Guest blog entry by Ose Schwab
Do you have a hard time getting yourself to do something you know you should or want to do? Do you forget your goal or let overwhelm dim your desire? You are in good company.
Many of my clients, intelligent adults with ADHD, struggle to access the drive that will get them started and keep them going. Even with a compelling goal, they forget, feel overwhelmed, get discouraged, or shift their attention to more immediate rewards.
One such client – we’ll call him Steve – came to me for help to be more productive at work and to publish a book. Steve wanted to write about his experience with depression. He felt distant from this goal and did not schedule time to write. Steve also confessed that he wasted time at work. Projects languished in lieu of urgent requests from colleagues. He checked the Internet too often. Overall, Steve felt frustrated with his performance and lack of motivation.
Another client, a college student I’ll call Joe, also struggled with motivation. He came to me out of desperation. He had almost failed the previous semester and his parents were looking to me to “fix him.” The winter semester was at hand, and he was scared he would procrastinate away his last chance of parent-paid tuition.
Joe and Steve needed some help to hone their drive and remove obstacles from forward momentum. To this end I began to mine for motivation by asking them questions.
Questions stimulate thought, feeling, and action. Questions activate neural pathways in the brain. They clarify your desire and understanding of self. Questions can remind you of past successes. They inform your plans with understanding. Questions help you design sustainable drive that will help you fulfill your goals.
What do you want?
Motivation that sustains you is internal – that is – born of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It starts with desire. Successful adults with ADHD and/or learning disabilities have desire. They want to achieve something meaningful. They want to be successful in their own way. To access desire, ask yourself the question, “What do I want?”
Joe and Steve had to reframe outside expectations and goals into language that they could respond to. Joe, my college student, knew he did not want to relive the agony of isolation and shame he had experienced during the semester prior. However, he had not given thought to what he wanted out of college. He said he wanted to do well if he was going to be there. He also said he wanted to figure out how he might be able to use his particular inclinations – though still relatively undefined. Talking about this helped him to clarify a short-term goal. Joe decided he was going to strive for all A's by handing in assignments on time, attending every class, and reaching out for relationships.
Steve was sure he wanted to write a book about his experience with depression. Further discussion about this project allowed him to connect with its importance. He felt more strongly about it than work, but considered that there might be ways of weaving this project into work.
He told his boss about the book. This bridged work to book. He also began to consider ways that work could equip him to complete the book. In addition, he considered other people at work he could talk to about the project. This gave life to the day-to-day-grind he often felt.
Steve reframed work projects using words that resonated with his values. For Steve, an idealist, it was important to consider how these projects could help people in meaningful ways. Reframing the work helped motivation to increase. Steve’s attitude and focus subsequently improved.
What excites you?
Individuals with ADHD need the right balance of stimulation to experience optimum motivation. Too much can lead to overload or shutdown. Too little starves it. Boredom will tempt quick fix stimulation to distract you away from the goal.
Asking what excites you can help inform what plans you need to make to keep the motivation flowing. Steve loves the thought of hope. His book is about hope. Talking and thinking about it is a thrill. Overcomers’ stories; words of inspiration; reminders of how people struggle – these fuel his desire to work on it.
Joe remembered his participation in a project to help a rural family build a house. Last to leave, first to arrive on the site, Joe exhibited motivation. Why? He likes to help people. Doing a job well is cool. He likes to see progress. Joe also loves to work with his hands.
What do you know?
Knowing what makes you tick informs the best plan. Your plans benefit from the understanding of ADHD brain wiring as well. Such information can help you consider your challenges objectively, without judgment. Then you can apply creative strategies that combine self-awareness with ADHD understanding.
Steve shared that he had been successful at maintaining motivation to train for and run a marathon. He had never run one before. With careful preparation and planning, he designed a practice schedule that he kept to. Steve now uses this achievement as a model to learn from and apply to the current book project.
He also understands the power of distraction and the challenge to get started. Even if connected with the goal, Steve automatically categorizes next steps as “required tasks.” They take on the stigma of being uninteresting.
Difficulty carrying out “uninteresting” tasks is typical for individuals with ADHD. A recent study offers a neurological explanation as to why some individuals do not feel satisfied to complete non-interesting activities – less dopamine along the reward pathways. Steve knows he needs to compensate with strategic cues, accountability, or other external reinforcement.
What do you need?
Discovering what you need starts with observation. The best observations are judgment free. Think of your observing eye as if it belongs to an alien who has never been to earth. Don’t assume, just notice.
Pulling it all together requires reflection. And with reflection, Steve realized he needs doses of inspiration administered throughout his week. He realizes the need for specificity in his plan – to have very concrete steps laid out and ready for action at the allotted time.
Joe also identified his need for a specific plan to follow each week. He needs to know where and when he will study. He needs understanding and validation for his integrity. It helps to be accountable. And he knows he needs to get out of the apartment and study at the library sometimes.
What can you do now?
Research suggests that the brain registers thought about action the same way it registers the action itself. This means that you can pave the neural way (so to speak) for your intentions. You can think concretely about a task to get your mental juices flowing. And doing this will increase motivation to complete the action.
Inspired by the book “Art of Possibility,” Steve wrote a letter dated end of 2010. He wrote to me about the successful completion of his book. The letter contains details of celebration dinners, contact with a publishing house, and the steps undertaken throughout the year. The process of writing the letter helped Steve connect with what completing the book will be like. It also helped him identify milestones to the completion.
Right now, Steve is more excited about the book project than ever. He receives sporadic emails of entries from various blogs. He has a detailed plan for January, which includes mapping out milestones for the year much like his marathon plan. Steve knows what to do now. And he is doing it.
Joe just finished the fourth semester of mostly A’s. He feels more confident and excited about his direction. He clarified his desire to pursue petroleum engineering and continues to look forward to overseas work experiences as he winds up his last year of college. His parents are proud and marvel at the motivation he exhibits at school and in the home.
Do you know what you want? If not, ask yourself some questions. And if you know what you want, connect with what excites and stimulates you to action. That stimulation will keep you going. And as long as you plan in accordance with what you know about yourself and the challenges you face, you will be able to strategically inject excitement and impetus to carry forward actions that support what you want. Your days, weeks, months, and years of your life will be driven by the kind of energy that connects with the heart of who you are and what you want.
For more information:
“Art of Possibility” by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. A short book about possibility. It claims you can paint your own reality. Possibility exists to the extent you can imagine it.
“Drive” by Daniel Pink. This book explores the source of motivation from the perspective of economic, social science, and biological research. Pink makes a plea to the business world to act on the knowledge of motivation that exists.
"Exceeding Expectations," by Henry B. Reiff, Paul J. Gerber, Rick Ginsberg. Book reporting research of successful adults with ADHD and/or learning disabilities.
“Finding your Focus Zone” by Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD. This book explores ways to maximize attention and motivation with ADHD.
ADHD Brain discussion offered by John Ratey. Podcast from Brain Science Podcast Forum. http://www.docartemis.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?fid=03&topic_id=1220915839
Ose Schwab of Potentia Vita has been coaching adults and college students for over three years. She lives and works in the Boston area. She believes that individuals with ADHD are an untapped treasure that when mined will help our world solve problems and thrive. To follow her blog "Shift Forward", visit http://potentiavita.com/shiftforward.