As an adult with ADHD you know that it is much easier to follow through on tasks that interest you. So, of course, the more of these you can have on your plate the better.
But the reality is we all have tasks we don’t want to do, and for one reason or another they still need to be on our plate. We can’t delegate, barter, drop or defer these tasks. We need to do them. Now!
Obviously, these are also the tasks that we are most likely to procrastinate on starting, never mind completing.
And, while we are dragging our feet on these tasks, they still take up a great deal of our mental time and energy. Consider the following statements as they relate to a task you are putting off.
- While I really don’t want to do (fill in the blank), I am thinking about it a lot, even worrying about it.
- And thoughts of it will pop into my head at random times, distracting me from tending to my task(s) at hand.
- I will likely be behind the eight ball when I eventually get around to it, and will need to put aside everything else to get it done.
- Another day. Another fire drill!
So, how do we follow through on those task that having us screaming, “I don’t wanna!!!”
What About The Task Turns You Off?
First, figure out what about the task turns you off. Here are some possibilities:
- It bores me. Simple as that.
- It takes too much time and energy because it is hard for me.
- It is not important to me.
- I have too many other tasks on my list and I’m overwhelmed. “Take a number and fall to the back of the line” is what comes to mind when I think of this task.
- My mind swirls with all this negative self-talk and I become paralyzed.
Once you’ve figured out why you don’t want to do a task, the next step is to figure out what you can do address those challenges and follow through on those task that must fall on your plate.
Because often it is the not deciding and not doing that can contribute significantly to your feelings of overwhelm.
Activating The Reward System
Then, take into consideration the other challenges that may be getting in your way. An understanding of the process that happens in the brain’s Reward System is a good place to start.
In simplified terms:
We make choices and prioritize goals when a sensory stimulus is sent and processed in the brain indicating a reward is on the way.
When a reward is anticipated dopamine is released to various parts of the brain, which activates our motor functions, attention and memory pathway. (When the memory of this stimulus and associated reward is in place we are more likely to tackle the task next time.)
When the reward is concrete it is easy to do something because we are motivated by the obvious anticipated reward. But here is what may happen when you think about doing the report you dread that is due in two days:
♦ As you look at the bathroom, you think, “I should clean the bathroom. Then I’ll do the report.”
♦ Then when you sit down at the computer, a notification from Facebook comes in. “Facebook, take me away from all of this…. I need a break before I start the report.”
♦ “Wow, look at all those emails. I really need to answer those before doing the report!”
When deciding to clean the bathroom, look at FB or plow through your emails the stimulus is right in front of you and the reward is immediate. Because the reward for doing the report is not so obvious or immediate it is harder to make the connection in the moment.
In this simplified version you can see that your motivation to do a task is related to the immediacy of the reward when all is working as it should be in the Reward System of the brain.
Remembering Your “Why”
True enough. It is important for everyone to make the connection between doing a task that may not being be intrinsically interesting and the potential rewards.
Here are some possible starting points:
- I want to be successful at my job and doing reports is just part of the gig.
- These reports are important to have the data we need to make good business decisions.
- The reports actually aren’t that important to me, but I want to be a dependable team player. And Bob really need these reports…
But you need to have a visceral connection to the payoff, not just an intellectual connection. That is, you want to be able to really feel and see the reward in all colors of the rainbow. To do this you will need to go one step further.
For example, you might want to think about having a visual cue (pictures, quotes totems, etc.) to help you remember what it will feel like when you are successful; you can look at this item in those moments when you think, “I don’t wanna!”
Check out this list of 20 ways to remember what you want for more examples of ways to address the challenge of a weak working memory.
Not Enough Dopamine
Now you are thinking, “Ok, got it, Marla. I have to make the connection between the task and the reward. But I don’t think that is going to be enough…”
You are right!
Along with a weak working memory, it is believed that there is not enough dopamine in the ADHD Brain to carry out the processes in the Reward System, particularly motor functions and attending.
So, even when you can really feel the reward of a task that does not interest you may still:
- feel like you are standing in cement.
- avoid it – not do it or think about it.
Not to despair, though. You’ll just have to incorporate a few more workarounds in order to get going.
Knowing Why Is Not Enough
Yes, it is important to acknowledge that there are going to be times you are bored. Happens. And remember that your particular brain chemistry makes it harder than for neurotypical people
Be that as it may, you can still be proactive in meeting the challenge of doing these type of tasks by having a few strategies ready to employ when you feel resistance to doing a task you need to do. Here are a few options:
- making a game out of a task, such as “beat the clock.”
- setting a timer for the amount of time you think you can tolerate working on a particular task.
- timing when you do a boring task to when you take your stimulant medication.
- taking a break and doing something else. Then coming back to the task when you have more energy
- taking notes during a meetings to keep your attention.
- using an fidget toy help keep you on task.
What other strategies have you used?
Find Your Motivation with ADHD
Getting started and following through on tasks that are not immediately interesting for you is harder for Adults with ADHD.
But taking the above steps and getting the support you need can make it easier!