How to Light a Fire Under You
Updated: Aug 6
Do you work better with other people around? How about if you commit to someone else, telling them that you are going to do something? Does that increase your chances of getting it done? Does it make you more responsible for your actions?
Enter Accountability! I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while and today, in a weird, “meta” sort of way, I found myself having trouble getting started on this blog post. So I set out in search of my own accountability and asked around for an accountability partner for the day. We state our intentions for a block of time and then supportively check in on each other. I’ll let you know by the end of the article if it worked!
WHY IS ACCOUNTABILITY GREAT FOR ADHD BRAINS?
“It’s not about knowing what to do, it’s about doing what you know.” This is a classic quote from ADHD expert, Dr. Russel Barkley. If you are ADHD, you’re probably used to letting yourself down. You know what you have to do but you just don’t do it. Don’t feel bad. There are a whole host of skills (aka executive functions) that help us execute, or do, what we need to. These are the exact skills that are weak in ADHD brains. It is not that you lack motivation, you just don’t have an aptitude for converting intention into action, for keeping commitments to yourself.
The good news is that there are strategies that can help strengthen your ability to “do what you know”, and harnessing accountability is one of the best tools for this.
WHAT IS ACCOUNTABILITY?
In basic terms, accountability is keeping commitments. At its lowest level, there is personal accountability – making a commitment to yourself, like a date in your calendar. However, ADHD brains often need something a little weightier, namely, being answerable to someone else.
If you state to someone else what you want to achieve and then report back on your progress, intentions become expectations that you are expected to fulfill. Forget willpower, you do it so you don’t look bad.
You’ll need just enough social interaction that you do not feel alone, but not enough that it becomes distracting.
TYPES OF ACCOUNTABILITY
You can set up a work date. With the world growing more and more virtual, it’s as easy as jumping on Zoom call. If you like good, old-fashioned real life, you can meet each other in person. The other person can see what you are doing and when you are getting distracted, and vice versa. It works both ways so the arrangement has mutual benefits. I’ve had work dates both at coffee shops and around my dining room table. This has even become a business! Check out the site Focusmate – you book an accountability slot with someone and then Focusmate time-matches you up with someone that you state your intentions to, hop on a video call with and report back to at the end.
Some people take the idea further by having regular meetings with a set accountability partner or group, where you take turns reporting back what you got done since meeting last, and set up commitments for the next meeting.
You can try public accountability, where you state your intentions in a Facebook post, for example. There are apps like Stickk and Beminder, where you pay money if you don’t do what you intend. With Stikk, you can determine what happens to the money you need to pay – send it to a friend or foe. Donate it to charity or even an “anti-charity” (one you do not support!) While researching accountability apps, I even came across a wristband (Pavlok) that gives you electrical shocks when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be!
And then there’s the Body Double.
According to author Patricia Quinn, MD, “A body double is someone who sits with a person with ADHD while they perform tasks that are difficult to accomplish alone.” This person does not have to also be working, but their physical presence anchors your focus and helps make the task more palatable because you are being social. Think inviting a friend over to chat to you while you declutter.
WHY IT WORKS
Firstly, when you state your intentions, you need to pause to think it out. You break down the task/project. You specify the steps it requires. You also need to plan what to do when. These are all parts of executive function that many ADHDers like to skip over in favor of jumping right in. The problem with that is that you can get stuck if the steps are not clear enough or you do not plan your time properly.
Secondly, ADHDers are either very strong socially or they avoid social interaction. In the former case, what better way to harness one of your strengths than to use the social element to support you? Surround the activity with fun rather than the isolation of a solitary activity.
In the latter case, although we feel discomfort at social interaction, we are often actually starved for it. In place of it, our minds wander to social media, or sending messages, just to feel a connection. When you have an accessible work buddy, you may not fall prey so much to those distractions.
Then there’s the added bonus of putting your goals out there to a sounding board for feedback. And if it’s a good partner, you will have a cheerleader and someone to celebrate with when you reach your targets.
Finally, neurologically, we can support our brains by using accountability. You may have heard of “mirror neurons”, brain chemicals that fire when we observe others doing something, as if we are ourselves doing it. When we see someone working attentively, our brains basically “get into the same gear.”
As an ADHDer, you may have long been exposed to nagging and disapproval from others for not getting things done. But now you get to choose your own safe, non-judgmental partners to support you in achieving your goals. To form a mutually supportive relationship, pick someone who
· makes you feel good about yourself.
· understands you, ADHD and why it’s so hard to get stuff done.
· can strike a balance between nudging you into action and understanding when you miss the mark.
Can you think of anyone like this? This is also what ADHD coaches strive to offer for their clients.
Ok, I promised I’d report back at the end whether the accountability I sought helped me write this. I worked in 3 slots to get this written, and I never would have gone back for the 3rd slot if I didn’t commit first to my partner. You know who you are. Thanks for all the encouragement and support today. I hope you got your stuff done too.
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