps that are involved and we get super excited. And since we can’t regulate that emotion of excitement, we end up setting a goal from a really high high place, which means that the goal is really too too big. Right? We lack the self awareness to know what we’re capable of or what we’re not capable of. And we set goals way too fast. because we’re super impulsive. So, yeah, thanks. Oh, sorry. I know this can feel daunting.

And you might even feel some like defeat in your body. But it’s important that we start from this place of acknowledging how hard it is. And that it makes sense that it’s hard. Yes, goal setting is hard. But that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes sense that goal setting is hard because of these impairments that you experience. It makes sense that you’ve set unrealistic, maybe even outlandish goals in the past. So can you bring in a little self forgiveness, self acceptance. So the first point to be made here is that it’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Okay. You have ADHD, this is supposed to be hard. The second thing that I want to say is that the way to set realistic goals moving forward is to assess whether there are some unrealistic goals that you want to let go of from your past. Some of you are still hanging on to goals that you don’t even want to accomplish anymore. But because you set the goal, you are telling yourself that you have to see it through. Now, I know that there’s a lot of stuff going on here because us ADHD are struggle with thoughts like, Well, you always do this, and you’re just trying to get out of doing something hard. And this is just such an ADHD thing. But I invite you just for a moment to get still and get very grounded in your body. Do you still want to move forward with that goal that you set last year? Or last decade? Maybe the answer is yes. But if the answer is no, that’s okay. If you need permission to change your mind here, this Permission granted. See some of you need to forgive yourselves for setting unrealistic goals in the past, you’re allowed to do this, you know, forgive yourself, it’s a thing. It’s available to you. Self forgiveness is such a beautiful practice. I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

We ADHD errs are often like so quick to forgive others, but so slow to forgive ourselves. But letting go of past unrealistic goals. It allows us then to have the capacity to move forward with more doable goals. It allows us to have the space and the capacity and the mental and emotional energy to move forward with smaller, more doable goals. So once you maybe let go of some unrealistic goals, if you want to, you understand that ADHD plays a big factor in all of this. Now let’s take a really deep look at what I believe is the core reason why we set unrealistic goals. We often set outlandish, grandiose, unrealistic goals, because setting that goal in the moment gives us a sweet, little hit of dopamine. Now ADHD does have less dopamine than the rest of the population, which means that our brains are constantly searching for more hits of that amazing feeling. Chemical, but you know, feeling and, you know, feels amazing, fantasizing about goals. Yeah, feels real good. Many, many, many of you are creating goals from a place of fantasy, not from a place of reality.

Now, I’ve shared this story on my podcast so many times, but I’m going to share it again. I used to lay in bed at night and beat myself up for what I didn’t get done that day, I would feel so much shame about my lack of productivity. I would judge myself and I would hate on myself. And it was so so so so mean. And the only way that I could get myself out of this spiral was if I began to fantasize about what would be different tomorrow. So in that moment, laying in bed after a self rage session, I would create what I like to call fantasy goals. Yes, that’s right, fantasy goals. I want you to get familiar with that term. I want it to become a thing in your brain because we’re going to start using it a lot around here. A fantasy goal is one that we dream up. That gives us a nice little shot of dopamine. But we are using that dopamine we’re using the idea of the goal as an escape from the reality of our current life. Did you catch that? We’re using it as an escape from the reality of our current life.

It’s actually like really painful to talk about for me because it was such a difficult time in my life and it lasted for so long, literally a decade maybe more actually. Probably more. I would hate myself and then in an effort to escape that self hatred, I would create a fantasy goal. That goal would sound like tomorrow, tomorrow is going to be different tomorrow, I will clean the house. And I’ll be really productive in my business. And it’ll be nice to my kids. Oh, and I’ll work out too. Yeah, tomorrow, I’m gonna do all of that I’m going to work out and I’m going to clean the house. And I’m going to be really productive in my business, all while being such a great mom to my kids. And the tiny bit of relief that I got from setting these fantasy goals would allow my nervous system to calm down enough for me to finally go to sleep. But then I’d wake up tomorrow, and you know how the story goes, you know how it goes, nothing would be different. I wouldn’t work out. The house was still messy. I didn’t take productive action in my business. And I wasn’t that nice to my kids. Why? Why?

So we need to acknowledge that these goals that we set when we’re in fantasy mode. They’re created as an escape hatch. Okay, because I hated myself. And I hated the way that I was living. Do you see that? I didn’t like any of it. How many of you are doing that? How many of you are hating on yourselves, and then setting fantasy goals to escape from your real life? These fantasy goals are always unrealistic, and they’re almost never achievable. Hear me, maybe the reason why you’re not able to reach your goals is not because you’re lazy or unmotivated. Maybe the reason is that you’re setting fantasy goals, not realistic goals. Maybe you’re setting goals from a place of self hatred, in order to escape your life. And those types of goals are rarely doable. When we set goals to escape our life, we’re not going to be able to accomplish them.

They’re going to be so big, and we’re starting from a place of hating. And when a goal is not doable, our brains freak the heck out and we become paralyzed. goals that we create in fantasy are going to be grandiose and big. And the problem with this is that we actually try to hold ourselves to them. We don’t recognize, like, oh, I created this as a fantasy to escape my life. We’re like, No, I said it was going to do it. So I need to do it. But then our brains struggle, right? Because we struggled to problem solve and plan and we struggle to acknowledge how much time things take. And when I told myself, I’m going to be productive in my business route, it felt good for a second. But when I woke up the next day, my brain couldn’t figure out what that meant. What does it even mean to be productive for me today? What does it mean to be productive in my business, I didn’t define it, my brain didn’t know what it meant. I couldn’t figure it out. It was too broad. And so I would spin out in overwhelm, and eventually shut down. So I want you to pay attention. If you are shutting down, when it comes to your goals. I encourage you to assess whether or not you’re setting them in fantasy mode. And if you are, please stop. Please, please, please stop, please. Okay. If you’re setting your goals and fantasy mode, you will likely shut down the following day and not be able to follow through.

Now, I know that a lot of us want to escape reality. But the only way to move forward and actually get the shoes done in life is to live in reality, not escape reality, live in reality. Do you know what I wish I had said to myself, in those moments of laying there and self hatred, here’s how I wish I had gotten myself out of it. Yeah, this is where I am right now. This is where I’m at. This is really painful. I want to figure out a way to make changes moving forward. Do you feel the difference between that and tomorrow is going to be different. Tomorrow is going to be so different. Here’s what I’m going to get done tomorrow. That’s very, very different. One is accepting the reality of where I am. And the other is creating an escape hatch. Now, many of you are telling yourself that where you are right now is not okay. And so when I say like, accept the reality of where you are, you’re like Ill gross No, I will not do that. Right.

And I know you’re gonna want to give me lots of reasons why you shouldn’t accept reality and why it’s not okay. No Christian you don’t understand who I am right now or where I am right now in my life is not okay. It’s bad. My life is bad. I’m bad. Everything needs to change. If you resonate with that, I’m sending you the biggest, biggest hug. Here’s what we all need to really understand. We can’t hate ourselves into becoming someone new. And we can’t hate our lives into becoming something awesome. It doesn’t work that way. It does not work that way. It never works. That way. We can’t hate ourselves into becoming someone that we love. I saw that on Instagram today, I wish I had my phone here, I would give credit to the person. The quote was, we can’t hate ourselves into becoming someone that we love. Think about that. We can’t hate our lives on this is my I’m just adding this and we can’t hate our lives into becoming a life that we love. That’s not the way that it works. Okay, deep breath. I know that a lot of you will feel resistance to this concept. And I’m here for it. I get it. You’re allowed to feel whatever you want and need to feel. But as you process these concepts, I will ask you is hating yourself working out? Is it allowing you to make lots of good sustainable improvements? Is hating your life working out? Is it allowing you to make lots of good sustainable improvements in your life? I understand it’s a really annoying question. My clients hate it when I asked them that question. But I wish I had been vulnerable enough with myself or with someone that I trusted to really acknowledge how I was treating myself back in the day, how I was trying to hate myself into improving I truly was I thought that was the way to do it. And I wish somebody had asked me like so how’s it working for you? Is it working? Is this cycle of hatred and then escape fantasy goals? Is it working? The answer would have been a big, big now. Accepting where we are right now seeing the reality of it and just allowing it to be true without tons of drama and judgment. That’s the catalyst for setting realistic goals. I want to say that sentence again, because I think it might be the most important sentence of this entire podcast, accepting where we are right now. Seeing the reality of it and allowing it to just be true without tons of drama and judgment is the catalyst for setting realistic goals that actually do move our lives forward in the direction that we want to go.

And this is in line with all of my teaching and coaching, I always start from a place of trying to get you or a client to just accept where they are, accept the reality of what’s happening. Without the layer of drama and judgment and shame and blame and self loathing. This is where we are. Okay. This is where we’re at right now. Now from this place, how do we set realistic goals? Now, I believe the most important thing to think about when you want to set a realistic doable goal is this. Consider your energy or emotion when you’re setting a goal. When we set fantasy goals, what we’re craving is the feeling of relief or excitement. At least that’s what it is. For me. An escape goal causes me to feel so much relief, Oh, get to get away from who I am, and where I am right now. Major relief.

And then there’s the excitement, it’s the dopamine, this is going to be so amazing. And I’m going to be so amazing. And this is going to feel so amazing. And all of that dopamine hit. feels so amazing, right? We feel that excitement. But it’s all setting us up for an unrealistic fantasy goal. What I would really encourage you to do is try to get your body into a grounded place, when you’re grounded. When you see and accept reality when you understand your limitations, but don’t judge yourself for them. When you accept your life for what it is and you desire to make improvement. That’s the place from which to set a goal. Now, this takes this takes it takes some work because you’ve got to develop the ability to breathe.

And it also takes consenting to be quiet for a minute or two and processing the emotion of maybe judgment or shame and letting those emotions kind of wave past you that you don’t make a goal from that yucky place. And I know that sounds easy, I’m asking you to just maybe open up to the possibility that you might be able to learn how to do this. And it might be really, really worth it. Can you take a deep breath with me now, maybe wiggle your toes and acknowledge that you have a whole body, not just a brain. Can you honor the fact that you struggle to accept yourself but you’re willing to try knowing who you are knowing that you have so much to be grateful for right now, and that you still do want to make some changes.

That’s the grounded energy that you want to create a goal with. Other great emotions for goal setting are purposeful, determined, centered, willing, when we make decisions from these places, we’re making much more realistic and more grounded. doable, goals. Now, those are the emotions that are amazing to bring in as we create goals here are a couple that are problematic. I want you to really steer clear of impatience, I could literally record an entire episode on the emotion of impatience. Because I think it’s a big driver for a lot of us and a big reason of why we’re so impulsive. We want to change now, we want to escape our lives. Now. We want it to happen fast, and we’re sick of waiting for it. Right. And so this is the perfect recipe for a fantasy for an unrealistic goal. Impatience is a really ineffective emotion when it comes to realistic goal setting. Another emotion I’d steer clear up is like excitement, inspiration, motivation. Okay, that was three. Apparently, I can’t count those three emotions. Okay, so those three emotions are not great for goal setting. They are delicious. They feel so good. But they’re always going to cause you to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to your goals. Excitement, inspiration and motivation are like the kindling for a fire that burns out super, super quickly. They’re not sustainable. They are nowhere to be found on day three or 30 of trying to follow through on your goals. So please don’t set goals from this place because it won’t be sustainable. You want to build a longer lasting emotion.

Okay, excitement, motivation, inspiration. That’s the kindling. It burns so fast. It’s like the stuff at the beginning of the fire, you know that I’m thinking about survivor right now in the fire building on survivor. I want the emotions that you’re setting the goal with and like moving forward with are the ones that are going to burn longer. Do you know what emotion I really love is desire. I love that emotion because I can build that in my body. And I can do a lot of really hard, uncomfortable work from desire. And so if I set a goal from desire, for example, I have the desire to help as many ADHD ears on this planet as possible. That is a burning desire that I have. Does it always feel good to follow through on those goals? No. Sometimes it feels scary and vulnerable and difficult and uncomfortable. And there’s a lot of self doubt involved. But if I always have the embers of desire burning in the background, that I want to help as many people with ADHD as possible, then that fuel can take me so much farther than something like excitement or inspiration or motivation.

Okay, so that’s another emotion that I really encourage you to develop is the emotion of desire. Okay, kind of switching gears here. What I’ve found to be true is that we always overestimate what we can do in the short term. And we underestimate what we can do in the long term, I’m going to say that, again, we always overestimate what we can do in the short term, but we underestimate what we can do the long term. So what I want you to do is take whatever goal that you have, and cut it in half, and then cut it in half again, make that 25% Your new goal. Now so many of you are going to push back on this and say what is the frickin point of such a teeny tiny goal? What is so fascinating about this is that we think only the big goals are worthwhile. But our brain doesn’t know how to go to work to actually take action and, you know, accomplish those big goals and so we stay paralyzed and we don’t actually accomplish anything. If we could send simply cut the goal in half and then in half again and start with just a quarter of it just 25% of that goal, then accomplish it and add on another 25% and accomplish that. And on another 25% and accomplish that, we would get so much more done over the long haul. And I know he hears hate the concept of the long haul, I get it, I, I get it. But it’s worthwhile to cut those goals way, way, way down and then accomplish that smaller bite. I believe I’ve referenced this book before, but I really enjoyed John Jacobs book finish. He’s got so much research contained in that book, not just for ADHD years, but all people. And what he shows is that all humans overestimate what we can get done in the short term, all of us.

And the way to really accomplish goals is to set smaller goals. The way to accomplish goals is to set smaller goals. So if you can allow yourself to set a small doable goal and accomplish it, it will give you so much more momentum for setting another small goal and accomplishing that. And then another one and then another one. And pretty soon, you’ll be shocked at all that you can get done. Okay, so we’re going to recap, right, my friends, and then we’re going to be all done. Here’s how to set realistic goals. First, accept reality, and stop hating where you are. Now, this might be the hardest part of this whole thing. And if that’s true for you, I encourage you to reach out for support. Whether it is in a support group, from a trauma informed therapist, from an ADHD coach like myself, I would just really encourage you to reach out for support because accepting the reality of where you are and not hating yourself or your life is. That’s That’s step number one. Okay? And then number two, don’t allow yourself to set goals in fantasy mode. Notice when you are looking for escape notice when you are starting to set a goal and question yourself. Am I just trying to escape life right now? Am I just trying to make myself feel better right now? Am I just trying to get a quick shot of dopamine right now.

Don’t let yourself set goals from a place of fantasy. Next, check in with your energy. If you’re impatient, or excited or motivated, it’s not going to be helpful. So try to get into a more grounded and centered place. emotions like purposeful, willing, determined desire. Those are great emotions to fuel your goals over time. And lastly, cut your goals in half and then in half again. Allow yourself to set small goals and practice following through on the teeny teeny tiny goals and you’ll be shocked at what you can accomplish over time. All right, my dear. I loved our time together today. Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for pressing play on this podcast. I do not take your attention and your time for granted. I’m so glad that we got to spend this last 30 minutes together.

Have an amazing week and I will see you next time. Bye bye. Hey, ADHD, er, I see you. I know exactly what it’s like to feel lost, confused, frustrated and like no one out there really understand the way that your brain works. That’s why I created focus. Focused is my monthly coaching program where I lead you through a step by step process of understanding yourself feeling better and creating the life that you know you’re meant for. You’ll study be coached grow and make amazing changes alongside of other educated professional adults with ADHD from all over the world. Visit Ihaveadhd.com/focused to learn more

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