Boredom stresses people with ADHD more than those who haven't been diagnosed with the condition. In fact, some research suggests that boredom plays a key role in three ADHD symptoms:
1. Inattention: If you are bored with a task, you lose focus. You forget details, make careless mistakes, or doodle and daydream.
2. Impulsivity: If you are bored at work, anything — an incoming message, a phrase you overhear from the next cubicle, or a novel idea that pops into your head — seems more interesting than what you're working on. You impulsively open your e-mail, eavesdrop or butt into the nearby conversation, or pursue that novel (but irrelevant) idea.
3. Hyperactivity: Boredom makes you squirmy, so you invent a reason to walk down the hall or go to the restroom, even if nature isn't calling.
ADHD involves inadequate activation of the chemical dopamine across the synapses of the brain. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter active in the reward circuitry of the brain, carries a wave of satisfaction through our brains when we do certain things and, by rewarding us, encourages us to keep doing them. It increases our focus on the task at hand.
People with ADHD have less diffusion of dopamine in the brain's synapses than do non-ADHDers, so they do not get the same degree of satisfaction from doing ordinary tasks. That lack of satisfaction is felt as boredom, and it saps a person's motivation to continue.
The brains of ADHDers are always seeking interest, more physical or mental stimulation. When they are keenly interested in something, they focus on that, and suddenly the executive function of their brain seems to work well. Attention is activated best in moments of newness; boring tasks are hard to stay with. Interest keeps us going.
What Are Your Elements of Interest?
Escaping or shaping boredom is, therefore, a critical skill for those with ADHD because their ability to sustain focus at work and at home is neurologically dependent on the stimulation of interest. Escape boredom by opting out of situations that don't fall into your Elements of Interest. Shape boring situations that you cannot escape by bringing your Elements to them.
Interests vary from person to person. The most universal of what I call Elements of Interest may be novelty — something new. However, some people prefer to engage in what is familiar, already mastered, or things that offer little risk. Some common Elements of Interest for ADHDers are risk-taking, problem-solving, reveling in skills, social interaction, speed, applause, rhythm, color, romance, surprise, action, suspense, humor, and multi-sensory stimulation.
To identify your Elements of Interest, think about activities that are pleasant, joyful, or satisfying to you. Assess in detail the Elements that these activities offer. For example, as a child you may have loved to build walls and roads in piles of dirt. The Element that I call "hands-on" kept you engaged. Today, you don't play in dirt piles, but you may be drawn to hands-on activities, like working on cars, building or repairing things, or planting a garden. Getting your hands on things may represent one of your enduring Elements of Interest.
Next: Escape Boredom