Every time I leave the house, I am compelled to squeeze my fingers, pat down my back right pocket, the front left pocket, then touch my glasses. As I do, I say "keys, phone, wallet, spectacles, testicles."
It isn't superstition, or some extreme form of OCD. Rather, it is a simple routine that ensures I never leave the house without the things I'll need out in the big wide world.
As I come to terms with my recent diagnosis of ADHD, I have realised these little routines are the safety rails that I need. Without them, it is like getting the inmates to run the prison. I know that there are items on my to-do list. I know what it takes to get the shit done. But I often don't. And this is my ADHD.
In the moment, I can't think.
But early in the morning, I can. Before the shit hits the fan, I can plan out my day. I time block and then the day goes perfectly. I become the boss and my wandering mind doesn't have time to cause trouble.
Self-regulation is the very thing lacking. And yet self-regulation is the cure.
Hence the little checklists. When I wake, I go to the bathroom and I know that there are five things I need to do in there. I am trying to expand the repertoire, anchoring other atomic habits to existing habits. For example, while waiting for the coffee to percolate, I empty the dishwasher.
The purpose of this anchoring is to limit the load on the pre-frontal cortex. And this isn't just an ADHD thing. This is a human thing. Our brains aren't efficient in terms of energy use. Any hack that bypasses the pre-frontal cortex helps reduce the energy consumption and allows for bandwidth for more important tasks. Such as comprehending the mixed metaphor just used.
Japanese Metro is renowned for efficiency. The guards go through a checklist of making sure all doors are clear and ready for the doors to close before allowing the train to leave the platform. It’s called "shiso kanko" or "point with finger and call."
By being explicit with the routine, the brain doesn't have to remember the individual parts. Rather, the chunking into a single routine assists the mind.
This is what I do when I leave the door. I squeeze the keys in my hand and say five words. And no, I don't squeeze the last item. I just hope for the best.