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The ADHD Slippery Slope

When you have ADHD, things can get away from you. Spiral out of control. Slide down the slippery slope.

Take procrastination. You don’t necessarily start off planning to delay your work until the last possible. Instead, you tell yourself you’ll get to it right after this other thing you’re going to do, you’ll start it “tomorrow” – and before you know it, “tomorrow” becomes “oh crap, there is no tomorrow.”

Slippery SlopeFor a case study in how the ADHD slippery slope works, just look at the average ADHDer’s desk.

It starts off like any other desk: clean, neat, full of hope. Then one day you set down a receipt on your desk – you know, just for a minute, you’ll throw it out later. Then it occurs to you that your desk would be a convenient temporary storage space for some papers you have. And so on – pretty soon, your desk has become less a flat surface for you to do work on and more a swirling black hole of clutter.

Why is it that people with ADHD are so prone to these slippery slopes – the slippery slope of procrastination, the slippery slope of disorganization, the slippery slope of overcommitment, the slippery slope of hyperfocus, and so on?

It has to do with how we balance short-term impulses and long-term planning. Or how we don’t, because we tend to opt for a lot of the former, and not very much of the latter.

Our brains are always seeking rewards, and we tend to go in the direction of whatever will give us that reward in the present moment. Meanwhile, long-term consequences take a backseat. We’re susceptible to the slippery slope because we don’t necessarily even notice that we’re on the slope in the first place until we find ourselves careening toward the huge disaster-shaped boulder at the bottom.

So what’s to be done about it? Is there some way to make the slope a little less slippery? It would be nice if we could just wear some extra grip shoes.

Self-awareness is the first step – seeing that the slope exists is a step in the less slippery direction. In my next post post, I’ll go more in depth about some strategies for avoiding the slippery slope. Until then, please share your experiences – are you prone to the ADHD slippery slope, and can you think of some other kinds of slippery slopes that I missed in this post?

Image: Flickr/Andreas Levers

The ADHD Slippery Slope

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). The ADHD Slippery Slope. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Apr 2017
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