In her last article, Casey spoke about managing your time as a neurodivergent person. Now, she’s back with more helpful tips! How to set goals (and stick to them) as a neurodivergent person.
Goal Setting Problems
For most of my life, I’ve attempted to set goals. Yet, generally, I disappointed myself. Sometimes I finished a task or project too early, then forgot I did it. I would scramble to remember where I put the project, and sometimes even redo it last minute. But most of the time I completely missed my deadline. I got my grades decreased for being late. I got reprimanded by my bosses. I would even miss personal project deadlines and give up on them when I missed deadlines.
As an autistic person, I like having set timelines. Yet, the ADHD in me gets distracted. Add fatigue and disability flare ups, and it’s a recipe for disaster, in my mind. Although I now have a job that doesn’t have deadlines, I still have personal projects that I crave deadlines for. Knowing that they’re arbitrary doesn’t alleviate the feeling of failure when I miss them. And I’ve tried so many techniques to try to fix this. Luckily, the solution I found works amazing with my neurodivergence, with the added bonus of helping my physical disabilities too.
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Goal Setting Techniques
The most common goal setting technique is SMART goal. It stands for Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. I even attended classes in the Navy to learn about this.
Unfortunately, for me, it was too vague. What’s attainable? How do I know what’s relevant? For an autistic person, a lot of steps or information is relevant that a neurotypical person wouldn’t think was relevant. I’d get corrected over and over that my SMART goal wasn’t right, but with no clear direction on what to actually do.
The other technique I’ve tried was to simply compare to others. Whatever I was working on, I’d see what my coworkers were doing, I’d Google average times, and I would even watch countless tutorials which said how long something should take.
Most of you reading this right now will probably see the problem with this. In the writing community, we’re constantly reminding each other not to compare ourselves to other writers. We all have our abilities and strengths. Comparing yourself to another person in a different situation is harmful to our mental health.
On top of that, I was highly masking* at the time. I compared myself to neurotypical, able-bodied people and lamented that I couldn’t keep up with them. I had frequent meltdowns and burn outs because I was pushing myself too hard.
Once I accepted that I was disabled and neurodivergent, I stopped comparing myself. It was amazing for my mental health. Unfortunately, it’s not so amazing for goal setting still.
I love numbers and patterns. Everything I do, I boil down to analyse the pattern or the number of things I’ve completed, like words written in a day. After a few days, I would create a spreadsheet based on the pattern or numbers and create a goal from that.
The problem was that I did this at my best. Feeling great, no overwhelm, no flare ups, I could pass as neurotypical or able-bodied. Then there would be too much stimulation. Or I’d have a flare up and be in excruciating pain. Or both. That goal that seemed so reasonable the day before, now seemed impossible.
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Goal Setting Solution for Neurodivergents
While browsing TikTok, as I do, I came across a planner for disabled people. It divided tasks into “good” days and not-so-good days. As you read in my time management post, I implemented that quite successfully.
It got me thinking. If it could work for completing things around the house, what if I used it for goals? I started analysing not just what I do on good days, but on medium and not-so-good days too.
The conclusion I made was to have three goals for whatever I want to accomplish and divide in tasks corresponding to them.
How It Works
First, you figure out what you can do at your absolute best. Is it writing 2k a day? Reading a book in a day? Crocheting a foot a day in your pattern? (Yes, these are goals I’m working on.) You can take those best numbers, project to your end goal, and now you have your “best” goal end date or end completion (like 30 books a month).
Second, you figure out your medium amounts. Maybe you’re just a little fatigued or really busy. Project out to that end goal. Lastly, what can you accomplish when you’re feeling your worst? Project to that date.
Now you have three goals for one thing. What I love about this is if you feel awful for many days, you don’t need to be disappointed in yourself. You accounted for taking care of your body into that goal. On the other hand, if you feel awful and suddenly you feel great, you could move in your schedule from the not-so-good feeling goal to the medium goal or even the best goal.
The goal posts could always change, but only for the better. If you set your goal posts for listening to your body and taking care of yourself, you won’t fail or disappoint yourself. But you could always surpass it and surprise yourself!
As neurodivergent and disabled folks, we can’t operate how neurotypicals work. And that’s OK! We need to create goals that are flexible and allow us to take care of ourselves when we need to. Don’t ever forget that. Prevent burn out and take care of yourself in the midst of goals.