Woman with ADHD staying focused on task of tidying up the home

How to Increase Motivation With ADHD: 5 Tips to Help You Stay Focused

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We’ve all had the feeling some days where we don’t want to do anything. Maybe we’re just tired or feeling a bit stressed or need some down time. But if you’re living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), getting motivated can be a challenge. From being misunderstood as being lazy to having difficulty focusing, a person with ADHD can feel overwhelmed when there are many tasks at hand.

Read on to find out why this is and what you can do to make motivation a little easier if you have ADHD.

Is lack of motivation a sign of ADHD?

If you have ADHD, you know it can be hard to stay focused and complete tasks. Others might incorrectly label you as “lazy” especially if they don’t understand ADHD. 

It’s important to know that ADHD is a mental health condition that is caused by many factors such as genes, brain abnormalities, and environmental risks. It starts in early childhood and can continue into adulthood. Symptoms include:

  • Having a hard time paying attention
  • Being hyperactive
  • Having impulsive behaviors

Having ADHD as an adult can affect day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, exercising, or studying. It can also lead to problems with relationships, work or school, or self-esteem, among others. 

ADHD and lack of motivation: There’s a reason

Motivation is hard for someone with ADHD because the area of the brain that is involved with reward and motivation is wired in a different way. In a nutshell, here’s what happens in the brain of someone with ADHD:

Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that plays a role in many body functions, including memory, movement, and attention. It also plays a role in reward and motivation. 

In someone with ADHD, the pathway for dopamine is disrupted. So the brain has difficulty recognizing the perception of long term reward. 

Someone with ADHD will want to do tasks that are short term and interesting. They won’t want to do tasks that are repetitive and boring or feel long and slow. 

A person with ADHD can also get overwhelmed when there’s a lot of stimulus and information and have a hard time organizing all the information. 

Tips to increase motivation if you have ADHD

Try these five tips to help keep you focused and make completing tasks fun and not a chore. 

1. Break it down

Having one big task or chore to accomplish can be daunting. Try breaking longer tasks into shorter ones to make them more manageable. For example, if you want to clean your kitchen, break it down into smaller tasks like:

  • Put away the dishes
  • Wipe the countertops
  • Wash the sink

Organize your tasks in a daily planner and check off each task as you complete them. Your brain’s dopamine reward system will have you feeling accomplished as you check off each task. 

2. Keep it fun

If you have ADHD, you might enjoy doing things that more creative and imaginative. Try turning boring tasks into fun ones to make them more interesting for you. Here are some things you can try:

  • Make it a game. If you’re not feeling motivated to do a task, try doing it with a friend. For example, if exercise feels daunting to you, make it a friendly competition with someone to see who can get in more steps or finish faster.
  • Do it on an app. Many apps can turn boring tasks into exciting games. Download a few to see which ones can turn your tasks into fun missions.
  • Find fun pairs. Is there something you enjoy doing? Let’s say you love rocking out to your favorite playlist. Try doing a boring task (like cleaning) while listening to your favorite tunes
  • Mix it up. Introduce new things into your everyday routine to keep it interesting. If you usually study from home, try doing it in a library. Changing up your environment can help keep a boring task interesting.

3. Limit distractions

If you sometimes have a million thoughts racing through your head, it can prevent you from staying focused on a task. Try these tips to limit or remove distractions:

  • Tune out the noise. Try noise-canceling headphones or devices while you’re studying, cleaning, or exercising. If you listen to music, those without lyrics could be less distracting than those with lyrics. 
  • Keep it tidy. Whether it’s your workspace, bedroom, or home, keeping it tidy and free of clutter keeps visual distractions to a minimum. Plus, it’ll help you when it comes time to clean your space — while you’re listening to soft music on your noise canceling headphones.
  • Write them down. If distracting thoughts enter your head, just write them down. Then set them aside and finish your task. When you’re done with your task, you can revisit those thoughts that you’ve written. You might find that they were temporary and that you can move on to the next thing.

4. Remember your goal

Sometimes it can be hard to remember why you’re doing something. Let’s say your to-do list was to fold laundry, answer emails, and clean the kitchen. Sounds like a lot of boring tasks, right? Well what if your family was coming to visit this weekend and you wanted to have all your chores done so that you could spend time with them — in the kitchen cooking a family meal. By picturing the end result  — spending time with your family — you can make menial tasks meaningful. Remember: you can break down “clean the kitchen” into smaller tasks.

5. Reward yourself

As you accomplish each task, no matter how small, reward yourself. Take a break. Go for a walk. Have a snack. Call a friend. Treat yourself so that you’re more likely to complete the task in the future. As you check off each of your accomplishments, you’ll see that you are making progress toward reaching your big picture goal. 

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable

As you think about your goals and what you want to achieve, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Maybe you’re looking at your list that you’ve broken down into smaller tasks to reach your goal and you still feel overwhelmed. Feeling uncomfortable is normal. As you complete each task, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t complete it, it’s okay. Just change your plan, or do the task on a different day when you’re ready for it. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the time and space to learn and try again.

Talk therapy can help you stay motivated

You’re not alone in this. It’s also okay to seek professional help. If you find that it’s hard to stay motivated, a licensed therapist can teach you skills and coping strategies that can help make tasks that are overwhelming easier to accomplish. SonderMind can connect you with a therapist who understands your unique needs and works with you to manage your everyday tasks so you can reach your long term goals. 

Last Updated:
First Published:
April 5, 2023

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