Motivation with ADHD: Inside Out

The Roots of Motivation

Individuals with ADHD can struggle with starting or completing dull, boring or repetitive tasks to a much greater degree than neurotypical individuals. A big part of the reason is that the ADHD brain processes the concepts of importance and reward differently than the neurotypical brain.

Neurotypical individuals can assign importance to a task because they think it should get done, or someone they respect thinks it should get done. They respond to the idea of receiving external rewards for getting important things done. Those with ADHD are not motivated to start or complete a task by these extrinsic factors, but rather by being interested in what they are doing.

When they are faced with a task that is really interesting to them, not because someone told them that it ought to be interesting—but because it is interesting to them at that moment—that perception, conscious or unconscious, changes the chemistry of the brain instantly. This is not a process under their conscious control.

Dopamine fuels interest – it creates the anticipations of possible rewards and novel experiences and energize the pursuit of those incentives.It also provides improved executive functioning to get the task done. The heightened interest generates increased release of dopamine instantly, and sustains it for as long as the intensified interest persists.

Making Motivation When It’s Lacking

Research has shown that there are 3 drivers of motivation that the ADHD brain can leverage to move into action – novelty, interest and urgency. Each of these components has the ability to stimulate the release of dopamine

When you have things to do that are boring, repetitive or even intimidating but necessary, you can use these three elements manufacture the motivation you need to get them done.

For example

  • Consider why a particular task is important to you. Think how your “future self” will feel when it is done.
  • Create novelty by applying a topic you really passionate about to an otherwise routine task to make it more interesting.
  • Experiment with the way you do an ordinary task to provide some challenge and novelty.
  • Make a game out of something that might otherwise be uninteresting.
  • Create rewards for yourself that are meaningful to you for getting through each step of a project.
  • Make a deadline with someone you respect  to add some urgency and accountability to what you are doing.

You can find many other recommendations from experts in the references. Below is a short video that explains the challenges of motivation for those with ADHD and ways to overcome them.



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