ADHD and Don’t Break the Chain!

Motivation is the urge ‘to do’ something. Lots of people with ADHD, find they don’t feel motivated to take action until a deadline is looming.

Then there is a sense of urgency, as they race against the clock. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released so they can focus and prioritize. Everything unrelated to goal is blocked out until the task is completed.

When the project is finish they breathe a sigh of relief, feel victorious and vow never to let that happen again. And really mean it! However, when the next project comes along, getting started is just as difficult.

Creating a deadlines for yourself before the actual deadline sounds like a good way round this, but you know these aren’t a ‘real’ so these personal deadlines don’t provide the same motivation.

Don’t Break the Chain

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, developed a  system that puts a stop to deadline panics and improves the quality of your work.  He calls it  ‘Don’t break the chain’.

Jerry realized his funniest jokes came as a result of him sitting down and writing every day.

Even though he knew this, actually doing it wasn’t easy. To help him with his writing habit, he got a big wall calendar and every day he sat and wrote, he put a red cross on the calendar.

After a few days and a few crosses, he was motivated to continue because he wanted to see the calendar fill with red. He didn’t want to break the chain of crosses so he kept writing.

When a young comedian asked for career advice, Jerry shared his ‘Don’t break the chain’ technique. Since then, many people have used it to develop habits that are important to them.

Once a habit of doing an important task every day is established, you go into auto pilot and don’t rely on motivation or deadlines to take action.

Why Does ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ Work For ADHDers?

People with ADHD tend to be motivated by rewards, goals and competition. The ‘Don’t break the Chain’ incorporates all of these.

A reward of a red cross might not seem like a ‘good’  reward, but you will be surprised what you can get yourself to do for a red cross!  The goal is to keep the chain going, and this means there is an element of competition with yourself.

By using this method, the emphasis shifts from a love/hate relationship with deadlines and struggling with procrastination to consistent daily effort. This might have been hard to establish in the past; however, because the ’Don’t break the chain’ has some built in motivational factors, this simple method is also powerful.

Warning! It Might Feel Strange at First.

Deadlines and panics create emotional highs and lows and drama. When you are experiencing them, you think you don’t like them. Yet when they aren’t part of your life any more, you might find yourself getting bored or restless. If you begin to feel bored, remember that it is a normal side effect. It takes a little time to get use to the new you and to start enjoying feeling ahead of the game, organized and confident

Remind yourself that you can create an exciting life without deadlines .

You can use ‘Don’t break the chain” in combination with other strategies that we talk about on the blog. For example, use your timer and the 5 second rule to get started.

In the fall of last year, I used the ‘Don’t break the chain’ method to create a new habit of writing first thing in the morning. When the alarm rings at 6am, rather than checking my emails on my phone in bed (I feel embarrassed when remember I did this now),  I get up and write.  I write in 30 minute chunks, and I use my timer to keep on task. If I feel resistance, after setting the timer I can say 5,4,3,2,1, write. Then, after my writing for the day is complete, I give myself a red cross on the calendar taped by my desk.

1) Pick Your Activity

What action would make a big difference in your life?

Jerry’s was writing. What is yours?

2) Print Out Your Calendar

This website has a clean, printable calendar. You could print out the whole year, or the first month to get you started.

3) Create a Tracking Station

Post your calendar on your wall, and put a red pen nearby.

4) Record

Mark your calendar with a red cross every day that you do your action.

5) Good Luck!

…and remember don’t break the chain!

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  1. Sarah Cummings says:

    I think this is quite another brilliant idea to share. ‘Don’t break the chain’? Yeah, such a nice thought. 👍👍

  2. Paris says:

    Hello Everyone,
    I thought I was the only one with deadline crisis syndrome (what I call it). When I use a “to do” list it works but I never thought of the “don’t break the chain method”. Neat idea! I’m 47 and struggle everyday with motivation at home. I am always disappointed in myself and feel worse knowing I let my family down. Your site and others on it let me know at least I’m not the only one in the world as I’ve always thought.

    • Ary says:

      “deadline crisis syndrome”…I like that! You aren’t alone!

  3. Avanti says:

    This is exactly what happens with me! like every word of it! thanks for this brilliant piece of advice. I will apply it starting tomorrow morning, since it is midnight right now and I can’t really do much.

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