ADHD, betrokken en gemotiveerd:september 4, 2020
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Do you wonder why you struggle with starting things, sticking with them and finishing up?
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Initiation, sustained attention, focus and goal-directed persistence are executive functioning skills that are naturally impacted by ADHD. Many emerging adults just like you struggle with these capacities because of how the ADHD brain is wired. Sometimes there are tasks you begin quickly and complete easily. At other moments, things appear so complicated that you avoid getting started altogether. Why does this happen and what can you do about it?
We know that interest fosters motivation. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic (also known as external) motivation means doing something to get something: it refers to an outside reward. You have to turn in your forms for a class trip to the museum or you can’t go. Intrinsic (also known as internal) motivation refers to goals that we set for ourselves. You want to reach the next level on your computer game or run a mile in eight minutes.
Intrinsic (also known as internal) motivation–doing something because it feels good–fully matures in neurotypical brains in the early twenties and in ADHD brains, about three years later. So, you’ve got to set external goals and rewards for yourself to foster the growth of internal satisfaction later. Do the dishes and then watch television; finish studying and reward yourself with an hour of gaming. Put the ‘have-to’s’ before the ‘want-to’s’.
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Many older teens and emerging adults think that the ultimate goal of any task is completion, getting a good end product. While that’s important, what’s even more critical for people with ADHD is focusing on efforting: how you’re applying yourself to a situation, whether you can come back to it after a break and if you are engaged solidly in the process of doing it. In other words, what will it take for you to feel good about your efforts, even if the outcome takes longer to reach or doesn’t turn out exactly as you’ve imagined it?
Part of feeling proud of your efforts means confronting and reducing procrastination. Procrastination usually occurs because the task seems too big and overwhelms you. There are three types of procrastination: perfection (“If I can’t do it exactly right, I’m not going to try”), avoidance (“This is impossible; I’d rather do anything else”) and productive (“I’ll do something else that needs to get done so I feel productive even though I’m not doing the thing I have to accomplish”). To reduce procrastination, you have to break stuff down into smaller pieces–small enough that you can actually begin without feeling overwhelmed. No size is too little if you’re having trouble starting. Once you get going, you’ll gain some momentum to counteract the negative chatter in your head.
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The GRIT Method will help you create a map for success so you stay engaged and motivated to do what needs to be done. Grit is the steadfastness and persistence that enables you to begin, stick with and finish something. Some people with ADHD think they don’t have grit but I disagree. I am often so impressed by the many things they do each day that rely on an ability to overcome distractions, disinterest and fatigue in spite of significant executive functioning challenges.
I know that you’ve got GRIT and here’s how I recommend that you use it:
G is for: GET SITUATED, GET GOALS IN ORDER and GIVE YOURSELF TOOLS. Set up for success by collecting the supplies you need and making your space conducive to working. Think about your goals, write down a list of up to four items and order them by priority. Keep your goals realistic and make sure you consider deadlines. Don’t expect to do all of the research for a ten page paper in one sitting. Break it down into a few study blocks. You want to feel a sense of progress and accomplishment when you stop for the day.
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R is for: RESIST DISTRACTION and SET REMINDERS. Take a minute and list what things typically distract you and remove or reduce them. Ask yourself how long you can do something before you get bored. Then set up timed work periods with timed breaks. For example, if you can work for 30 minutes, set your alarm for 30 minutes. When it goes off, write yourself a note of where you left off, set the timer for five to ten minutes and take a short break. When the alert goes off, return to what you were doing. Do this for an hour or two (if you like to hyperfocus) and then take a longer break with a meaningful reward.
I is for: IDENTIFY INCENTIVES and INQUIRE ABOUT SUPPORT. You have to set up your own incentives to get you through. Make a list of small incentives for shorter tasks or breaks (getting a snack, drink, fresh air, checking your phone, etc.) and larger incentives for bigger ones. Keep this handy so you can refer to it quickly. It’s tough to do this on your own so don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Talk to your friends, family, learning support personnel at your school to assist you in setting up for success. Try finding a partner to work with so you can motivate each other.
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T is for: TIME MANAGEMENT, TAKE SMALL STEPS AND TALK TO YOURSELF. Figuring out how to use your time wisely is essential for successful motivation and follow-through. Many people with ADHD have time blindness: they struggle to understand what time feels like and how to manage it. Using alarms and alerts helps but you may benefit from more direct support so seek out the assistance you need. Progress means taking small steps and feeling good about them. Instead of saying “Why can’t I do this or that?”, notice what you are able to do. Look back at whatever progress you’ve made with positivity instead of judgment. This validating self-talk builds your resilience and confidence.
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Motivation and persistence depend on nurturing growth mindsets. When you follow this GRIT method, you’ll be on your way to engaging more in the process of doing things and believing that you can get stuff done!