When we talk about deficits and ADHD, the first thing that probably comes to mind is attention deficit. After all, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – it’s in the name.
ADHD goes much further than attention deficits, though. Another type of deficits researchers have pointed out are the motivation deficits that come with ADHD (see this study, for example). There’s still work to be done in understanding how exactly the ADHD brain handles motivation differently, but what’s clear is that people with ADHD often struggle with motivation.
When I was growing up, I thought of motivation as a character trait. If I wasn’t motivated, it was because I lacked motivation – I was inherently missing something that other, more motivated people had.
Over time, though, I started to notice something. Even if I often wasn’t motivated by the things people wanted me to be motivated by, like school, certain situations could make me very motivated.
It wasn’t something I had control over. No matter how much I wanted to be motivated by school, I couldn’t force it. But certain activities or environments would light my brain up – suddenly, in these situations, throwing all my energy into something felt like swimming with the current rather than against it.
In other words, motivation has an important external component. We’re motivated by something.
None of us are inherently 100 percent motivated or 100 percent unmotivated as people. We all have some things that motivate us and others that don’t. This is especially true for people with ADHD because we struggle with self-regulating and therefore with self-motivating.
In other words, for us, motivation has to come from somewhere. It’s not a product of who we are as people, or even of getting into the right frame of mind – it’s a product of what we’re doing.
That’s why, when you find yourself struggling with motivation, the question to ask isn’t “how do I become more motivated?” but “what motivates me?”
Answering that question is a key part of figuring out how to live with ADHD. There are different ways you can answer it. You can answer it by finding specific activities and jobs that provide the spark to get your brain firing on all cylinders. You can answer it by finding certain environments or ways of organizing your work that keep you on top of your game. You might even be able to answer it by finding long-term goals that you find compelling.
But you can’t answer it by making purely internal changes. Motivation comes from what we’re doing, not just who we are. Which means that to become more motivated, figuring out how to change your external circumstances to put yourself in a situation that motivates you is probably your best bet.