Living Reflecting

Transition Rituals

A while back I wrote a post that was almost entirely a list of things you could do to take better care of yourself, especially if you were in a helping profession. Two of the items on that list involved transition rituals.

A transition ritual is when you change state or context – like, going from work to not work – and you have some way to mark the occasion, to tell your brain that the transition has happened. I would argue these are always important, but if you are neuro-atypical – such as you, like me, have ADHD – they are vital.

Because while neurotypical people may be able to zip in and out of states and contexts, multi-tasking to beat the band, those of us who are neuro-atypical assuredly cannot.

For example – if you stop by your local every day on the way home and grab a beer – that’s a transition ritual. There are healthier ones, for sure, but it’s a ritual all the same. When I used to work in an office, I would pull up in the driveway of my house and walk around my yard, checking out the flowers and looking to see what was in bloom before I went into the house after getting home from work. It was a way to tell my brain I was home.

These days I work a lot from home (I mean, don’t we all?), and so it’s harder to demarcate what’s home and what’s work. So a thing I will often do is go for a walk around my block when I’m done for the day, as a way to tell myself I’m “walking home.”

But there are other transitions that have rituals, too. In the morning, I make myself coffee with a reverence that approaches that of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. When I go into my workshop to work, I always spend the first 10 minutes or so straightening up and sharpening the tools I will use that day. At night, I turn my phone to do not disturb before I put it on the charger.

When I sit at my desk in the morning, I open my upper right-hand desk drawer, take out the Mead 80 Page Composition Notebook that lives there, uncap my Pilot Metropolitan rollerball pen, turn off the monitor on my computer so I won’t be distracted, and set my cup of coffee on the upper right-hand side of my blotter. Then I’m ready to write my Daily Pages.

Lots of transition rituals. I’m not alone in this. David Sedaris once said something to the effect that he always goes swimming while on the road for his speaking engagements, not because he likes to swim, but because he likes the rituals involved in getting ready to swim and after he has swum.

These sorts of rituals may sound fussy, but especially for those of us who are not neurotypical, they can be lifesaving. Because for folks like us, transitions can be hard. A disadvantage of hyperfocus we ADHD folks have is that pulling us out of that zone can be incredibly disorienting and can feel almost violent at times. So, I have found that having distinct rituals to mark the transitions can be helpful in changing states or contexts.

The two solutions I have developed in my own life to deal with this are A) transition rituals and B) to state your needs. It often feels super-fussy to prioritize what you need to be your best self. But telling people what you need is a way to love them.

It also helps people love me better, because when I tell them what I need (like, a soft landing when I walk into the office, instead of being hit with a list of decisions I need to make when I walk into the door) they will absolutely get a better interaction with me, and whatever I bring to the table will be better thought out and more useful.

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  • Beth H
    March 24, 2022 at 10:46 am

    While I think I am neurotypical, I always say I have “toddler brain”. Like a toddler, I need advance notice when I need to move from one activity to another. I get very grumpy if I don’t have time to process the move to something new. I really like the idea of transition rituals and may try to be more deliberate with these, especially with coming home from work.

    • Hugh
      March 24, 2022 at 7:52 pm

      Let me know how they work for you! Good luck!