Unfortunately, the symptoms of ADHD can make it harder to set and achieve goals. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course. Instead, it just indicates that the traditional approach to New Year’s resolutions might not work for you. Learn more about why resolutions are especially challenging with ADHD and what kinds of goal-setting strategies are better suited to your needs.

The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions

Generally, our society imagines New Year’s resolutions in a pretty narrow way. The typical resolution involves starting some sort of new activity, like going to the gym, right on January 1st. A successful resolution is thought to be one that you stick to wholeheartedly from the get-go. If someone can achieve this, the idea is that they’ll establish a new habit that improves their life on a daily basis.

For people with ADHD, this system is practically doomed to fail. People with ADHD often struggle to get motivated, so it’s harder for them to build new habits. Even if they want to incorporate a new activity into their schedule, they may be tempted to procrastinate on taking that first step.

Many New Year’s resolutions are also based on creating a new routine. While it’s been shown that having a routine can help with ADHD, people with this condition have an especially hard time building one. ADHD brains favor spontaneity and novelty, so doing the same thing over and over again can cause them to quickly lose focus. People with ADHD are also more prone to forgetfulness and disorganization, which adds to the difficulty of incorporating a new practice into one’s life.

One of the lesser-known reasons that some people with ADHD sometimes struggle with goal-setting practices like New Year’s resolutions is the fact that they tend to avoid failure at all costs. After facing years of criticism and feeling like they aren’t measuring up to their peers, an individual with ADHD may prefer to abstain from setting any type of goal for the upcoming year rather than risk failing at it.

An ADHD-Friendly Approach to Resolutions

It’s time to rethink how you approach New Year’s resolutions. With ADHD, a different strategy can help you set realistic goals and actually achieve them. Instead of following the normal formula of setting a specific, trackable goal, however, try choosing a theme for the year instead.

A theme is a good fit for ADHDers because it’s less focused on accomplishing specific tasks. For example, a “traditional” resolution might be to prepare meals for the week every Sunday in an effort to avoid takeout and microwave dinners. But that’s going to be really challenging for someone with ADHD because of the organization, planning, and multitasking involved.

Alternatively, you could consider making “healthy eating” your theme for the year. This type of resolution doesn’t involve sticking to a schedule and checking things off a list. Instead, it’s an idea you can keep in mind to guide you throughout the weeks and months to come. For instance, you can feel accomplished when you choose healthier foods at the grocery store or cook a meal at home rather than picking up fast food for dinner.

When you have a theme, there can be many different ways to work towards your goal. You can even make a list of actions related to your theme that you can refer to when you need ideas. You don’t have to perform your theme for the year perfectly, but it can nudge you in the direction you want to go. The idea is that, over time, you’ll get into the habit of taking those actions without additional prompting.

More Ideas for New Year’s Themes

Does the idea of a New Year’s theme appeal to you? Here are a few more examples to inspire you to come up with one that works for you and your personal goals:

  • Mindfulness: Work on taking time to focus on the present moment in order to alleviate your ADHD symptoms and relieve stress.
  • Movement: Try to be more active in any form — walking, dancing, doing stretches, playing a sport, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.
  • Gratitude: Practice gratitude more frequently by writing in a gratitude journal, meditating, or simply showing thanks to those around you.
  • Creativity: Express yourself through artistic passions and get inspired by going to museums, watching movies, or reading books.
  • Saving: Work on minimizing impulse purchases and try out different techniques for spending less, like only shopping with cash or canceling subscriptions.