A Pattern of Practice

I’m testing for my 4th degree black belt in two weeks and my brain is a jumble of theory, movements, pattern sequences, and exercises.

Luckily, it is finally starting to coalesce into something that feels doable, something I am building on because it has been several months of inching forward and my brain is not a fan of increments.

In fact, my brain would prefer it if I could spend a whole day learning everything and keep it permanently in my head.

If only that would work, one day of overload but then I’d know everything.

A GIF of a skull with flashing images where the brain should be.?
A GIF of a skull with flashing images where the brain should be.

May 1: Low Key

I want a lot out of this month but I am trying to teach myself to add things slowly instead of trying to do everything all at once.

After all, I know that successful changes, new practices, come from starting small and building up.

BUT

I also know that jumping right into a bunch of new practices all at once feels good. I feel engaged and energetic and accomplished…until I run out of steam.

And despite the fact that I run out of steam EVERY SINGLE TIME, my brain still wants to chase that excited feeling of doing ALL OF THE THINGS.

Without the benefits of medication and experience, I would be planning to do more art, more writing, more exercise, more Taekwon-do, more house organizing, more everything all at once, starting right now, maybe half an hour of each, on top of what I already do each day.

It would be fun today but by the end of the week, I would be out of steam.

So, instead, I am layering all of those things into my life during May.

I will ‘touch’ each habit each day but only really focus on one at a time.

Let’s see how it goes.

?a view of a backyard patio with bare trees in the background
My patio and trees are on the same plan that I am – the basics in place but we’ll add new things a little at a time and let them grow. Image description: The view from one corner of my patio. A lawn chair is directly across from me and beyond that there are trees that don’t have any leaves on them next to my red shed.

Everything’s A Damn Practice

Well, I have kind of realized it before but I have only recently come to understand the full extent of it.

I’m not a ‘workaholic’ and I am not obsessed with productivity but my brain has a hard time prioritizing so even at my most relaxed, I am aways pushing away the idea that I *should* be doing something else.

And sometimes, I am also keeping an eye on the clock to see if I have been relaxing ‘too long.’

It’s easier if I have chosen an activity with a clear completion point but I can then choose, in advance, to say “I’m going to do this thing until this point.” That gets me out of the wondering about the time frame but it hasn’t saved me from having to consciously choose to ignore the ‘shoulds.’

For me, living with ADHD has often been about bracing for the fact that I may have misjudged the time, scope, or schedule for doing something important. There is always the chance that the thing that has slipped my mind is a key task or an important deadline that I have not allowed enough time for.

So, even though I take lots of downtime, it can take a lot of work to get my whole mind to corporate.

But, I am getting better at shutting those thoughts out in advance. Part of my success comes from being conscious of the issue and saying, aloud, “I’ve done X, Y, Z, and that’s enough for now, so I am going to read for half an hour.” but another part is just about sheer practice.

I hope it keeps getting easier.

A view of one side of a backyard patio with chairs and flowers and a shed in the background.
The view from my reading chair. Image description: The view from one side of my patio. Part of the sky, some trees and a section of my backyard is visible in sunshine and shade. You can also see my red and white shed, a bunch of plants in flower pots, a deck chair with a red cushion, a yoga mat hung over the patio rail (wooden with black metal uprights.)

A Pause In My Day

One of the problems with having ADHD is that prevents you using time effectively.

So, I can be ‘working’ at my desk for hours but because I have switched tasks so often, I don’t have anything to show for it.

That can lead to more time at my desk in an effort to finish my tasks…and…and…so on.

As part and parcel of those executive function issues, I can lose track of the need to take a break. it’s not about me being a ‘workaholic’ or ‘Type A’ – I’m neither of those things. It’s a perception issue.

My plan is always to ‘just finish this and then take a break.’ Unfortunately, between the time it takes me to ‘just finish this’ and my challenges around understanding how long a given task will take, I can reach the end of the day having only taken a break for lunch. (And I only remember that because my husband comes home to lunch – which creates a distinct marker for lunch time. I rarely, if ever, forget to eat, but sometimes I multitask my lunchtimes.)

So, one of my goals for this summer to prioritize my break times.

I’m picking a time during the work day when I am going to relax for at least 15 mins. More, if my schedule allows.

That’s why this afternoon found me on my front step, reading, drinking tea, and watching the clouds.

So far, so good!

A view of a suburban neighbourhood and the sky, seen though a patio railing.
The view from my chair on the front step. Image description: A view of cars, houses, lilacs and the sky as scene through the black metal uprights and wooden railings of a set of steps.

Doing Nothing

I am currently reading two different books about doing nothing.*

Yes, I do see the irony in that.

I’m really interested in the idea of doing nothing and what “doing nothing” means for different people.

I rarely, if ever, do literally nothing.

My ADHD brain won’t start for it.

BUT that doesn’t mean that I am always working or always being “productive.” (Blech)

I make a distinction between work (for pay or for purpose) time and my other time. I spend my other time in a variety of ways but I have almost always planned what is going to happen during that time.

I might be doing a household project or I might be reading. I could be drawing or going for a walk.

Knowing the plan and how long I will spend at something is a crucial element in my relaxation. If I don’t decide in advance, my brain will keep trying to figure out if I am spending enough time at the activity or if is time to switch to a different one.

I’m not stuck with the plan once it is made either, I can choose to change it. But the choice has to be conscious or I will not stay relaxed.

So I may have chosen to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for 20 minutes. (Which is technically doing nothing but for me is an activity I chose in that moment.) At the end of 20 minutes, I can choose to spend another 20 or 10 or an hour. That will all still feel relaxing.

But, if I try to just lie there for an indeterminate amount of time, my brain will be full of questions “Is this what you should be doing? Have you forgotten something? Have you been lying here too long? Are you done yet?”

For me, lying on the couch for a specific amount of time is not ‘doing nothing’ – it’s lying on the couch.

Anyway, I do understand that there is a lot of pressure on all of us to be working hard and being productive all the time and I can just as easily fall victim to it as anyone else can.

But I also resist the idea that having a plan or a schedule means that I am not relaxed ‘enough’ or that I am ‘always working.’

I’m interested to see what the books have to say about ‘nothing’ and what insights they might have for my busy brain.

These flowers have nothing do with this post. I just think they are pretty.

A patch of small purple flowers surrounded by green leaves
Image description: a patch of small purple flowers surrounded by green leaves.

*The books are ‘How to do Nothing’ by Jenny Odell and ‘The Lost Art of Doing Nothing’ by Maartje Willems.