Look Before You Leap

adhd mastery Apr 13, 2021

I've always loved being energetic, willing to take risks, a quick start that goes into action without too much deliberation. On the flip side of that trait is the strong possibility that I would fling myself into a course of action that really wasn't thought out and didn't turn out the way I imagined it would, I even imagined how it would turn out at all. My friends and associates always thought I was such a confident, bold, go-getter (and I was, and still am) but many of my decisions were simply impulsive, rather than strategic.

My MO in the past was acting like a kid on the first sunny day of summer, racing to the pool, scampering up the ladder of the high dive, and hurling myself through space before noticing the pool was closed for cleaning and there was no water in it. After so many things that really didn't add up in my favor, I began to recognize that other people had a more deliberate way of choosing where to focus their time, energy, and effort and that I might be able to learn something from them. 

I rarely had a plan and didn't think I needed one. Being wildly enthusiastic and super excited to get going was all the planning I needed. As for the how of what I was going to do, my default assumption was that I would just figure it out. I guess you could say my strategy ( if you can call it that) was something like flying by the seat of my pants and deal with problems as they came up, go as far as I could go on my own and if I couldn't figure out how to resolve problems or overcome obstacles that came up along the way, I would abandon the project.

Thinking back on it now, I'm not proud to admit it, but I'm being honest and I suspect I am not the only one. I loved the feeling of anticipation and excitement that every new goal or project would bring, along with my absolute certainty that it would be a winner. I now understand that this is often referred to as Shiny Object Syndrome and that the excitement I felt was not because I had a world-class idea that simply must be acted upon, but simply because it was a new (but not necessarily improved) idea. And, over time, every single idea or goal became considerably less shiny.

As I got deeper into it, there would be obstacles, hidden limitations in my knowledge or skills, people problems, and the inevitability of boredom. Ah, boredom. It's always felt like a life-threatening condition to me. Something to be avoided at all costs. And that cost usually meant changing lanes and running a different race. Now my goal is intention over impulse. I know it doesn't sound sexy or exciting. You might even think it sounds boring. That's OK. I used to feel that way myself. Until my pile of Regrettables just got too high and too deep to simply sweep under the rug, shove into the closet or donate to Goodwill.

Eventually, my ego just couldn't handle watching others pass me by who were no smarter or creative than I was. But they had something I didn't. They had the ability to pick and stick. Pick a target and stick with it until they reach it. And they even figured out how to pick the right target. It took me a very long time to realize those are two different sets of skills and I was rather deficient in both of them. I was a great starter, but a shitty finisher. And, I often started the wrong things, whether I finished them or not. 

My first career was in medical sales- initially pharmaceuticals, later medical malpractice insurance, and eventually orthopedic implants ( hip and knee replacement products, as well as an assortment of plates and screws for smaller operations). While I learned a lot about selling and customer service during those years, I really knew nothing about business. In my second career in social services / mental health/psychotherapy, I got even further away from the business. The only business metrics I had to be concerned with during those years was managing the productivity of my staff so that they were documenting their services and dropping bills to the county department of mental health, which meant we got paid and could pay them. That was the extent of it. 

When I made the decision to start a private practice, I had a lot to learn and a lot of systems to set up. Even after several years and considerable success in building a local reputation, referral network, and clientele, I still didn't think of my practice as a business. That shift in my mindset came about a couple of years after making the choice to pivot from therapist to coach and from a local, face-to-face service model to a virtual, online one. It was only then that I realized I had created a job for myself, but not a business. A business makes money for you, even when you are not working. I had a job, even though I was self-employed. And, the job I had created for myself was one that had zero benefits, zero on-the-job training, zero support resources and I only got paid when I was working.

Needless to say, after 8 years of being "successfully" self-employed, I knew next to nothing about running a business. Now, I am not hating on myself for this. It's actually very typical for someone who was a therapist and a major reason why many therapists are unable to survive in private practice. Eventually what I learned from starting over, recognizing that what I didn't know about business was hurting me, and making the choice to start learning what I needed to know helped me create a set of principles I now apply to both my business and my personal life. My hope is that by sharing them with others, they can shave considerable time off the learning curve and have fewer regrettables. 

The truth is that I am just as impulsive, just as wildly creative, and have just as many ideas competing for my focus and attention as I ever did. But what has changed is that I now understand my brain, my driven nature, and my tendencies and I am highly motivated to avoid creating any more regrettables. I've forgiven myself for those I have piled up in the past because honestly, what's done is done and there is zero value in wishing the past were different. But, I am very committed to making the most of what I have got left of this life and that means wrangling my monkey mind so I can make better choices.

Making better choices requires that you are aware that doing things impulsively does work out some of the time and when it does, life is great. But, if impulsivity is the only trick in your trick bag, you are up shit's creek without a paddle when the situation calls for something shall we say more thoughtful. The good news is that no matter how much you've become dependent on impulsivity as your default decision-making mode, you can learn new tricks.

You don't need to change, as a matter of fact, being impulsive sometimes can be a great asset because while others are calculating their chances of success and assessing their competition, you can already be racing ahead, following your impulse and ignoring the rest of the pack.  You just need to develop options so that your default settings can remain your go-to's but when you need or want alternatives, you'll already have them, tried and tested and ready to rev up their engines and hit the open road. That's why it's not enough to just think about these strategies, but actually, take them out and give them a spin.

If your brain has zero experience with something, in a moment of need you simply won't think of it, or if you do, you will quickly avoid the option out of anxiety that it might not work. Practice, practice, practice. Then you'll have a variety of tools on your belt and you can grab the right one for the job.  Now, go start creating your list and give them a trial run. 

 

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