One of the most devious cognitive distortions that regularly stops me in my tracks is “all-or-nothing thinking.” It’s one of the mental patterns that work directly against the beautiful process of neuroplasticity and can easily lock us into harmful behaviors and habits which keep us from achieving our goals.
Once you begin to make changes in your life that will make you a healthier and more well-adjusted adult, it can also be difficult to recognize how far you’ve come, because the slow progression of baby step after baby step can begin to feel so natural. All-or-nothing thinkers are often extremely self-critical (gotta love that Virgo/6th House energy), so even though we may be doing “better” than we were a year ago, we still aren’t “where we want to be” yet.
This cycle was shot down when I re-discovered some bullet journals from two-and-a-half years ago, back when I was planting the seeds of time management. I was able to see how far I actually had come, and even though I still experience many rough days, I would not have gotten to this point if I hadn’t started somewhere.
One example of this is the absolute bane of my existence: dishes. [Cue horror movie screech]. I grew up with a dishwasher in the house, so when I started college and shortly moved into my first apartment, I no longer had such a privilege. To put it mildly, the sink was a disaster. OK, maybe it didn’t grow entire cities of mold, but some of my dishes would sometimes develop a green film and sometimes some more solid stuff.
But there was also no way that I could suddenly become the kind of person who washes dishes right after they’ve been used. So I took baby steps. Many of these won’t make sense to you if you don’t have mental or physical disability, so save your judgement or “quick fixes” unless you actually know what it’s like.
Baby Step #1: Make sure that all food is removed from dishes before letting them soak. This wasn’t difficult because I don’t usually let food sit in the sink, but sometimes stuff cakes onto the dishes, ok??
Baby Step #2: Keep the “soaking process” fresh. This means that I don’t let the water sit for more than a couple days, because let’s be real, I could totally forget about the dishes for a day or two. Or more. I never said this wasn’t gross.
Baby Step #3: Only soak items once, then rinse them, and then keep them dry until you’re ready to wash them.
Baby Step #4: Keep the sink empty. (I’m still working on this one, but it’s getting better. Still, I have some pretty rough weeks). This means that the sink will be free of clutter and therefore far more inviting for me to actually clean the stuff that’s waiting in the plastic tub on the counter.
Baby Step #5: Only keep the counter tub filled. This means that the sink is clear and that the counter space around the tub is clear of any excess dishes and mugs. This only happens during my best weeks, and I can probably count maybe… two of them, over the past year. Usually I’m operating at Baby Step #3, and during rough weeks, I’m at Baby Step #2.
Baby Step #6: Wash dishes once you’re done using them. The Holy Grail. Will we ever find the energy, the executive function, the discipline required to achieve this Baby Step? The world may never know.
Some of these stages lasted for weeks, and others for months. It is safe to say, however, that I have never experienced the same gross moldy stuff in over a year. And like I mentioned in one of the steps, it isn’t always a steady line of progression. Sometimes I revert back to a previous step because that’s all I’m able to do. The best thing I’ve learned is to not beat yourself up about it and treat yourself gently.
I’ve also “given in” and started using paper plates. This was a moral and ecological dilemma for me, but I decided that my ability to actually eat food was far more important than the near-insignificant impact that my individual actions have on the environment, and I am not giving into internalized ableism. Disabled people require things that are not always eco-friendly. This is OK. If you can find (and afford) eco-friendly alternatives, do what feels right for you. I know I’ll be using compostable plates as soon as I can afford it, but that’s just not the case right now.
There is so much more that I could say about the Baby Steps I have taken until today, but I’ll save those for another post (or perhaps a YouTube video once I’ve gathered enough confidence to get started). Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to discuss further, especially regarding household chores and general Adulting. I know that my mental health conditions aren’t the most severe, but I hope that my experience gives you some hope and motivation.
If you never start, you’ll never know how far you’ll go. What baby step will you take today?
A note on diagnosis: If I had never realized that the reason for my many “shortcomings” and “failures” in life were the result of undiagnosed ADHD, I probably would have never taken the leap to get my life together. Diagnoses do not necessarily “box people in”–they can actually liberate you, in many ways. If you or your child are struggling or “falling behind” in ways that most peers seem to have no problem, I would definitely consider getting an assessment. There is absolutely no shame in getting what you need in order to live your best life.