I know you’re curious as to what will help ADHD adults execute better. But have you ever wondered what doesn’t motivate ADHD adults?
Recently I was talking to a client about adopting more helpful self-talk when faced with starting a task that was not intrinsically interesting to her. She commented that it sounded a little hokey and, besides, “I’m used to using more “forceful” self-talk,” she said. I noted that doesn’t seem to really be working. “Oh, you’re right…,” she responded. 😊
You’ve often heard the phrase, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it.” And that’s important to remember, for sure. But you should also remember to stop doing what’s not working! And trying to force yourself to work tops my list of strategies that don’t usually work for adults with ADHD.
What do you think?
What Happens When ADHD Adults Try to Use Force for Motivation
Meet Laila (a pseudonym and composite of many client conversations)
Laila, like many “uninformed” ADHD adults, would try day after day to force herself to plow through her task list. She would tell himself, “I have to…, I should…, I must…” Sound familiar? And, on occasion, trying to force herself to work gave her enough motivation to start. But it wasn’t sustainable.
So, when force didn’t work, as it often didn’t, she would once again be facing down a deadline at the 11th hour. Then the pressure was on and she delivered, sort of. Sure, sometimes she was pleased with the finished product. But other times she felt she didn’t do her best work because she just didn’t have enough time.
And the stress and overwhelm that came with trying to force yourself to work was taking its toll. She wasn’t eating well, exercising or getting enough sleep. And, when she did spend time with families and friends, she often ended up worrying about work. Thoughts about what she still needed to get done and what she might be forgetting kept swirling about in her head.
Laila’s instinct to try to make herself work is common for ADHD adults. But it didn’t work for her. And I bet, if you’re doing this, it is not working for you, either. So, let’s look at a more effective strategy for persisting in following through on your most important work.
Know Your ADHD Brain Wiring to Understand Why Force Won’t Work
For neurotypical adults, a reasonable amount of external and internal pressure motivates them to start and follow through on work that is important to them or others. It makes sense, if you’re comparing yourself to your non-ADHD peers, you might think this should work for you too.
So, when forcing yourself to work doesn’t pan out, you may decide you’re just not trying hard enough. And, rather than considering it might be the wrong strategy, you blame yourself, amplifying your use of forceful self-talk. This inevitably backfires, and then you’re caught in a vicious cycle. You use forceful self-talk, procrastinate, use more negative self-talk and avoid your work even more!
Ever happen to you?
The reason force doesn’t work for you is you have an interest-based nervous system. It’s just the way your brain is wired. As ADHD expert Dr. William Dodson points, while ADHD medication will help, nothing will change if you still approach the task with neurotypical strategies.
Instead, you will need to figure out what will help you get engaged in a task. Then you’ll be able to map out your journey using strategies that will work for the way your brain is wired and your preferences. To do this you’ll need to both engineer your environment and create the interest you need
You can find some of the strategies below.
How ADHD Adults Engineer Their Environment to Follow Through
In no particular order below are a few of the strategies you will find useful to start and follow through on what is essential to you.
Do enough planning to minimize the cognitive overload that can come from thoughts of all your tasks ricocheting around in your brain. For example, you could create a mind map or process aloud with a thought partner. Just make sure you get out of your head. It’s too busy a place to create a plan. 🙂
At the same time make sure you don’t get stuck doing too much planning! Check out, When Planning Is Overrated for Adults with ADHD to see why this is so important
You may over plan as a means of procrastinating. And the source of this procrastination from your thoughts, which is often reinforced by the accompanying self-talk. To turn this around you can adopt self-talk that will help you start and follow through.
And, as you are doing just enough planning, remember the objective is for the work to get done. It is not always necessary or wise for you to be the one to do it. So, consider whether you can delegate all or part of the task. In addition to requesting someone you manage do the task, you could also hire, barter or negotiate as a means of delegating.
If you focus on finishing or the immensity of the task, you might avoid it, right? So, instead, focus on persistent starting. Adopting a warm-up routine is one way to make starting easier.
To make the task less daunting make sure it is concrete, doable and small enough. Then you will have a better chance of feeling like starting.
How else can you engineer your environment to help you get started and follow through?
How ADHD Adults Create Interest to Complete Their Work
The above strategies will help ADHD adults close the loop on their work. But the strategies below are more idiosyncratic — they may or may not work for you. You’ll need to experiment. And when you do remember it’s an experiment, not an exam. You can’t fail! So, give it a try.
- Reward yourself along the way, not just at the end. Maybe you can watch a TV show after you do your email.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes or as long as you think you can work. Then take a break.
- Identify the reward. For example, you may decide to do your email because you want to be seen as a professional. This reward might provide just enough interest to get started.
- Make it a game. Try to process your email everyday using Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain strategy .
- Work with a body double or accountability partner.
What do you do to try to manufacture interest when your mojo just isn’t there?
Be Willing to Withstand Some Discomfort
Sure, it’s important to know how to get started on your important work when you just don’t feel like it. Because right now, you may give into this feeling more than you would like, right? Hopefully, some of the above tips will help you get started despite this thinking.
But it is also important to learn how to withstand some discomfort. So, while there may be a lot of friction at first, you don’t give into the feeling and give up. Instead, you tap into your wiser voice and figure out how to get started. Maybe you do some jumping jacks, play with your fidget toy, sit with your feet on your chair. Do whatever you need to do. And be compassionate with yourself, realizing it’s not easy to get started.
What Doesn’t Motivate ADHD Adults to Follow through
There you have it. Force will seldomly work to motivate you to follow through. So, you’ll need to diversify your motivators. And, luckily, you have many other options. Some I’ve noted above.
What are you going to try?