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What Motivates You?

People with ADHD are sometimes described as “lacking motivation,” or as having motivation deficits in more clinical terms. And there’s an important truth here – people with ADHD do tend to have more trouble motivating themselves to do certain tasks, especially ones that are boring or tedious.

MotivatedThat said, I also think it’s oversimplifying things to say people with ADHD simply “lack motivation.” Motivation isn’t a fixed quantity that applies to everything. Just because someone lacks motivation to do one thing doesn’t mean they lack motivation to do anything at all.

Take the example of a kid who is struggling in school. We might say that kid “isn’t very motivated.” We could even sagely conclude that because of this lack of motivation, that kid will never amount to anything.

But, what if that kid doesn’t actually have a motivation problem? What if that kid just isn’t motivated by school?

We all have different things that motivate us and that don’t. It’s easy to generalize a lack of motivation when we’re observing other people – that is, to conclude that because someone isn’t motivated in a particular environment, they must just be lazy, end of story.

But for those of us with the “motivation problem” of ADHD, the solution isn’t to throw up our hands and accept that we’re just not very motivated people. Rather, it’s to figure out what motivates us, and then find ways of putting ourselves in environments that have the elements we need to be motivated.

People with ADHD do differ in the way they experience motivation. We have a much shakier ability to “force” ourselves to be motivated in situations that don’t inherently motivate us. This goes back to problems with executive functioning and self-control.

Which means that finding out what situations do motivate us is that more important.

If you don’t have ADHD, of course you don’t want to be in an environment that doesn’t motivate you, but if you do end up in one, you can probably self-generate enough motivation to get by.

For those of us with ADHD, though, that ability to “self-generate” motivation is impaired, so finding environments that provide motivation for us is a necessity. We don’t self-regulate as well, so the gap between what we look like when we’re motivated and what we look like when we’re not is bigger.

One exercise I’ve found helpful is to make a list (either mentally or on paper) of times when I’ve felt highly motivated, then look for patterns in what kinds of situations tend to motivate me. Part of coping with ADHD is being intentional about seeking out environments that minimize the effects of our “motivation deficit” by providing the motivation for us rather leaving it up to us to try and motivate ourselves in situations we find inherently unmotivating.

So, what motivates you? If you feel like it, share in the comments below!

Image: Flickr/Ari Mounts

What Motivates You?

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). What Motivates You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Aug 2017
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