Master Your Habits (Even with ADHD)

by | Jan 29, 2021


There are tons of articles and podcasts out there screaming at you, How to Master Your habits with ADHD, or something similar.

My favorites are the ones that use words like, “Take Control of Your ADHD.” They make it sound like if you could just double down on your efforts you’d finally be in charge.

This is all basically bullshit. Living with ADHD isn’t about taking control of it, or fixing it. It’s about enjoying your life more.

Now habits come into it because habits can actually make your life easier.

In the words of Gretchen Rubin, “Habits eliminate the need for self control.”

In the ADHD Enclave we spent an entire month reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, and discussing it’s application to ADHD life. (affiliate link. See my disclosure)

Habits are automatic, you don’t have to think about them. This  is nice for those of us trying to manage our mental energy.

But habits can also make us behave in very rigid ways. Like when my work habits are interrupted by school ending for the summer and I have a total meltdown and screech at my kid.

 master your habits (even with ADHD)


Most of us with ADHD are already overwhelmed, so any way we can offload some tasks and free up mental energy is a good thing.

Many of us would get nothing done, including brushing our own teeth, if it weren’t a habit.

Every habit, even the bad ones, serves a purpose.

To calm us, soothe us, focus us…or even to keep us healthy and functional. (think medications)

But if we focus too much on analyzing our habits most of us feel a little frustrated.

Habit formation is complicated

Despite the strategies James Clear and Charles Duhigg discuss in their respective books habit formation doesn’t happen overnight.

Forming new habits takes time, and an abundance of motivation toward that goal.

As with most things, we with ADHD wax and wane in our motivation and ability to work toward goals. Even goals we really care about.

Plus, we need to repeat our habits or see the same cue more than 50 times for our brain to incorporate it. (typical people only need 22ish repetitions)

I get the sense James Clear is very purposeful and probably neurotypical.

Breaking habits is even more complicated

As I said, every habit serves some purpose. To break or change a habit takes an enormous amount of executive function:

  • – you have to make it a priority
  • – you have to track and monitor yourself
  • – you have to think ahead for potential obstacles
  • – you have to create the right environment and cues
  • – you have to be consistent over a long period of time


We agreed during one of our discussions that most of us can picture our goal or what we want. And yes our end game might*** motivate us in the short term. Willpower can work for a short while as well, but it doesn’t ever last.

But like Gretchen Rubin said recently in her group, we rarely feel motivated to do the work to get to that goal.

We with ADHD cannot even names the steps in order to DO the work.

And the longer I work with other ADHD women, the less I believe in motivation anyway. It’s not something that you can create, it’s something that happens after you take action and get some momentum.

In order to take action. you have to be committed. You need a bigger, “why.”

The Why

The big why or purpose is essential for us. There is no reward or hit that will sustain us without a larger purpose. A purpose bigger than just desire.

I’d like to wear a size four like I did in college. But that is NOT a big why. It’s just a desire. So it probably will never happen.

Small wins are tough to decipher. You can’t feel them or measure them day in and day out.

We lack dopamine for goodness sake, we need to feel our rewards.

ADHDers tend to make progress in spurts. And life will get in the way no matter how functional we are and how much support we have.

It’s ok to acknowledge the struggle.

We still have some options if we want to build better habits.

Options for building habits

  • – tiny, less than 1 minute habits
  • – stacking with habits already in place
  • – removing barriers to success (ex. Sleeping with your phone)
  • – change up the environment to “trigger” you to action (ex. Alarms/visuals)
  • – find accountability partners and external support

Options for breaking/changing habits:

  • – create friction that makes it difficult to engage in non-preferred behaviors (get rid of the chocolate!)
  • – remove temptations
  • – track your triggers, the stuff that throws you off
  • – make any changes pleasurable for yourself
  • – make it really easy and fast

The bottom line is that you can master your habits even with ADHD.

But habits can also be problematic. Sorta like ADHD. Or chocolate.

Oh and James Clear is going to be my 2nd husband if anything happens to my current one.

I also have a private membership community where I work closely with a small group of motivated, positive women. I’d love to see you there!


Here is my affiliate link to Gretchen Rubin’s book. Click here for my full disclosure policy.