What if I were to tell you that motivation, though helpful, isn’t a prerequisite for starting or executing a task? Or that getting things done isn’t based on luck? By understanding how your emotions affect motivation, you can stop wishing for a leprechaun and start creating your own luck.
Not by Will Alone
Truthfully, people with ADHD do struggle with low motivation for ordinary tasks while we can focus like nobody we know in an area of strength or interest. This is often bewildering to those around us who wonder why we can engage so easily in one area, while completely dropping the ball in another.
According to research, ADHD is not a lack of willpower, even though it might look that way. ADHD and executive skills expert Thomas Brown, Ph.D., attributes this to two areas of brain function, the unconscious emotions that impact motivation as well as working memory that allows us to prioritize tasks. He talks about this in “The Mystery of Motivation”.
Both positive and negative emotions influence areas of executive functioning, such as getting started, sustaining attention, shifting focus, organizing, and prioritizing. In addition, people with ADHD tend to have less of the neurotransmitter dopamine that travels between neurons or brain cells. Dopamine is called the “feel-good” chemical or the chemical of motivation. When dopamine is low, it too impairs executive skill areas. This explains why we have so much trouble getting started. But it’s not impossible. Researchers have found a number of ways to sidestep the obstacles in our brains, so we can start reaching our goals.
Try using one or more of these tactics, which take advantage of how your brain is wired. They can help you sidestep the issues caused by ADHD and get you on track to achieving your goals.
- Just do it. The best way to create motivation is to start, says ADHD coach Marla Cummins. She recommends a warm-up routine, or a “this is what I do before I … routine.” Get into action with easy tasks that include movement.
- Touch the task. Make physical contact with the thing that is daunting before you actually plan to do it. It might look like laying out a paper you need to fill out where you can see it. This helps to combat anxiety around the task and the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
- Take one bite. “Take a bite out of the task” the day before. That way, when the time for the task comes you only have to do it, as opposed to also having to figure out what you need, going out to buy it, etc. The task plus the preliminary steps at the same time can be overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, we tend to throw in the towel and do nothing.
- Schedule it. Assign a time to the task, write it down, and know exactly what you will do in that timeframe. Writing down the task impacts memory.
- Rehearse it. Mentally rehearse or review your task before you actually do it. If you are running errands, for example, picture yourself moving through the day.
- Plan it. Create a plan and stick to it. Ask yourself: “What is today’s priority?” This acts as a filter. You don’t have to do every task that comes to mind; only the one that you committed to. This relieves a lot of pressure! A plan is a container that holds some things in and keeps other things out.
- Get unstuck. When you find yourself stuck, the first question is, “what is getting in the way?” See if you can identify barriers. The second important question is, “who can help?”
- Try magic words. Consider three powerful words that can solve almost any problem: simplify, delegate, and eliminate.
- Say something nice. Change how you speak about the task at hand. Psychotherapist and author of the book, Survival Tips for Women with ADHD, Teresa Matlen says to replace the phrase, “Do it because you have to” with “Do it because you can.”
- Map it. Break down your task with “mind mapping.” Mind mapping is a simple, visual tool that helps with initiating, planning, prioritizing, estimating time, sequencing, and pacing.
- Put hard things first. Do the most challenging task at your best time of day.
- Flip the switch. Remember to take your medication before any difficult task. Everything works better when your brain is online.
- Create a deadline. Having a goal will help in getting over the finish line.
- Use a timer. It helps to give tasks a beginning and an end.
- Sprint. Break the task down into small increments so you can tackle it in short bursts.
- Make it fun. Create a task-friendly environment. It might mean listening to music that is energizing, sitting on an exercise ball, or going to a coffee shop to get the job done. Interest equals focus!
- Sidestep perfectionism. A job that is adequate and completed beats a perfect one that was never started or finished.
- Reward your efforts. Plan a reward when you are done!
Areas of challenge can become areas of strength. With each step forward comes a sense of confidence and a sense of control. You, too, can experience success with ADHD.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, you don’t have to rely on luck (or motivation), in fact you can create your own. With a plan, you too can reach your pot of gold…and that’s no blarney!
For support in achieving your goals, consider scheduling a free consultation!