By Ryder Carroll
I haven’t spoken much about my experience with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD), and recently I’ve been asking myself why. After all, no ADHD, no Bullet Journal Method.
Imagine you’re in a small hut on a wide-open field. As the storm approaches, you prepare yourself to head outside and catch the rain, like all the others. You step outside and you bring your attention to the darkening sky. The first drops fall. You catch one, then another. Soon the storm picks up, and the rain falls faster. You miss a drop, then another. Soon there are so many things raining down on your attention that you don’t know what to focus on. Do you go for the ones coming from a distance, or the ones close to you? The more you frantically deliberate, the more you miss. The storm grows ever louder…then lightning strikes.
All thoughts vanish. There is nothing but you and the lightning. Then it fades, and you find yourself soaked, sinking into the mud. You return inside with the other rain catchers. They seem dry. You’re met with disapproving, mocking, or pitying gazes. No one cares about your stories of lightning. That wasn’t the point. All they care about is the rain you didn’t catch. None of them seem bothered by or even aware of the impossibility of the task. What they don’t understand is: for you, the storm never stops.
From the moment you wake, the clouds gather in your mind. By the time others are getting ready, a million drops have already saturated your attention. The tiny bump on your leg, the fly by the honey, the crack in the table, the crooked smile, the smell of the air, the word, the touch, the joke, regret, chill, worry, salt, doubt, truth, light, sun, lie…always the sound of thunder. This is before you ever step foot into the maelstrom that is each and every day. It only stops when lightning strikes.
Sometimes it strikes outside, other times it strikes inside. Inner lightning strikes as a random word, sound, image, object, memory, or thought. You’re instantly transported to sunlit peaks, exotic jungles, or blackened valleys of singular experience that flash into existence for seconds, minutes, or hours. There is no time here, there is only it.
Sometimes the lightning is devastating, setting your mind on fire. Other times its brilliance illuminates the most wondrous things. When it fades, you return to find yourself drenched and disoriented. You’ve missed things, and you know it, and if you don’t, others are more than happy to remind you. The rain of information never stops. So you step outside day after day, desperately trying to find a way to get better at catching the rain, at weathering the storm.
For me, having ADHD is just like trying to catch the rain.
The Bullet Journal Method is the result of me trying to get better at catching the rain. It all started by trying to figure out ways to be less overwhelmed by the daily data deluge. Every now and again, something worked. It provided a simple process that helped me capture, filter, and channel information in a way that finally felt natural to my hyperactive mind. Over the years though, it’s grown into something far more powerful: a lightning rod. Lightning is a moment or thought that will not be denied.
At times it crashes down as chaos that consumes my mind with grief or fear. My hyperactive brain can be a wicked and oh-so creative storyteller when negatively charged. Rather than allowing this charge to endlessly ricochet through my mind, my BuJo practice helps to ground me. It is said that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” During challenging times, my BuJo practice keeps me aware of the choices I’m making. Where I once felt like a victim to my circumstances, this new awareness has allowed me realize that though I can’t avoid an impact, I get a say in what happens next.
When things don’t work out, I no longer approach them from a place of judgment. Rather, I try to approach my failures or crises from a place of curiosity. Why did this not work? What would I do differently next time? What small step can I take right now to make things a little better? Where there is curiosity, there is hope. Where I once saw dead ends, now the possible roads through a dark forest are many. Other times lightning is something very different. It’s a force that lights me up like an atomic Christmas tree. When struck, I’m teleported into a different reality where things are crisp, burgeoning, and electrifying. It’s a place where I’m clear and completely present.
When I was younger, I used to believe that this creative lightning was totally random. I couldn’t control what confiscated my curiosity. Through Bullet Journaling, I realized that it is possible to conjure lightning. By getting into the habit of capturing and examining my thoughts, I started identifying things that brought me joy, peace, energy, things that sparked my curiosity. In other words, it helped – and continues to help – me identify things that carry a charge. These charges can be so subtle that they’re easily missed. Through Bullet Journaling, I can surface these charges and cultivate them with my time and attention. Sometimes the charge dissipates, but every so often it continues to build until…lightning strikes. It strikes as either a state of flow, or as a realization of meaning. It’s a moment where you connect with something that gives you a sense of purpose.
That’s what Bullet Journaling has helped me realize. It’s not about making sense of every little thing, or getting it all right. ADHD or not, no one can do that. It’s about putting in the work to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not about catching the rain, it’s about becoming aware of why you’re standing in it.
When you start asking why, you begin to look at your responsibilities differently. You filter out distractions that serve no purpose. With fewer things to do, you have more time to focus on the things that light you up. Despite my diagnosis, I’ve found that motivation and focus come naturally when you believe in what you’re doing. It may not make things easy, but purpose provides the tools I need to persevere.
I created the Bullet Journal because I needed a way to weather the storm. But life shouldn’t merely be weathered. Without the storm, there is no lightning. I continue to Bullet Journal, because it allows me to channel the storm waters to surface and nourish the lightning seeds – those tiny mysterious sparks of clarity so easily lost in the day. These are the things that can bloom into one of countless wondrous reasons that make this thundering life a gift.
Ryder Carroll is the creator of the Bullet Journal®.
The Bullet Journal Method
Though it does require a journal, Bullet Journal® is a methodology. It’s best described as a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. The goal of the Bullet Journal is to help its practitioners live intentional lives, ones that are both productive and meaningful. Rapid Logging is the language in which the Bullet Journal is written. In short, it’s a way of capturing information as bulleted lists. Studies keep identifying benefits of writing by hand. That said, it takes time and can be unorganized. With Rapid Logging, we can enjoy the benefits while avoiding the shortcomings of handwriting.