Choose a Focus, Not a Goal

dreamstimefree_143101Do we need to think differently about goals when it comes to ADHD?

We all hear about the importance of establishing measurable goals as a way to track progress and achieve success.  There’s even the acronym S.M.A.R.T. that identifies the characteristics of an effective goal – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

While this approach may succeed for many, what happens when it doesn’t?  In working with adults with ADHD, talk of goals can elicit sighs of exasperation.  I hear, “My mind doesn’t work in a linear fashion like that,” or “How can I know what I want in a year, when I can’t figure out what to do today?”

The very act of defining goals with such precision presents challenges. The executive functioning skills required to identify objectives, prioritize and decide on plans are impacted by ADHD.  Trying to make headway in this typical manner can be plain overwhelming.  There‘s often added frustration from recalling past attempts that didn’t pan out.

Peter Bregman, a strategic business advisor, proposed the notion of not setting goals in a recent blog post.  Instead, he suggested defining, ‘an area of focus’ and establishing activities you want to do that are a valuable use of your time. He states:

“A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.”

If you’ve become discouraged in trying to come up with goals, this tactic might be more helpful.  It bypasses the need to plan all the specifics, yet heads you in an overall direction. You simply need to begin doing something valuable that relates to your area of focus.  The path forward will emerge in the process.

For example, if you know you want to make a career change, this can become your area of focus.  You then engage in related activities that you want to spend time doing.  If you enjoy conversations, talk to people.  Ask friends about their jobs or reach out to new people in positions you’re drawn to. These conversations can lead to new directions that in turn, will help you clarify your next move.

Getting into action is a large part of this.  For those with inattentive type of ADHD, contemplation can become a way of life.  By starting something with a focus in mind, the ball gets rolling.  For those who are more impulsive, it’s important to consider, “is this activity related to my area of focus, and is it a valuable use of my time?” – and then to adjust accordingly.

Allow yourself to enjoy the process and to be surprised by what you discover.  We’re all accustomed to defining specific outcomes; yet doing so can narrow our results far too much.  Goals are only one way to move forward, so if you don’t work well with a linear, pre-planned approach, rest assured.