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E8. My 2 Favorite Motivation Hacks!

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course, today we're going to talk about motivation. This is tough for a lot of people with ADHD. A lot of us struggle with getting motivated, especially for just boring tasks, repetitive tasks, tasks that have a lot of "dread" in them.

If it's something that we find complicated, we often find it's just hard to get going, to get started. So, what can we do about that? What can we do to work with the brains that we have and increase our motivation and make it easier to get things done?

Two Approaches for Low Motivation

1. Leverage habits so you don't need motivation

I typically approach this in two different ways. One way is, if you make certain things habitual, and I've done an episode on habits, if you make certain things habitual, then you are circumventing the whole need for motivation. It's happening automatically. And that's one way.

But obviously, our whole lives can't be habits, we need to complete tasks that are not going to be... I mean, your life could be all habits, but that would be really boring, and I don't think you would be very fun.

So, when we don't have habits that are carrying us, there are going to be times that we just have to contend with our motivation or lack of motivation and just get stuff done. But there are ways that we can work with our brain to make this easier. What they found is that people with ADHD have brains that tend to kick into gear when a task has certain qualities.

2. Leverage motivation "hacks" for you nervous system

I've categorized these into really broad categories: they are things that have interest, and they're things that have intensity to them; tasks that have intensity.

Add Interest: Make it stimulating, fun, or novel

So, if a task has interest to you, it's about a topic that you find stimulating, interesting, it might be novel, something that's different for your brain. It could be fun, something that you just enjoy doing. It's these things that add interest to the task.

Add Intensity: Add deadlines, competition, or pressure

Now the other category that our brains seem to kick into gear for are tasks that are intense; they have intensity in them. Emergencies: people with ADHD are often the stars in emergencies because their brain kicks into gear with that intensity. Emergencies competitions, deadlines, a lot of people with ADHD find that they really procrastinate until the last minute. Something of that looming deadline helps him kick into productive mode.

So what do we do? What do we do if there's a task that we need to do that doesn't really inherently have interest for us or even intensity? How do we leverage what we know about our brains and use that to make it easier to do these things? We try to add elements of interest or intensity to tasks that lack it, and that's going to look different depending on the person and depending on the task.

How do we add interest or intensity to tasks that don't have either?

Example #1: How to hack a litterbox.

Let's take just a task that's pretty uninteresting, and not so intense, let's say cleaning up the litter box. If you've got a task like that, it's just not fun. It's not interesting. It's not novel. And although there's a point where it would just be gross and smelly and unpleasant, there's not really an urgency, there's not a deadline that's time specific.

It's not something that lends very easy to competition. So, what do we do? How do we reverse engineer this task and go back and say, "Okay, what can I add to this, to add interest, to add fun, to add novelty, to add intensity or competition or some element that's going to make it easier for my brain to engage in and start this task?

Maybe you need to add music to it and just blast something that's like your "cat litter cleaning soundtrack" or maybe you need to add some intensity, you know, invite someone over. You've created a deadline because you don't really want a disgusting, stinky cat house when someone comes over.

Or for somebody who does well with accountability and having a partner, using accountability with someone else. You know, tell your kids, "I will take you to your friend's house after I do the litter box" and all of a sudden, you've created this urgency, your kids are going to be like, "Oh is the box done? I'll help you with the box."

You find ways to add things to tasks that don't have it because you know that it helps your brain. Now a lot of people may say, "Oh, this is too complicated. I should just be able to clean the litter box!"

That's just not so helpful for us. If there's a reason why it's not happening for you and you have this knowledge about what makes things easier for your brain, use it. Play around with what you can, add to things in order to help you get them done.

Example #2. How to hack studying.

Let's take another example: studying. Okay, the task itself can be repetitive, it can be tough, it can be boring. How do we add elements to this that help engage brains? What's tricky here is that a lot of the things that we can do to engineer the study experience (so it's easier for our brains) are the exact opposite of what people tell you that you need to do for a study space.

If your brain needs novelty, maybe you do need to go to a coffee shop, or change rooms, or go outside, or something to help you engage. Whether or not that's too distracting or too novel is super individual. This is always a lot of problem solving; what can you tweak to add interest, or to add intensity without becoming distracted or becoming overwhelmed?

For the study example, change your environment, add some novelty, add some music. A lot of times, music without lyrics is easier because you're not getting distracted, but I know plenty of people can listen to musicwith lyrics, and still do pretty well and still retain the information (they're studying).

It's super variable between people. Now, I know I've mentioned music a couple of times, but you can add any pleasant sensory input and that can add the interest, add fun to an activity. Light a scented candle that you love, have a cup of tea, use some fun bright colors when you're highlighting so you have something interesting visually.

Another thing you can do with the study example is to add some interest. A lot of times having somebody else with you, somebody that you're bouncing information back and forth between, it adds some more interest. It can also add a little bit of urgency, doing this for someone else requires you to focus because someone else is relying on you. This is an interactive experience. That is, if you're two people who can get together and study without distracting each other.

This is the reason why accountability really works for some of us with this brain type because there's an urgency when you're reporting back to someone about things. It's not that you need an adult looking over your shoulder, it's that your brain interprets this as more important, more intense, more of an emergency because there's somebody else on the other end who is waiting for this information from you.

Even if you're not working directly with someone, the presence of someone can act as what we call a "body double" just someone's physical presence can help you get motivated, stay motivated, it adds a little element of intensity, it adds a little element of that accountability. You could not even be working on the same thing, but just having someone in the same room often helps people with ADHD to get things done!

One thing I wanted to point out is that we canleverage these things for our good and to help us, but there are times that we use intensity that are not helpful for us. A specific example of this came up last week, it came up with one of my clients. She had an "aha" moment that kind of bowled me over. We were doing some work about her mindset and some of the ways that she is super hard on herself, and she said, "You know, I think I actually use my self-criticism, that harshness towards myself as some intensity and that helps me get going, that helps me do my best. And I think that I've relied on that for a long time."

It was really insightful of her. I don't think that she's alone. I think that happens a lot of times, many of us have managed ADHD with very little support (or no support) for years. We may have stumbled across ways to manage our brains that don't necessarily serve us for the long term.

So, when you do add intensity to a task, make sure that it's something that's sustainable for you and ultimately healthy for you. I think that negative self talk is never going to be a sustainable, healthy thing. Some people do, however, rely on more emergency, urgency, time specific motivation and that type of input to engage their brains. Here's the beauty of when you become an expert on your own brain and you learn what works for you what doesn't work for you and why: then you have the license to just play around with things and figure out what works best for you!

If you're someone who has seen that you're super productive under pressure, but don't love the other consequences of operating constantly under stress and under a deadline, then you can use the fact that your brain responds well to those conditions and try to create them for yourself in ways that aren't going to ripple out stress-wise in your life.

Okay, that brings us to the end of our episode today. Today we learned about motivation and the things that really help our brains engage: things that have interest and things that have intensity and the ways that we can add those into the tasks that don't necessarily have them inherently.


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