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ADHD and Motivation

Unfairly Labeled as Lazy?

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Updated June 19, 2014

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ADHD and Motivation
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Unfortunately, adults and children with ADHD are often labeled as unmotivated, lazy, or even apathetic. These negative labels are unfair and hurtful. Instead of simple laziness or a lack of motivation, this “immobility” or “sluggishness” often reflects the impairments in executive function that can be associated with ADHD. Understanding these impairments is important in order to correct misperceptions about ADHD that tend to run rampant.

Executive function deficits affect a person’s ability to get started, organize, and sustain effort on tasks. The individual may even experience a sense of paralysis associated with a task or project – wanting to get started, but unable to make progress forward in any manner. One of our ADD/ADHD Discussion Forum members describes this feeling:

“I will often sit at work at my desk, looking over my to-do list, and just staring at it for long periods of time. I can’t decide what to do first and when I do decide, I can’t get started unless it’s a task I enjoy. I just sit and stare at the wall a lot, thinking all sorts of distracting thoughts and feeling like I’m trying to push through a brick wall.”

This sense of paralysis can quickly lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, procrastination, and avoidance, and ultimately results in problems with productivity. It can also result in negative reactions from others who become confused and frustrated by the inconsistencies in the person with ADHD who is able to perform well when the task is stimulating and interesting or when it is novel and exciting, but does not perform as well when the task is tedious or repetitive.

Even if the person is able to begin the task, they may have great difficulty staying alert and persisting in this effort. Though they may know what they need to do to get things completed, as hard as they try, they just can’t.

Boredom results in all sorts of problems for kids and adults with ADHD. Maintaining focus on a boring task may seem nearly impossible as an individual’s attention wanders away to more interesting activities and thoughts.

What can also happen is that after repeated frustrations, the child or adult with ADHD can begin to feel less motivated. It can be hard to get excited and hopeful about something and then crash down again and again.

What Can Help?

First of all, it is important to actively engage in treatment for ADHD. Connect with a doctor experienced in treating ADHD, and openly and regularly communicate with him or her about your (or your child’s) symptoms.

You can also try the following strategies:

  • Break down projects into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Set smaller goals
  • Reward yourself (or your child) more immediately for little steps taken towards reaching goals
  • Set aside a short, less overwhelming time period (for example, 10 or 15 minutes) to commit to working on the activity that has you feeling stuck
  • Exercising
  • Incorporate physical movement into your day

What strategies and tips have you found to be helpful in getting started and sustaining focus on a task that is overwhelming or just plain boring? It always helps to hear from others on how they deal with similar issues. Then you can try more strategies and pick out the ones that work best for you. Share your own experiences and tips here.

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