Motivation with ADHD: why the struggle is real and 6 ways you can help yourself.
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Many people with ADHD know the struggle to find motivation to complete daily tasks. It can be discouraging to feel a lack of drive to complete normal daily tasks or even a project that you have been wanting to get done for so long. It may be something that seems so simple like making a phone call or putting your license plate sticker on. It could be daily/weekly tasks like laundry or cleaning the bathroom.
There are several reasons behind the lack of motivation with ADHD including a lack of dopamine in certain parts of the brain, difficulty seeing the order of steps to complete the task, low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and negative emotions attached to the task.
What impacts motivation with ADHD.
Lack of dopamine in certain parts of the brain. I talked about the 4 parts of the brain directly impacted by ADHD here. The neurons in the frontal cortex, limbic system, basal ganglia, and reticular activating system have trouble connecting to dopamine neurotransmitters which creates a deficit in dopamine for these 4 parts of the brain.
Dopamine helps you to feel motivated and rewarded. A lack of dopamine, specifically in the frontal cortex, plays a huge role in the struggle to find motivation as your executive functions do not receive adequate fuel (dopamine) and therefore cannot find the jumpstart to get going. An ADHD brain also does not have the ability to see the reward at the end of the task which is a huge motivating factor!
Trouble getting started – difficulty seeing the steps. Another factor in motivation with ADHD is difficulty seeing the step-by-step process necessary to complete the task. I mentioned in my last post that people with ADHD don’t think in a linear manner. That makes it hard to get started and can be overwhelming to some when it doesn’t feel like the steps are not clearly defined.
Low self-esteem. Many people with ADHD struggle with low self-esteem. Although research is progressing, ADHD is still something that is not completely understood. Unfortunately, many children receive the message that they are bad, misbehaved, different, and less intelligent because of this lack of understanding. The school system is not set up for neurodivergent kids to succeed. Many work environments are not set up for neurodivergent adults to succeed. This can lead to people with ADHD feeling discouraged and unmotivated to even try.
Negative self-talk. Negative self-talk piggy backs off low self-esteem. If you’ve been told throughout your life that you are bad, misbehaved, different, or less intelligent, chances are you have learned to talk to yourself with those same negative comments. Negative self-talk kills motivation with ADHD or with anyone for that matter!
Would you feel motivated to get up and do your laundry if you are sitting on the couch telling yourself that you are fat and lazy because you’ve been sitting there for the last 3 hours not doing anything productive, or that you are stupid because you wasted the last 3 hours watching TikTok instead of doing your laundry? Chances are the answer is no. Because negative self-talk makes you feel crummy and feeling like that is not generally a motivator to do chores.
The emotions attached to the task. The last piece that can impact motivation with ADHD is the emotion that is attached to a task. This is oftentimes an unconscious act, so it can be hard to pinpoint what is happening.
“You’re so messy.” “Why can’t you be tidy like your sibling?” “Why do you always make such a big mess?” “I can’t believe you don’t clean up after yourself.” These comments do not make you feel good, do they? If you were constantly told things like this since childhood, chances are there are negative emotions attached to cleaning chores. When it comes time to do the laundry or clean the bathroom as an adult you may get flooded with negative emotions, consciously or unconsciously, which can deplete any motivation you may have had.
Tools to help find motivation with ADHD.
Make a to do list. Sometimes everything you must get done gets jumbled up in your thoughts and becomes overwhelming. Making a list can help organize your tasks so that they feel more manageable. Research has shown that making a list and crossing things off when completed releases dopamine in the brain. More dopamine=more motivation.
Start with a small task. Start with a small task that is not challenging or a large time commitment. Getting one of your tasks done will give you a little more dopamine and can help motivate you to start working on the other tasks.
Add the word “now” to the end of your sentence. When you have a task to complete, add the word now to the end of your sentence as a little push to start working on it right away. For example, “I need to get up and clean the bathroom now.” Or “I am going to make my grocery list now.” This simple hack can give you the little push you need to get going.
Research the steps needed to complete a task. If you are struggling to know where to start a quick Google search could give you a layout of the steps you need to complete your task.
Find an accountability partner. Talk to a family member or friend that would be comfortable holding you accountable to get things done. This could look something like having a friend who goes to the gym with you or a family member who texts you encouraging words.
Reframe your negative self-talk. As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to be motivated when you are treating yourself poorly. Reframe your negative self-talk to more encouraging words. Show yourself compassion when you are struggling and give yourself grace that you won’t be perfect. Everyone has lazy days and struggles with motivation sometimes.