Accountability & Systems on Auto-Pilot

Systems Development is Part ONE
It’s that consistent follow-through part that’s the killer!

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Treadmill Deja Vu

As I explained in Keeping Up with the Treadmill Tasks, published over 2-1/2 years ago, Treadmill Tasks are those things that are never really done. No sooner do we put a task behind us than its evil twin materializes in front.

If we expect to eat every day, somebody has to fix the food. Then somebody has to deal with the dishes at least once a day or so, and wipe spills off the counters and the floor (at least well enough to keep the Board of Health away from our door).

Oops, let’s not forget to take out the garbage – and how about that grocery shopping?

Then there’s the general digging out: policing the living rooms and the bedrooms, the kitchens and the bathrooms . . . not to mention those home office to-dos, even for those of us who work for wages somewhere else.

SOME-body has to attend to all of those items or everybody must live with the consequences of mounting disorder and disarray that eventually makes life practically unlivable.

When YOU are that somebody – especially if you are one of the citizens of Alphabet City – I’ll bet you frequently feel like your life is little more than one rapidly revolving to-do list, and that you will never be able to cross off anything anywhere near the bottom.

Hang on – help’s coming!

But wait – there’s MORE!

Treadmill Tasks aren’t limited to chores

They include anything we must do regularly to keep our lives on track, whether they recur daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally or yearly: dressing-grooming-bathing, health, hearth and vehicle maintenance, time reports, insurance and taxes and more.

If we haven’t figured out a way to put most of these tasks on autopilot, one or the other is eventually going to bite us in the butt — and can’t you just feel the excitement rising in self-help authors of seemingly unlimited expertise in their gazillion dollar industries.

Why IS that?

I mean, WHY do so many of us struggle to keep things beaten back to an acceptable level?

Wouldn’t you think that by the time we’d reached adulthood we’d be Treadmill-proficient, making sure those tasks got handled in a manner that didn’t leave us panting frantically following a mad dash at the last minute?

WELL . . . the neurotypical crowd seems to have one set of answers to those questions – but I’m about to suggest that they probably won’t answer those questions for US.

The reasons WE don’t do something
are seldom the reasons they don’t.

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

The Blissfully Unaffected rarely understand

Think back for a moment to the Dark Ages of Mental Health . . .
back to a time when things were even worse than they are now,
and empathy was in even shorter supply.

We don’t have to look at the worst of the cruelties or travel very far back in time to find a useful example.  Think about the change in attitude toward depression in the past thirty years.

I realize that 30 years is an entire lifetime for some of you fresh-faced darlings, but I believe that even the youngest regular visitor to will be able to at least remember reading about those “olden days” when depression was completely misunderstood and frequently maligned.

Those were the days when “ordinary people” had a down mood, somehow jollied themselves into snapping out of it and moved on, believing that was all anybody needed to do to feel better and get life back on track – except for those people who were simply looking for a convenient excuse for sloth of course.

  • Most educated people know better NOW (although I have actually heard the old attitude expressed far too recently for my comfort, from people who like to represent themselves as enlightened).
  • Thanks to television commercials and targeted ads, even people who rarely look up from their smart phones are able to believe that struggles with clinical depression are simply not the same thing as a temporary dark cloud on an otherwise sunny horizon — even though most people who are blessed with a sunny countenance still don’t really understand the implications of major depressive disorder.
  • But at least most of society would be too intellectually embarrassed to refuse to admit that perhaps something very different is rotten in some parts of Denmark, to misquote Hamlet.

Where’s the understanding for other disorders and dysregulations?

I wish I knew! Unfortunately, awareness and understanding of the many presentations of the difficulties of dysregulated executive functioning are probably still many years away, even in most of the coaching field, among more than a few therapists and clinicians, and for far too many educators.

Only one of those implications is how rapidly we deplete the limited cognitive bandwidth dedicated to what the world refers to as WILLPOWER.  When treadmill tasks have not been systematized, we rapidly burn up our willpower reserves in our attempts to force ourselves to get everything done – with predictably dismal results.

Related Post: Implications: Symptoms of Attentional Struggles

Until that happy day when the vanilla-brained community gets it, we must depend on each other for information, understanding and support.

“Willpower” as a term lacks specificity. 

  • The use of a single word makes it sound like a single, simple thing, entirely within volitional control – like the opposite of “won’t-power.”
  • In fact, willpower is a combination of a great many smaller pieces of cognitive pie, each made up of a great many other ingredients.  Dropping out any one of them can derail efforts and decimate the resolve to continue to try.
  • EACH of those ingredients are part of the skill-set that is impaired in executive functioning dysregulations, regardless of cause – the very crux of attentional struggles of many types.

The Benefits of Auto-Pilot

Too many vanilla-brained neurotypicals think of autopilot and automaton as practically the same thing, so they all too frequently advise against it.

Crazier than crazy about being “in the now” – cognitively aware of every single impulse and  experience – they are actually oblivious to how much their brain does for them under the radar.

Which means that they are generally unaware that it is actually a good thing, and one that is not necessarily available automatically to everyone else in the universe – like US, for example.

With most of the activities they do repeatedly, most neurotypicals easily reach a point where they no longer need to focus on each individual step, each a distinct part of the whole. They also quickly pass the point where they must focus on remembering the sequence of the steps.

  • They may not even conceptualize a complex task as having individual steps.
  • Less bothered by distractibility, they tend to attack tasks the same way repeatedly, so even a complex task rapidly becomes a process –– a well-rehearsed, choreographed dance that flows effortlessly from beginning to end, from the moment they take that first step.
  • Once their brains are freed of the necessity of making those nattering prefrontal cortex intensive real-time decisions, their brain power becomes available for focus on something else – anything else.

HABITs developed around the many chores and activities they do seem to occur relatively easily with focused time, attention and repeated activity.

  • For THEM, it’s almost more difficult NOT to develop a routine.
  • For US, it frequently takes quite a bit more intentionality, focus, rehearsal and repetition. But it’s clearly worth the effort. Once something is systematized and put on autopilot life becomes increasingly easier.

Here’s the Problem

Even those of us who understand the rationale behind doing something the same way every time need help staying on task regularly enough for a task to become habitual.  We seem to trip over our own feet or wander off before many tasks have a shot at becoming automatic – and then we tend to give up on the attempt unnecessarily.

In MY Experience

Those of us struggling with executive functioning deficits need to accumulate some EVIDENCE of success to counteract sometimes years of evidence of failure to be able to shift expectations in order to keep going when the going gets tough.

  • Kids aren’t the ONLY ones who need to win once in a while to be willing to continue to play.
  • In my opinion, the foundation of great coaching, great teaching or great advice rests solidly on an ability to create as many successful experiences as possible – NOT to tell their listeners some supposedly motivational version of, “You could do it if you really tried” in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

Working on success-systems with ADD/EFD clients and students  for 25 years and counting, I can say with authority that the abundance of advice from psychologically-focused paradigms makes things more difficult, not LESS!

Until those motivation and attitude-adjustment gurus have walked a mile in OUR shoes they have no IDEA how many hoops our brains must jump through to accomplish what theirs do, practically automatically.

  • Give us a week with their brains and watch us run rings around what they are able to accomplish!
  • Give THEM a week with our brains and watch them crawl under their desks with howls of frustration.

Steps toward Sanity

What I hear from them most often is essentially a misunderstanding or misapplication of metaphysical assertions that stack the deck against us: our thoughts create our reality.

Those who seem to believe that their way is the only way speak to us as if our struggles were the result of our negative belief systems — skipping merrily over their negative belief systems about us:

  • we’re not doing it right
  • we’re just being lazy or not trying hard enough
  • we don’t want to badly enough or
  • are simply making excuses for procrastination and failure

It’s long past time for us to circle our wagons and agree to STOP attempting to do things their way. We need to take a fresh look to determine what WILL work to create a different result – to unlock the chains that bind us to repeated frustration.

And that’s where regular and recurring ADD Coaching is worth it’s weight in gold
(and Peer Coaching Basic Training pays off in silver!)

Auto-pilot lowers cognitive drag

You’ve probably noticed that many tasks are not nearly as difficult to DO than they seem like they will be before we are actively engaged in the process of doing.

Once we take that FIRST step – beginning the task we have been dreading, avoiding or confused about – many tasks tend to take on a “keeping-on” life of their own (often all the way to the finish line, when we structure tasks in a fashion that fits our functioning and our lifestyles, and have somebody to pat us on the back for every step we take).

But that first step is a doozy when we’re low on activation energy.

There are two ways to go about increasing our activation energy:

  1. Increasing energy or willpower
  2. Lowering activation costs and reducing willpower depletion

According to Wendy Wood, PhD, provost professor of psychology and business at USC/LA, “When we try to change our behavior, we strategize about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits. Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control.”

Developing habits lowers activation costs. Having an accountability partner who understands what’s needed to work with and around brain-based struggles helps you develop those habits.

Related article: Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it.

It’s time to try something NEURO-LOGICAL

 “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that goes for your brain, too.
Every time you amass the willpower to do anything, it has mental costs.”
Sebastion MarshallThe Cognitive Costs to Doing Things

Bringing costs to consciousness is STEP-ONE on the road to change. We need to understand how to get more done while conserving our mental reserves so that it’s easier to achieve our objectives and reach our goals.

Understanding some of the stumbling blocks to activation and productivity helps those of us who are struggling reduce amygdala activation to allow unfettered access to the pre-frontal cortex – that “executive functioning” area of the brain we need on board to be ABLE to focus and follow-thru with intentionality.

Quantification of costs also provides a new way to look at getting things done — budgeting energy in a sort of cost/benefit analysis to help predict return on investment. After all, there are only so many hours in each day and nobody can do EVERYTHING, no matter how important each individual “thing” might be.

We can reduce some of these costs by planning our tasks, work lives, social lives, and environment intelligently. Becoming aware of what’s in the way neurologically helps us to understand what’s going on when we’re having a hard time.

But STILL, life will always be easier with a structure for ongoing accountability!  And that’s only ONE good reason to investigate Peer Coaching Basic Training.

You won’t get everything done, but the likelihood is significantly higher that you will continue working on things with greater success.  More to the point, you’ll get SOME things done, in marked contrast to sitting around ruminating over your lack of activation energy — debiting the reserves that would support you in BEGINNING, rather than agonizing over the fact that you can’t get “motivated” to start something we need to be doing.  Success breeds success.

Related article: Procrastination — Activation vs. Motivation

Stay tuned for more about cognitive drag as the Peer Coaching Series continues.  Between now and the next installment, take a look at some of the Related Articles I’ve linked for you. This is the only life you know FOR SURE you’re going to have.  Wouldn’t you like it to be easier and a lot more fun?

Meanwhile, keep reading as often as you can! To double the benefit, whenever I post a new article, make it a habit to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read at the same time (embedded in the text & in the Related Links at the bottom of every post).

If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what folks want me to write about).

No TIME to read all this stuff? Want more help?

Sign up for Peer Coaching Basic Training, an inexpensive way to learn the techniques of effective fee-free Peer Coaching.

It will also help you sort through a great many “functional issues” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be more effective than what most of you are currently attempting to do.

Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far).

As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have notice before the class is full (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

Click and HOLD on the top menu above every page for a drop-down menu with more information about Peer Coaching Basic Training – the Peer Coaching Series Linklist will be at the top

And I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would help me out by taking a few moments from your own life to spread the word about the blog and the upcoming TeleClass, OK?

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Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

23 Responses to Accountability & Systems on Auto-Pilot

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  9. Bernadette says:

    My experience has been that it takes 30 days of repetition for a habit to go to autopilot. The hard part is those 30 days. For most people sticking to a good repetition is hard but for ADHD people it is like torture.

    Liked by 1 person

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  17. edmondslance says:

    Reblogged this on Readsalot and commented:
    I’ve often wondered if I have ADD, even though I was never diagnosed with it.
    Some of these treadmill activities mentioned in this article that people have a difficult time commencing, but that become routine once started, ring true to me.
    I never make my bed anymore, but have my grooming ritual down to the point where I am hardly aware of the process while engaging in it.
    Perhaps the not making the bed thing is just pure laziness on my part. I don’t know.


    • Funny! In my experience, those of us who don’t make our beds tossed the habit in youthful rebellion shortly after as we left home. Our parents meant well & some even had the right idea, but most did it “backwards” from a systems/habit development point of view. Shoulds seldom stick – carrot motivation is what lasts. (Check out the “cookie” posts for a better explanation.)

      Despite the belief system of tough love pedagogues, it does no favors to point out what’s missing – praising what you want to increase is the way to develop habits that last. (Potty training, for example, most parents nailed!)

      From what I’ve seen on your blog and in some of your comments to others, you are quite eclectic in your interests and activities – and not lazy at all – so perhaps you are somewhere on or just below the ever-moving diagnostic line, or have crafted a life that focuses on strengths and avoids “weaknesses.”

      If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say – but if you want to change something (drop a habit/add a skill), understanding the brain and Executive Functioning is the place to start.

      Thanks for reading, taking the time to leave a comment, and especially for the reblog!


    • Thanks Kate – double-checking my list of “unread” comments, it seems that perhaps this one was actually NOT approved or responded to. So sorry if so – not sure what will happen if I’ve already approved it, however.

      Somebody needs to fire a few (or more) WordPress gremlins who update without checking their work, it seems!

      In any case, thank you so much for your continued support. As PorterGirl says, you are a brick!

      Liked by 1 person

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