Goals drive habit formation

What is it that you really want?
(What habits need to be in place to obtain it?)

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Time & Task Management Series:
Habits, Decisions & Attention-5

This article walks you through the process of change with specific examples from my own life.  Yep, knowing what to do and DOING what you know are two completely different things!  I’m hoping reading about my own current process (and challenges) will better explain how you can work on your own. 

I believe you’ll find it worth the time it takes to read it — and if you can stay tracked well enough to click a few of the internal links and read those too (now or later), I believe you will be rewarded with a more than a few functional dividends.  Doing it in a vacuum is doing it the HARD way!

Good-bad_HabitsGood Habits are useful “in order to”-s

We don’t replace bad habits or set good habits in place for their own sake.  If we’re smart we work on habit management because good habits make it easier for us to take consistent action toward something important that is currently tough to actuate.

What is it you really want?  What’s the goal?
For me, that’s the ability to FOCUS intentionally. 

The biggest challenge for this ADD Poster Girl is distractibility. I juggle A LOT of what I callinvisible balls” – environmental stimulation that neurotypical brains filter out automatically.

Those of us with executive functioning disorders and dysregulations have impaired filters, so we expend unnecessary cognitive energy “juggling.”  That makes it harder to focus, prioritize and activate.

I’m big on what Andrea Kuszewski (self-described science nerd, Aspergers coach, and card-carrying member of Team-ADD) calls “attention allocation.” I call it Intentional Attending.

Neatness counts.  So does organization.

So habits that make those elements a no-brainer to keep in place are key — especially now, following almost three months with my dominant hand and forearm in a cast, when I wasn’t able to do even the simplest thing to clean up after myself.  I count on my systems to do what I do — and many of the systems I have come to count on suddenly disappeared when I was mugged and my hand was smashed.

So the woman who founded The Optimal Functioning Institute™ is back in the trenches with those of you have never really taken the time to develop your systems optimally – so that you can FUNCTION optimally.

It won’t help any of us to deny our challenges — but it really won’t help to agonize over what’s making things more difficult.  We need to dedicate as many brain cells as possible to making things easier.

Reflect & Recognize, Strategize – and move ON!

It won’t be easy, and when you first start the systems development process it may seem unnecessarily complicated, but it’s essential.  And it will certainly make life easier going forward. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life spinning your wheels, do you? Follow along as I walk you through the process.

Be sure to scroll up the sidebar to read how links work on this site. They’re subtle. ==>
There are A LOT of links to explanations and background in this article particularly.
In case you miss them, I’ve also repeated some of them in the Related Content below.


Understanding the parameters of what you’re dealing with is key.

How do you expect to work through your challenges if you haven’t stared into their beady little eyes to clearly identify what they are?  And that will take some sherlocking.


So begin by stating the obvious – without playing the shame and blame game.  What’s going on NOW.  Identify the pieces. Specifically.

Then take a look at the mitigating factors — information or circumstances further complicating the situation.  That will include the specifics of your own functional challenges, of course, but you also need to identify elements outside your internal reality which make dealing with functional challenges more difficult.

Mitigating factors in my life

I am currently living and working in an apartment that is one room too small for me. I really need a dedicated office, not a portion of a fairly large room that must also function as public living space.

Since I “downsized” from a considerably larger space, I am drowning in “stuff” that once filled an office almost as large as the entire room my office must currently share.

I must achieve a couple of business objectives before it will make economic sense to move.  And that’s only part of what I am dealing with currently.

Thinking things through

  • The lack of an effective workspace amplifies my functional challenges and has interfered with my ability to do my job and hit my targets.
  • It doesn’t help that it’s been three months since I have been able to work at all, or the fact that I have to put many foundational items back in place in the aftermath of a gang mugging.
  • I am overwhelmed by how much there is to put back in place – as well as the resultant need to dedicate time and resources to healing from the recent development of PTSD.
  • ADDers don’t function well in overwhelm — quite possibly the understatement of the century!

That’s my current reality – you have yours.

By identifying what I really NEED – the ability to focus – I am able to dedicate limited cognitive resources to developing strategies that will get me where I want to go, with the fewest number of things pulling me off my path to my larger objectives.

Have YOU taken the time to identify what you really need?  I highly recommend it!


StrategizeIt just got tougher.  This is the step where I have to sift, sort and sequence. Uh-oh!  Decisions.

As regular readers have come across several times already: decisions are prefrontal cortex intensive.  Executive functions rely heavily on the prefrontal cortex.

Sifting, sorting and sequencing are big-time examples
of some of those Executive functions.

Guess which area of the brain is already taxed to the max in those of us with alphabet disorders? Yep, the PFC.

If you’re a member of Team ADD/EFD – or seem to get stuck (or simply worn down and worn out) as a result of having to make too many decisions – it only makes sense to try to expend as little effort as possible getting through the little things in your day by making a few choices “ONCE and for all”which is where habits are golden.

But FIRST we need to identify the essential items we need to have in place to begin with.  Only then can we begin to work on developing the habit of keeping those things in place.  In an upcoming article in the Habits Series we’ll tackle figuring out what those essentials actually are, but for right now we’re going to focus on getting clear about the strategizing piece of the puzzle.

Figure out which items you most need to strategize

As I work through my current situation, I need to make sure I avoid what many of us tend to do when it’s time to make a decision: the gathering of all the candidates for consideration.

Sheesh. The goal is to reduce overwhelm, not to become engulfed by it!
We need to simplify the decision-making process, not complicate it.

Deciding what to do first and where to go next is difficult enough for those of us with EFD challenges.  So let’s move some things off the plate.

Moving things off my plate

Yes, I do need to wash my van and vacuum the inside.  OK, I have to admit that little item has been on the list for quite a while now.  However, putting energy into taking care of it right now, simply to cross an aging task off my lengthy to-do list, makes no sense.

I can drive in a dirty van; it’s difficult to work and set up my equipment in an office that lacks space to turn around.

For right now, that particular van item needs to come OFF the list.
I need to focus my energy on making it easier to work in my office.

While activities that might light up my day would be helpful for mood management, and more than a few completions that would clearly make it easier for me to function might seem like a good idea, items like the following need to come off my current list as well:

  • Buying a better mattress to see if that helps my sleep disorder situation
  • Pruning my wardrobe, the big winter/summer clothing switcheroo to make it easier to get dressed every day, and the purchase of a free-standing wardrobe to make that hateful task a little easier
  • Writing frequent articles for ADDandSoMuchMore.com, as much as I enjoy the writing process, and regardless of the fact that it is a helpful way to remind myself of what I know. I need to commandeer some of the considerable time I usually spend on that activity and put it into service in areas of my life that desperately need my time and attention NOW.

These items and others like them made sense as things-to-do before I became three months behind, but they make NO sense in the current situation I identified in Step One.

These are not completions that will help my current situation NEARLY as much as focusing my energy on making it easier to work in my office.  For right now, they would be “procrastination” activities.

What items need to come off YOUR list for now?  Make it easier to sift and sort



Reflec-Strat-ActThis is where we actually have to get into ACTION.  Uh-oh! Activation struggles are just about to threaten to throw many of us back into the pit of overwhelm.

So lets make it a little easier to start. 

Begin with your calendar

You don’t live in a vacuum — you have the rest of your life to consider too.  Don’t get so focused on setting things up for future ease that you start dropping balls in the here-and-now.  The treadmill tasks – those daily to-dos – have to stay in place if you expect to avoid the dreaded domino problems.

As you will learn in the upcoming Ten Best Practices for Habit Creation articles, it’s essential to identify potential brush-fires and hose them down before they spread.

FIRST, make sure you know what it is you MUST do to continue to keep things on track (or at least to keep them from getting any worse!)  Note the days that bills must be paid.  Mentally cross off the times when you have to work to create the money to pay those bills.  You can’t use them for anything else.

Make sure you consider whatever it is you must do to keep your work life on board.

  • Most of us can’t go to work in dirty clothes, for example.  We must carve out time to handle replenishing our supplies of clean clothes eventually – even if we have a wardrobe so large it could stand in for the MGM costume shop.  For most of us, that means laundry.
  • We have to make sure our systems for feeding ourselves aren’t compromised.  Fast-food and junk-food aren’t the brain’s best friends.  It needs us to pay attention to nutrition if we expect it to work for us.

If we don’t dedicate some time to grocery shopping and food planning we’re working at cross-purposes with any expectation that we can improve on our functioning.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind anybody that you have to schedule time to actually EAT.  Or do I?

  • And then there’s sleep.  It’s REALLY dumb to steal hours from the time in bed we need to be fully rested.  You don’t want to accumulate the high interest charges on sleep debt – it tends to become due at the most inconvenient times.

Identify potential brush-fires — and hose them down before they spread.

Brush fireMixing metaphors, don’t run the risk of hyperfocusing on developing new habits as the rest of your life turns into the Titanic.

Take time to think through and schedule everything you need to be able to focus on work appropriately.  Car, computer or cellphone maintenance, perhaps?  Anything else?

Take a moment, too, to think about unfulfilled promises and upcoming expectations in the rest of your life.  What have you said yes to?

Unless you happen to enjoy groveling in apology, you either need to schedule time to handle those items OR time to refashion agreements with others who would like to believe you can be counted on to do what you said you would do.

If you are one of those people who who can’t say no,
you might want to take a look at Priorities-101: Yes Means No

With the exception of over-promises, for most of us the treadmill tasks are where the embers smoulder quietly until we smell smoke — those regular and recurring activities that tend to languish in the recesses of our minds until we have to scramble to keep from dropping them out.  (IF we keep from dropping them out!)

THAT’s where you will start

If you missed Keeping Up with the Treadmill Tasks, try to squeeze it in before you read the next article in the Habits Series (you may or may not have noticed, they usually come out on Wednesdays – and a great many follow-on articles are available since I initially posted this one).

It may be just what you need to change your attitude toward habits (and help you transform any difficulties you have keeping up with the chores). Because I didn’t split it into two parts, it’s one of the longer articles – so schedule time to take it in chunks if you need to.

Meanwhile, pay attention to what you think and do while you go about those recurring tasks.

  • If they’re not already on autopilot, you’re squandering cognitive resources.
  • Think through the frustrations and glitches with an eye toward streamlining what you do.
  • What needs tweaking?

Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t as you tweak.  Everybody’s different.  If you want to improve how life works across the board, you have to take a close look at how you work.  Expand on the elements that work for YOU and throw everybody else’s tips and tricks in the garbage — including mine (after you’ve given them a try for at least one solid week – seven days!)

Once you develop some habit-muscles handling your must-do and promised-to-do items, you are primed to target the habits driven by your answer to the question that began this article: What is it you really want?  What’s the goal?

In the next few articles in the Habit Series I’m going to put some flesh on the bones of ten principles that you might want to keep in mind as you develop those habits that will make things easier – especially if you are a citizen of Alphabet City.  Here’s a preview of coming attractions.

10 Best Practices for Habit Creation:

  1. Identify the brush-fires and hose them down
  2. Identify what you already do
  3. Drive habits with Goals
  4. Work with sub-goals first
  5. Keep a record of some sort – check in with yourself and cross things off
  6. Grease the Slide
  7. Limit Your Options (not your life)
  8. Be Consistent
  9. Think WHO, not what
  10. KEEP getting back on the horse

UPDATE: Many, if not all of the above articles are NOW already available.
Click here for the LinkList to the Habits, Decisions, Attention Series,
where you can jump RIGHT to the one you want to read.

No TIME to read all this stuff? Want more help?

man-on-phoneOnce my own life recovers from a relatively recent repair deficit situation where even the ability to use the systems I have put in place was taken from me at gunpoint, WATCH for the announcement of an upcoming 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems.

It will help you sort through a great many of the “functional modules” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be easier than what most of you are currently attempting to work with.

Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far!). As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

BY THE WAY – anyone who plays along as this Series develops – and contributes to the development of its content with the feedback of YOUR experiences (in the comments), earns a significant DISCOUNT if they take this TeleClass the first time it’s offered.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have advanced notice (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

MEANWHILE, keep reading as often as you can! To double the benefit, whenever you read a new article, make it a HABIT to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read immediately following (embedded in the text and duplicated in the Related Links at the bottom of every post if you prefer not to “interrupt yourself” while you are reading).

If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about). And I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would help me out by taking a few moments from your own life to “share” or “reblog,” spreading the word about what’s available here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com and the upcoming TeleClass, OK?

© 2013, 2017, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Habit Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!).

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)

LinkLists to other supports for this article – on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

Related Articles ’round the net

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

21 Responses to Goals drive habit formation

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  16. patricia says:

    I want to be pointed in the direction to become a Life, Spiritual, Mentor Coach and help somebody in this world find their way.


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  19. Hi Madelyn,
    Thanks for sharing my post here! Great article.


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