Setting New Year’s resolutions can be an exciting time, as we look forward to a fresh start and envision positive changes in our lives. However, according to a frequently cited study from 1988, only 19% of people who set resolutions are able to maintain them for 2 years. Apparently, people responding stated that lack of willpower was the biggest barrier. The researchers also reported that excessive stress and negative emotions contributed to ‘slips’.
It’s now 36 years later, and we finally understand that ‘lack of personal control, excessive stress, and negative emotion’ are all common for ADHDers, and ADHD is actually more strongly linked to anxiety and depression compared to autism alone. We even know that thinking of ADHD traits as a ‘lack of willpower’ is an act of reducing a complex relationship between an individual’s neurotype and an inaccessible society to blame neurodivergent people for failing to conform to neurotypical standards.
So, for those of us who are neurodivergent, sticking to resolutions and working towards our goals is naturally challenging if we keep thinking of it as a linear process (especially since the traditional approach to goal-setting does not align with our unique needs and strengths). But fear not! In this blog post, I explore how to create New Year’s resolutions that are neurodivergent-friendly, empowering us to make meaningful progress and celebrate our achievements along the way.
Embrace Your Neurodivergent Identity
The first step in creating neurodivergent-friendly resolutions for the New Year is to embrace your neurodivergent identity. Recognize that your brain works differently, and that’s okay! Understanding your strengths and challenges can help you set realistic goals that take your unique neurotype, special interests, abilities and needs into account. For example, if you struggle with sustaining attention and focus over a prolonged period of time, instead of setting a resolution to work uninterrupted for hours on end, consider breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable chunks.
Emphasize quality over quantity, and celebrate your progress along the way instead of pushing yourself to go even farther than you originally planned. It’s all too easy to tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to sit and watch TV because you didn’t finish all your tasks. Or, that you can’t meet up with your friends because you didn’t clean the house.
Sometimes, you might have to forego these things if it means prioritizing your mental health. But, most times we need to allow ourselves to find the balance between doing tasks and rest—even if resting looks like ‘being productive’ by engaging in a project related to our special interest because it nourishes us and gives us energy. Ultimately, we do not need to ‘earn’ the right to engage in activities that make us feel good just because we failed in conforming to neurotypical standards.
Set Realistic and Flexible Goals
When it comes to setting resolutions, it’s crucial to be realistic and flexible. We often have different energy levels, sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning styles—even in comparison to each other, because we will all present our neurotype differently based on things like gender, race, ethnicity, and culture. Recognizing and respecting these differences is key to creating resolutions that are attainable and sustainable.
You can start by focusing on the big picture of the goal you want to achieve. Then, work backwards by listing the tasks, actions, or activities you need to do to build towards that big picture. From there, break down each task, action, or activity into small, achievable goals that align with your interests and passions.
For instance, if you’re passionate about art and want to focus on the big picture of creating a piece that is showcased in a local gallery, by breaking down the steps into small and achievable goals, you might set a resolution to spend a few minutes each day exploring a new art technique. Each small goal could be used to build up towards creating a small work of art. Then, slowly working towards the bigger piece of work.
Remember, it’s okay to adjust your goals as needed. Just because setting resolutions occurs at the beginning of each year, culturally, does not mean that you need to achieve the big dream in that year. There’s a reason why 5-year goal plans exist, and your resolutions can build towards those larger-than-life plans. Besides, life happens, and it does not care about the plans you had agreed to see your resolution come to fruition. Flexibility is essential for long-term success of reaching the big picture goal that you have in mind.
Prioritize Self-Care and Mental Health
Neurodivergent individuals often face unique challenges related to mental health and self-care, as I mentioned earlier. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize your well-being and make self-care a top priority. Build self-care into how your resolutions are being planned and as a part of the planning process. Consider incorporating activities that promote relaxation, stress reduction, and emotional well-being into your resolutions. This could include practicing mindfulness (including active mindfulness), engaging in regular physical exercise, or scheduling regular breaks throughout your day. Remember that taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity, and it will ultimately support your ability to work towards your goals.
Because, let’s be honest, if a study shows that autistic children are generating more information at rest, then that means that we might be doing even more in our ‘resting time’ than we are when we’re actively being seen as ‘productive’. It’s also why we are considered to have ‘disorganized thoughts’, and why it seems like our brains never stop thinking. It makes sense, then, that we need a longer amount of time to have deep restorative rest than our neurotypical peers, too. By building self-care and mental health into our resolutions, and committing to providing accommodations for ourselves wherever possible, we’re supporting ourselves and the world in breaking down the standards of neuro-conformity—one resolution at a time.
Celebrate Milestones and Adapt as Needed
It’s no secret that we often have a unique perspective and way of approaching life. Instead of focusing solely on the end result, celebrate the smaller milestones and progress you make along the way. Recognize and appreciate your efforts, even if they may seem insignificant to others. Ultimately, we can make the resolution to stop measuring our efforts by neuro-conforming standards just by embracing who we are. Every step forward is worthy of celebration and a testament to our resilience and determination of loving and caring for ourselves in a deeply inaccessible world. Find ways to reward yourself for your achievements, whether it’s treating yourself to something you enjoy or taking a break to relax and recharge.
Remember, resolutions are not set in stone, and it’s important to be adaptable and adjust your goals as needed. Life is unpredictable, and circumstances may change throughout the year. If a goal becomes unattainable, or no longer serves or interests you, don’t be afraid to modify or replace it with something that better aligns with your current situation. You can even choose to make resolutions every quarter or six months if you so choose! At the end of the day, the purpose of resolutions is to improve your well-being and happiness, so it’s essential to be flexible and make choices that support your overall growth and fulfillment—no one else’s.
Setting New Year’s resolutions can be a transformative experience, especially when approached with a mindset that exalts your specific neurotype. Embrace your neurodivergent identity, set realistic and flexible goals, prioritize self-care and mental health, celebrate milestones and progress, and adapt as needed. Remember, progress is not always linear, and it’s okay to adjust your resolutions as you navigate the journey. With these strategies in mind, you can create resolutions that honor your particular strengths and empower you to make meaningful progress towards the life you envision. Cheers to a fantastic and non-neuro-conforming new year!