An ADDitude reader recently wrote to me: "I know that I'm sup- posed to do the things on my to-do list each day, but I don't. I have no motivation — and I feel down on myself because of the mistakes and missteps I have made due to my ADHD symptoms. How do I get motivated to do what I'm supposed to do when I'm not feeling good about myself and my abilities?"
Not being able to get things done when we feel unmotivated ranks up there with other things humans can't do — breathing underwater, licking our elbows, or sneezing with our eyes open. Granted, there are a few people out there who can manage to-do lists without any inspiration, but not many of us can pull it off.
Tackling a to-do list without motivation is not impossible, but it takes a lot of energy, and, for some, it actually feels physically painful. Spending our days trying to complete tasks we are not motivated to do makes us feel bad. It's a feeling that knocks many of us back to the couch, raising the white flag and surrendering ourselves to failure once again.
How can we get rid of those negative feelings? How can we get motivated? What gets our juices flowing so we can get up and do what we want or need to do? Simple — doing something that feels good or pleasurable to us. ADHDers need to learn to tap into the meaning, importance, or worth of the task at hand.
1. First, to feel less down on yourself, plan to do something that feels rewarding to you several times a day. This is not an option. It is essential. Do something creative or pleasurable. It will recharge your battery. It's like making sure you have your oxygen mask on first before putting on someone else's.
Maybe you'd enjoy listening to upbeat music, talking to a friend, going outside, spending 15 minutes working on a hobby. Make a list of 10 things you enjoy, and refer to it when you are feeling down. Make sure you have little successes, no matter how small, every day.
2. Remove the "shoulds" or "supposed to's" in your life. You will notice that you use these words only when you are trying to do something that someone else considers important. "Should" and "supposed to" are motivation killers and need to be eliminated from your vocabulary.
You can minimize "shoulds" by turning them into "wants." Think about the "un-motivating" task before you. Ask yourself, "What, if anything, about this task is OK with me? What piece of it might I enjoy?" A common "should" is doing the laundry. Seeing this tedious chore as a "want" might mean noticing how you enjoy the scent of your favorite detergent as you put it in the washer. You don't look forward to doing the laundry, but you like the smell of the fabric softener sheet. Or maybe you enjoy the warmth of the laundry coming out of the dryer. Or maybe you love that sense of accomplishment when the laundry baskets are momentarily empty. Focusing on the "want to" changes the "should" into "I want to do the laundry because I like the way it smells right out of the dryer!"
3. When you face a difficult task, tap into your creative ADHD brain for inspiration. Ask yourself: Is this something I have to do...or is there someone else who could do this easier, or who would actually find it rewarding?
4. Another person might actually enjoy doing a task you find dreary. Give yourself permission to let go of what you don't do well and let someone else do the chore or task. For instance, dry cleaners are brilliant at doing laundry, and grocery shopping can be turned into a new experience when done online or completed by a spouse, teen, or neighbor in exchange for your doing something for them that they don't enjoy and that you do. Maybe working in the back yard in the fresh air turns you on.
5. If the task cannot be eliminated as a "should," and you are the only person who can complete it, make it more bearable by asking, "How can I do this in a way that works for me? What might make it feel worthwhile?" ADHDers do things differently. Going grocery shopping with a friend would be fun if you get to spend time socializing. Shopping late at night, when there are fewer people, minimizes the agony of waiting in lines. Shopping at a different store might turn picking up groceries into an adventure.
6. Plan for a reward. Ask, "How can I make this boring task fun or rewarding for me?" Make it into a new game: Challenge yourself to get the best deal by using coupons, time yourself to get in and out of the store in under 30 minutes. Treat yourself to a new fruit, bakery item, bouquet of flowers, or beverage when you are done. Use your ADHD imagination.
Feeling unmotivated is a big obstacle for people with ADHD. You can't change that by trying harder or "just doing it." We don't work that way. Nobody works that way. I like to look at obstacles as opportunities to enlist our creative problem-solving abilities. The key to putting the meaning back in motivation is to let go of the way it works for everybody else. Use your out-of-the-box thinking to come up with a fun, interesting, and rewarding way to make it work for you. I have no doubt you can do it.