As someone living with AuDHD or another flavor of neurodivergence (ND) this topic is particularly important. When we look closely at our relationships, there’s a key thing that often gets missed – the difference between what we do (habits) and who we are (personality traits). In the ND mind the two are often conflated at the expense of building meaningful relationships and personal growth.
What Are Habits Then?
Habits are like shortcuts our brain creates to make regular tasks easier and quicker.
They’re the little things we do without thinking – how we drive, how we manage our time, how we talk to each other, even how we keep our spaces clean. These habits can be changed, reshaped, and turned into something new with the right supports and strategies. Yes, I know, what if you have executive function (EF) glitches, we’re getting there.
There are also negative habits that we repeat regularly but are harmful to us in some way. They might feel good or provide relief in the short term, but in the long run, they can lead to negative consequences for our health, well-being, or relationships.
Here are some examples:
1. Keeping Things Clean: Keeping your space tidy and organized.
2. Punctuality: Being on time for meetings and stuff.
3. Being Nitpicky: It’s like always noticing and pointing out the tiny imperfections in things or situations, rather than looking at the bigger picture.
4. Listening Skills: Being present and able to understand another person’s perspective.
5. Being Judgmental: It’s drawing negative conclusions about others without knowing them or considering the wider context.
Who We Really Are
Just as you are born with a certain eye color that stays with you throughout life, personality traits remain relatively consistent throughout your life. They affect how you experience and respond to the world around you, shaping your interactions, reactions, and overall approach to life.
For example, if someone is naturally optimistic, they tend to see the hope and positive side of things in almost every situation, its just in them to be that way.
Other examples of personality traits are:
1. Optimism/Pessimism: Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.
2. Flexibility: How well you adjust to new situations, pivot or are open to other points of view.
3. Assertiveness: Being confident in standing up for yourself with the facts vs emotion alone.
4. Patience: How well you handle waiting or delayed gratification.
5. Resilience: Bouncing forward through and from adverse experiences.
What Happens When Change Is Needed?
Now that we’re all experts on this stuff 😉 let’s look at what happens when someone is upset or hurt by how we think about something, something we said or did. They will likely ask us to change it and the common refrain from someone with ND is,
“Don’t try to change me” or “I don’t want to change who I am.”
This all-or-nothing tendency of the ND mind believes every thing you think, feel and do is YOU. But only some of it is you. The rest is a recipe of habits, conditioning or adaptations (needed for survival).
Interestingly, many of the ‘personality traits’ listed include beliefs and skills, you can learn and embody, allowing you to experiencing life more fully. I grew up being incredibly pessimistic but am now optimistic after years of retraining my thinking (in part by seeking therapy or coaching periodically). I also learned flexibility, patience, assertiveness and all my relationship skills that way.
What If You Have Autism or ADHD?
For those with AuDHD or EF glitches for other reasons, changing habits can be really tough. It’s like trying to find your way through a maze in the dark. The comfort of routine, time-blindness, difficulty with transitions, the struggle to read social cues – all these things can make changing even a small habit feel like climbing a mountain.
And for those with ADHD, the constant battle with impulsivity, staying focused, and keeping up motivation adds even more layers to the challenge.
But you have reason to be hopeful about the option to learning the various skills, habits, including those considered personality traits. Here’s why:
- Optimism can be learned through a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral approaches (CBT), mindfulness and other tools that can help in reshaping thought patterns, fostering a more optimistic outlook.
- I learned Flexibility through therapy, meditation, a lot of journaling, and a few key relationships with people it felt safe to take risks with.
- My capacity for Patience has improved significantly over time as I’ve learned to be present with the help of meditation and mindfulness practice. I even created a free workbook and video on how to meditate because no other practice has had the impact on my growth like meditation has.
- Building resilience has been a necessity for me with all the health issues, having 3 sons with AuDHD, and so on. What that demonstrates is our capacity to step up for ourselves during the most adverse experience of our lives.
As For Habits
- Procrastination can be reduced using strategies to help put leverage on yourself to get things done.
- Keeping Things Clean and organized can be helped by learning an organization strategy for your space and your things, then creating a schedule for maintaining it. I needed help creating all of this because my EF issues disable me in this area. Can’t afford the help, put it out into the world that you’re looking for help organizing and see who steps up.
- Punctuality requires tools like reminders and schedules and learning about the role impulsivity plays in lateness (hint: just one more thing).
- Listening skills are something I pride myself in because its taken so much work and they improve my relationships ten fold because people feel seen by me, and they are. Being present plays a big role in this.
- Being Judgmental can be improved by addressing our beliefs around competition, comparison and working to build our own confidence.
The Bottom Line
Yes, learning these skills can be hard, very hard and not everyone has access to the resources to make it all happen. I wish I had a solution to that problem. In the mean time I’ll do my best to bridge that gap.
Let’s be clear about something else, I’m not saying you need to learn personality traits to replace the ones you already have. They’re in addition to because those additional skills can make life much easier and less overwhelming for you.
You’re not alone in any of this, I hope you know that. Your life so far, with all its ups and downs, is proof of how strong and resilient you are. Whether you’re living with autism, ADHD, or just the challenges of being human, every step you take can be a step towards growth. We’re all in this together.
If this message hits home for you, please share it so others can benefit as well.