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ADHD and Motivation

Inconsistency in motivation is an interesting aspect of ADHD. Someone with ADHD can show strong motivation and focus for some tasks, especially highly stimulating activities where there is strong and instant gratification, but may be unable to show the same level of commitment to other, perhaps more mundane, tasks.

A parent can become confused and frustrated if they perceive their child or adolescent with ADHD to simply lack the willpower to undertake more tedious and repetitive tasks. The truth is, however, that the young person with ADHD may want to get started on tasks that they know are important, like doing homework and tidying their room, but struggle to become organised enough to complete the task. It is important to understand that it is not a lack of willpower paralyzing the person with ADHD, but a number of contributing factors associated with executive functioning and brain chemistry.

This difficulty could be compounded even more by the possibility that they may not have been paying attention to the process when it was completed by a parent or an adult, so they have no idea of the steps to follow; they may also have been distracted when the instructions were given, so could have no framework with regards to what steps should be taken. The difficulty with working memory means that it is a struggle to prioritize tasks moment by moment. This can easily cause the young person with ADHD to feel overwhelmed by everything going on around them and distracting them and could even lead to them giving up before they start.

We now know that both adults and children with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine driving the reward systems in their brains and allowing them to feel the same level of pleasure from achieving a goal as those with normal dopamine levels. The lack of a sense of satisfaction or reward at the end of a task makes it even harder for them to tackle unstimulating activities.

Repetitive frustrations and perceived failures may mean that there are negative emotions attached to some tasks, making it hard to feel motivated. Under severe circumstances, these negative emotions could result in complete task avoidance. The unconscious emotions associated with a task or activity can cause us to behave in a way that is not aligned with our conscious intentions.

It is often helpful to discuss the setting of easily achievable goals with someone and to get the required support in order to strategically set ourselves up for success and grow our confidence when tackling tasks and activities.

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