I know you want to know how ADHD adults create motivation. So you can then figure out how you do it for yourself, right?
When I work with clients we come up with a plan. This includes strategies to help them follow through. We even try to anticipate any roadblocks and think of ways to manage them. They usually feel pretty good about the plan.
I take a wait-and –see attitude. Not because I lack faith in my clients’ desire to follow though. I just know execution is, well, complicated.
But, when they fail to follow through on an agreement, it is not unusual, at least in the initial stages of our work, for them to doubt their motivation and willpower. They might even say, “If it were important to me I would just do it!” Usually, the beliefs underlying this statement are:
- “It must not be that important to me.”
- “I didn’t try hard enough.”
- “It was easy enough to do.”
My response is almost always the same, “If it was that easy and you could ‘just do it,’ you would have.”
But, even with a plan that seems like it should be simple to follow through on, execution for Adults with ADHD is not easy. I’m sure you know that.
Below are thoughts and strategies you can use to maximize your ability to follow through when motivation and willpower are just not the answer.
Relying On Willpower Won’t Work For You
Sure, sometimes you may need to try harder — exert more willpower. But that is usually not the answer, at least not the whole answer.
Remember, exerting more willpower — trying to control your thoughts, emotions, impulses and performances (focus on tasks) — is a challenge for you because of your ADHD. And, while there are strategies to help you use the willpower you do have, it is still a limited resource.
Think of the last time you said, “I just need to…!!” or “I just need to stop…!” How well did yelling at yourself work to help accomplish what you wanted? Not very well, I imagine.
And, rather than helping you to execute, trying to muster more willpower to get your stuff done may have just increased the shame and self-blame you already carry around.
So, instead of concluding you need to power through, maybe it is time to look for other strategies in order to follow through on your important work.
It Is Hard to Sustain Passive Motivation
Sorry, but momentary inspiration will not get you to the finish line either.
Think of a recent experience when, after reading something particularly inspiring — a quote, an article, a book — or having an energizing conversation, you felt totally motivated to tackle a project. But, when the time came to put the pedal to the metal, poof, the energy you felt before just wasn’t there. And, perhaps, you wondered, “What happened? Do I want to do this or not?!”
Even after deciding a task is important, it is all too easy for ADHD Adults to get momentarily excited only to have that excitement slip away. Ever happen to you?
Just because your mojo disappeared doesn’t mean the project is not important to you. What is more likely is the passive motivation you felt from a reading a quote or having a conversation was just not enough to get you started and keep you going.
Waiting for Inspiration Is a Questionable Strategy
Of course, it is much easier to tackle a task when you feel like doing it. So, you might decide, rather than fighting upstream, you’ll just wait until your motivation comes back. And, if you can wait until you’re in the right mood, by all means, wait. Makes sense.
But what about those times when either you can’t wait or you will never feel motivated no matter how long you wait?
Yet, one of the most common excuses ADHD Adults give for putting off work is the questionable idea, “I need to feel like doing…” This often leads to the unconvincing promise, “I’ll do it later, maybe tomorrow, when I feel more like it.”
As you know, adopting these beliefs may mean:
- the work will simply not get done.
- your self-esteem will take a battering for not following through, and leave you with even less energy to tackle your important stuff.
Clearly, waiting for motivation can be a slippery slope. Probably not one you want to slide down.
The Best Way to Create Motivation Is To Start
There is an alternative.
Think of a recent time when you dug into a task you had been putting off only to discover that the anticipation was worse than the actual task. Maybe you even felt the motivation to continue working for longer than you planned. This positive feedback may have even helped you to start working on the task the next time.
Were you surprised? I’m not.
Because starting is the best way to get the motivation you need to continue working on a task. Sounds good, right? The problem, of course, is that starting is often the hardest part.
A “Warm-up Routine” Makes Getting Started Easier
One of the keys to starting on your primary task is getting ready to start.
Remember catching glimpses of Michael Phelps’ warm up routine? He starts with a series of stretches and warm-up swims, puts on his racing swimsuit, listens to his music for 20 minutes. Then when it’s time to go to the starting block he goes through a precise routine, which includes swinging his arms exactly 3 times.
Why so precise? Sure the stretching and warm-up swims make sense. But why does he need a certain playlist of music? And what is it with the arm swinging thing?
These are all cues to get him mentally, as well as physically, prepared to perform. And I do the exact same thing when getting ready to write in the morning.
I start by brewing my coffee, allowing it to steep for a few minutes while I take out our dog. Then I lay out a blanket on the chair and ottoman, start up the computer, pour the coffee, get comfortable and start.
Ok, so maybe it’s not exactly like Michael Phelps’ routine. 🙂 But my pre-writing routine serves the same purpose of cueing me that it is time to start writing.
Ready to try creating your own warm-up routine?
How to Create Your Own Warm-up Routine
Below are steps adapted from the suggestions of writer James Clear. As you read below think about what your warm-up routine will look like
Step 1 – Start Your Routine With A Super Easy Task
Many people find the traction they get from just starting helps them to continue moving toward their objective. And, true, the purpose of a warm-up routine is to help you build up to starting on the actual task — your objective.
But, you may be wondering, “If starting is so hard, how am I going to start my warm-up routine?!” Great question.
Since starting is a challenge you want to be sure the first step in your warm-up routine is really easy to do — so easy there is virtually zero chance anything could get in your way of starting. Then you can take it from there.
For example, I start my morning writing routine by first boiling water for my coffee. Unless I wake up and find I have no water or a broken stove I can always start.
What is your first step? Maybe your cue is as simple as getting a particular pen or a glass of water in a certain glass.
Step 2 – Include Physical Movement
Transitions — starting, stopping and switching between tasks — are particularly hard for Adults with ADHD. So, you also want to make sure your warm-up routine includes physical movement toward your task, as this will make the transition to getting started easier.
Even if you do all your work at the same desk, as I know many of you do, you could start by getting up to get water, for example, and then return to your desk.
I always sit in the same chair to do my writing. So, when I go and sit there, I am literally moving toward my goal of writing. This movement reinforces my intention to write and helps me get started.
What kind of physical movement could you include in your warm-up routine?
Step 3 – Rinse and Repeat!
Decision making can be another challenge for ADHD Adults. So, make sure you do your routine exactly the same each and every time. Because you don’t want to be in a position of needing to stop and wonder, “What should I do now?”
If your routine includes swinging your arms 3x, don’t swing them 2x or 4x sometimes. If you get water in the red glass, don’t switch to the blue glass. After a while you do the routine out of habit, without much thought.
And it will be the cue that “This is what I do before I…” Then, rather than needing to relying on motivation or willpower, you will be pulled by your warm-up routine to start on your primary goal.
So, remember, rinse and repeat!
How ADHD Adults Create Motivation
Think of an important project, maybe one you have been putting off.
Design a warm-up routine that will help you transition to getting started.