the big struggle with executive functioning

Discussion in 'Braaaaiiiinnnns...' started by bioluminiscence, Nov 26, 2019.

  1. bioluminiscence

    bioluminiscence probably not a sword?

    I hope this is the correct category, if it's not, I apologize. Here goes.

    The Pareto principle states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of causes, and in the process of trying to unfuck my life, I've discovered that roughly 90% of my current struggles in life come from executive dysfunction and anxiety. At the current moment, I'm in serious danger of flunking out of school for the third time, and I'm going to art school which I really like, so I would reallly like to avoid doing that as I'm determined to make it at least a full year this time.

    I'm diagnosed with autism and anxiety (I think it's the combined kind where my brain just avoids problems and people). I've tried multiple strategies, but they always seem to fail me in a situation where i actually need them.

    A lot of the time I feel like I'm in the backseat to my own brain doing things - I can keep myself alive somewhat, because things like hunger or smelling bad or not being able to walk through my room because there's so much stuff on the floor I've already trained myself to recognize and respond to, and also there's the physical incentive of discomfort/hunger, even if it takes me like an hour to get food because I can't decide on making what food is going to take me less time and be more effective. What I really tend to struggle with is focusing on tasks that I need to do, such as schoolwork, going to sleep, or doing more complex cleaning or similar stuff. I get home, telling myself that I need to do schoolwork, telling myself "okay let's just open the damn folder with the work at least", but it feels like I just watch myself click on a videogame/video/discord/that project that i've wanted to do that is really cool suddenly to me but not at all related to what I'm supposed to do, and then my mind goes all fuzzy and I completely forget myself in the shiny interesting task for hours on end doing no work at all. What's worse, even thinking about doing the things I'm supposed to do makes my head hurt and my body to physically recoil away from it. It's kind of like I'm willing it real hard to do the task but physically it doesn't happen, and I really don't know where I wanted to go with this because I'm tired but I really want to get things done and to be able to actually work on things that I want to and I need to know if there's anyone who's learned to deal with this. I occasionally get brief moments of clarity, but they come and go and I never seem to be able to hold on to them.

    I've been to therapists before, but I just end up not doing the exercises they give me and then feeling ashamed about not having done them and then acting like I'm doing good and then eventually just not going to the therapist again out of even more shame. I've been on depression/anxiety medication and went off it a few years ago because of being ashamed of missing an appointment and then not making another one but I don't remember them having any effect on me getting things done.

    So tl;dr is there like a cheat sheet for getting things done that don't relate to my immediate survival? Does anyone struggling with this have a method that has worked out well for them? (P.S. while writing this I realized that I should probably try to get that moment of clarity as much as possible whenever trying to get stuff done, but I don't really know how to induce it)
  2. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    task buddying can work, ime. I've got an ongoing rp thread where people playact at being archenemies who are trying to one-up each other, but also just regular "how about you try to do your thing and I try to do my thing and then we reconvene?" can help. humans tend to do better when they have communal work, as far as I can tell, and not just extroverts either. (for me competition can work better than collaboration, hence the rp.)

    increasing the frequency of moments of clarity is not the solution I'd be going for -- it's unreliable. a productive author doesn't have to wait for the muse to visit, and more generally, a productive person doesn't have to wait for inspiration. instead I'd use them as they come to pull the biggest levers you've got. it's not about willpower, though -- it's about efficiency. try to set things up so that you'll do what you want to have done with a minimum of effort.

    challenge is fun, I think is another important thing. challenge is something that people naturally crave. people want to learn, want to do productive work, want to be physically and intellectually engaged with the world around them. maybe you've been having some shitty challenges lately, but that doesn't mean challenge can't be fun; it means you've gotten unlucky, or aren't being treated well, or are stuck in a rut, or need to recover from something.

    so tl;dr two heads are better than one, planning ahead beats both willpower and luck, and challenge is fun
  3. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    This is precisely the cycle I went through with homework assignments the entire time I was in school from sixth grade on.

    My brain's nonfunctional spark plugs are also the bane of my existence, but I have at least a few kludges that sometimes help:
    • Asking someone else to tell you to do the thing. Being told to do it by someone else sometimes makes it easier to mobilize, even if all I do is message someone on Discord and tell them "I should eat food but getting food is effort" and they send back "Go eat food!" Sometimes even just the act of asking helps.
    • Doing it for someone else. I, for instance, find it much easier to set out to cook food more complicated than pasta if I get my sibling's input and think of it as cooking for both of us, and I'm infinitely more likely to haul myself out of the house and to work if someone's expecting to meet me because they need my help.
    • Combining both those, you get the stuff like what Bushwah mentioned; my Discord DMs also include a lot of "I need to do X." "I need to do Y." "I'll do X if you do Y."
    • Telling yourself you're only going to do a little bit. I often go "well, I'll just deal with as many dishes as I can in the time it takes the water for my tea to boil," and then 90% of the time I end up doing all of the dishes by sheer momentum.
    • This kind of thing.
    • Making it into a game: whenever something that happens at reasonably frequent but unpredictable intervals in whatever entertainment you're using to procrastinate happens, do one productive thing. (This is most useful for modular rote tasks- do a homework problem, pick up an object off the floor, that kind of thing.)
    • Harnessing gamification (though this can obviously be a double-edged sword). When my brain doesn't think "because they are a good and responsible thing to do that will make my life better" is a good enough reason to do things, sometimes it will do them because of "if I don't, I'll waste an opportunity to make numbers go up on a screen." This is pretty much the principle Habitica works on, but "I just used an incense in Pokemon Go so now I HAVE to leave the building or I'd waste it" has also gotten me to and from work more than once.
    Hard agree on not relying on the clear moments. Seize them immediately when they pop up, sure, but they can't be trusted to be available when you really need one.
    • Agree x 1
  4. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    Oh, a few more now that I'm not in the middle of getting KO'd by melatonin:
    • Routine. If you have something you already do regularly and some small task you'd like to do regularly, it's easier to tack Task B onto Routine A than to try to turn Task B into its own Thing. There was a while when I stopped brushing my teeth because it was an expenditure of effort late in the day when I was really low on spoons, and the way I eventually started again was by attaching it to my existing morning "get out of bed, dress, brush hair, acquire a cup of tea" sequence instead
    • The power of low standards. Make your comparisons of your success to "not doing anything," not some theoretical perfect solution. Cheerios for dinner? Eating something is better than eating nothing, and maybe in some alternate universe you made an elaborate culinary masterpiece but it sure wasn't going to be this one, so Cheerios are still a win.
    • Anything that causes any other form of discomfort reduces my spoon total, and doing something about it often improves my ability to function. I'm way more productive if I stop work, eat, and then get back to it than if I decide I'll get food when I'm done, for instance.
    • Environment. If my brain decides I'm experiencing an environment associated with dicking around on the internet, it will be much, much harder to get anything done. I try not to work from home if I can possibly avoid it, because as soon as I walk in the door, my brain goes, "Ah, yes, we have entered the Not Working Space" and I feel like I just got hit by a tanker truck carrying a full shipment of Not Moving Juice. Libraries tend to make good Not-Not-Working Spaces, and I've set up my laptop with a Productivity Jail secondary user account with all the fun stuff hidden and a different desktop background, layout, and color scheme to get across to my brain that this is Work Time (and switch back to the other account if I do decide to let myself get distracted, to maintain the sanctity of Productivity Jail).
    • For stuff involving sustained attention, putting barriers between me and common distractions I open on autopilot helps a lot. I often shut off the wi-fi to my computer when I'm trying to write, because I will absentmindedly open Firefox and only remember this is a thing I wasn't supposed to do when I get the "No internet connection" error. Leechblock is also useful.
    • It's probably obvious by now that "eating food" is one of my primary problems, and to partially mitigate that, I keep stashes of granola bars in both my apartment and my backpack. When I'm too fried to think about food properly, I can eat one and it at least gets my blood sugar up a bit and has some protein in it, and that's often enough to be able to make a decision about an actual meal.
    • I often add checklist items to Habitica to-dos as I go rather than just listing steps when I make them and sticking to those steps, because recording things I did that I didn't necessarily anticipate helps a lot with feeling like I'm actually making progress. When dealing with a particularly frustrating task (campaign finance reports...), I'll often add items like "Swear at website" and "Bemoan cruel fate" to the list to inflate the Habitica rewards to reflect how obnoxious it is to do.
  5. bioluminiscence

    bioluminiscence probably not a sword?

    Okay I'm gonna go through these and say what i've tried/ if it worked

    • talking to someone/buddying up
    I've already tried this multiple times and it seems to only work for basic tasks/work sporadically. When it comes to things like schoolwork/things that require complex planning, I tend to impulsively lie to them or make up an excuse and then feel guilty about it, but continue to do nothing. I think I don't have a strong motivation to keep up my promises when I know they won't impact other people. I also currently have nobody I would feel comfortable burdening with this.

    • Planning/Routine
    I've been trying to establish a routine and failing miserably at it due to my impulse control being horrible. I have several alarms set throughout the day, but I end up just turning them off and bargaining with myself to do at least one thing. If anyone knows how to establish a routine, I'm listening. I struggle the most with going to sleep/waking up, mostly due to needing stimulation to fall asleep- lying down, my anxiety slowly builds up as I try to fall asleep until I feel the need to calm myself down by watching/reading/talking to someone, which takes hours, and then I sleep through my alarms and get off shitty into the next day.
    • Gamification
    I've tried Habitica and in my constant need to categorize and organize things I always feel deeply unsatisfied with the way my tasks are set up, so instead of doing things I would spend time dicking around trying to organize the lists as well as possible, or just straight up avoid the app because it's not perfect. I might pick it up again. I've also started setting up timers, telling myself that for the next 5/10/15 minutes i will simply clean whatever is around me and not worry about how to go most efficiently about it, which seems to work okay for things that are manual tasks, not so well for anything else.
    • Enviroment, Alleviating Discomfort and Barriers
    Unfortunately I have a desktop computer which I do the bulk of my work on, so going into a different setting to work is impossible for me. I already have a plugin installed to block off sites like social media or any other entertainment, but I still find myself absent mindedly turning it off which is uh. something I need to work around.

    I'm writing this right now because I'm too anxious to sleep. As for the brief moments of clarity, it's actually just me becoming sort of grounded in the moment, not tunn visioning on whatever task my head is spinning around, which I think would be neat if I could utilize. My therapist taught me the thing where you name items you can sense through your senses to ground yourself when anxious, and this feels like that but different and I can actually sorta nudge myself into that headspace as soon as I become aware that I can. I kind of wonder if I could manage to ground myself enough to actually go through more complex tasks without freaking out, or if anyone has experience doing that.
    • Like x 1
  6. Wingyl

    Wingyl Allegedly Magic

    the way you describe this it sounds like just...being not paralyzingly anxious or dissociating heavily

    have you tried anti-anxiety treatments?
  7. bioluminiscence

    bioluminiscence probably not a sword?

    I have been on anti depression/anxiety meds like a few years back but I stopped because I forgot to go for a refill and didn't actually notice any changes, but that might be because I have no emotional permanency lol

    When I went to my current therapist she told me that she doesn't think I need meds which is kind of valid because I was in a state where I was starting to be able to take care of myself and sorta had a job so my anxiety mostly showed itself in my inability to do things that I wanted to do like art and such. But right now being in school again and living alone it's back quite intensely sooo i might consider looking for a therapist in my current city
  8. Wingyl

    Wingyl Allegedly Magic

    Yeah you probably should get a therapist, good ones are really helpful. Also if one anxiety med doesn't work it's okay to see if other ones do; there are a lot of anti-anxiety meds and they have different active ingredients.
  9. Verily

    Verily surprised Xue Yang peddler

    Some people have very good results with antidepressants as antianxiety meds, but a lot of people just don’t. I’m one of the latter. If your anxiety is preventing you from sleeping without hours of struggle, it’s drastically affecting every area of your life. That will give you brain fog all by itself. It will make focus nearly impossible. If you’re not interested in meds, that’s totally valid, but if a doctor tells you you’re doing fine when you can’t sleep for hours at night, that’s not fine.

    Anyway, I had similar sleep problems. What I used to do was to watch mystery shows or read mystery novels. Nothing too exciting, just something that was interesting enough I wouldn’t get bored enough to try getting out of bed. Shows worked better than books. I’d switch to youtube and watch ASMR videos when I started winding down. It would still take hours sometimes, but it was planned. I felt like I was getting away with something almost. It was my damn relaxation time and I was gonna lie in bed and do nothing of consequence.
  10. bioluminiscence

    bioluminiscence probably not a sword?

    I'm okay with meds, but the conversation with the doctor happened when I was living in completely different circumstances and could usually sleep in however much I wanted.

    I actually started doing that too with minecraft videos, but as with most things, sometimes even the mostcalming minecraft video can give me the spark of energy that makes me not sleep for another 2 hours. One thing that works almost always is jerking off, but I need to get myself into a headspace where I'm in the mood for jerking off in the first place, and that also takes time
    • Witnessed x 1
  11. Verily

    Verily surprised Xue Yang peddler

    That is a problem I've never known how to solve, unfortunately.
    • Witnessed x 1
  12. bioluminiscence

    bioluminiscence probably not a sword?

    Yeah, but I guess it's still better than nothing
    • Agree x 1
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