The Decolonial Parent

a continuous work in progress

why i don’t follow my own advice

Photo by sklei from Pexels

Part of the role of a youth worker, nutrition coach, or other educator is giving advice. Over the decades, the advice I’ve given could fill a library (maybe a small, neighbourhood library, but a library nonetheless). I’ve studied everything, know all the right ways to achieve my goals, and yet when it comes to applying my own advice to my own situations… let’s just say I’ve learned time and again not to judge others.

From coaching my clients on consistency to encouraging young people not to smoke, I have been so much better at giving advice than applying it. As many others with ADHD will attest, it’s one thing to know what you need to do. It’s another thing entirely to do it. Executive function disorders like ADHD mean that following our own advice is sometimes excruciatingly difficult.

Take, for example, something that everyone who’s ever known me (from teachers and coworkers to family members) will agree to: I’m terrible with timekeeping. I am frequently late, or marginally on-time and flustered, constantly underestimating how long it takes to complete tasks, and over-reaching. Common advice: get ready earlier. My reality: it doesn’t matter; 20 minutes or 2 hours, I’ll be late. I will start getting ready but, without the pressure of the impending deadline, my mind will wander and I’ll start pruning my plants or polishing my shoes or cleaning the kitchen, anything other than getting ready to leave on time. The same thing happened in school with homework projects, often handing them in incomplete having started them in the middle of the period prior, and college assignments (I literally dropped a whole class of degree thanks to missed deadlines).

There is an internet full of advice for people like me. Smarter scheduling, smarter alarms, tips and tricks, an overwhelming cascade of people who know better and presumably do better. My problem is, I know what I’m supposed to do. I just forget it until it’s urgent. The problem with “smart” solutions is that I’m smart enough to work around them. If I set alarms, I just mute them when they go off in the middle of that really important thing I was doing midway through brushing my teeth (because I can never just brush my teeth). Maybe if I lived in a box with nothing but the bare essentials I might be able to wrestle myself to a deadline on time (without deciding to sweep the most inaccessible corner of the box in meticulous detail, just because), but the modern world is increasingly distracting and I’m increasingly distracted.

I’m not here today to list my litany of flaws, although you won’t be surprised to hear it’s pretty long. The most unhelpful approach I can take to my repeated failures is believing that they define me. For as much as am frequently late, distracted, unprepared, and unpredictable, I have to work twice as hard at both improving those traits and making up for them: when I’m late, I stay late; when I’m unprepared, I put extra effort into catching up and contributing; when I upset people, I apologize. I may fail frequently, but I try to make up for it each time. If I can’t improve my executive skills, at the very least I won’t surrender to them.

None of this comes easy. It’s exhausting having to constantly check myself and compensate for my shortcomings. It took me a long time to realize that my cup empties faster than it seems like it should, for how basic the tasks at hand seem to be – and a longer time to learn how to refill it. Believe me, I’ve come a long way from the girl whose nickname was “Mess” in middle school, and none of that would have been possible without a healthy dose of self-love.

If I can give anyone just one piece of advice: find time for meditation (or yoga, if you prefer) every day. Sometimes it feels like we don’t have time, or it’s too much like hard work. Let me tell you, you deserve it. Treat yourself to a 10-minute metta or loving kindness meditation like one of these (or this one for letting go), and learn to fill your own cup. It may be tempting to watch a TV show or doom-scroll your socials instead, and I get that as much as anyone. Trust me. Just 10 minutes each day, showing love to our sweet selves, can heal a lifetime of hurt.

And that’s one piece of my own advice that I do follow.