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with Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Finding the Motivation When You Have ADHD: Do’s and Don’ts

“I know what I have to do, I just can’t seem to get started!” Sound familiar? For many ADHDers, just getting started on a task or project can be the hardest part. During those times when you’re in the zone and moving right along, everything’s great. But then you get a case the Don’t-Feel-Like-Its and you’re done before you even start.

Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when your motivation eludes you…

Don’t: Attempt to motivate yourself using negativity and shame

“I’m not good at this”. “I’ve never been able to do this”. “Why can’t I just get it together?” “There’s obviously something wrong with me”. “I must be really dumb”. Many of my clients really struggle with a negative perception of themselves and their abilities which isn’t surprising considering many have endured a lifetime of criticism and judgment. However, attempting to make positive changes from a place of negativity just doesn’t work. Studies have shown that while people who attempt to motivate themselves with negativity and shame have a strong desire to change, their ability to do so is stunted because the attempt feels pointless.

Do: Let go of negative self-talk

Telling yourself that you’re bad at or incapable of doing something tanks your motivation because you’ve basically convinced yourself that there’s no point in even trying. Reframe your self-talk in a way that supports your efforts, “This has been difficult in the past but I’m working on getting better”; “I’m excited to try doing this in a different way”; “I just need to figure out a way to do this that works for me”.

Don’t: Try to “will yourself” into action

Everyone has difficulty mustering up the motivation to do those things that aren’t particularly fun or exciting. But for people with ADHD, the problem is much more complex and has to do with processes that are occurring at a neurological level. Consequently, attempting to force or will yourself into action is usually a futile effort. If anything, the more pressure you put on yourself, the worse your motivation and ability to focus will become.

Do: Work smarter, not harder

It isn’t about trying harder, it’s about working smarter. I teach my clients to identify what it is about the task or activity that seems to be getting in the way (it’s boring, tedious, overwhelming, etc.) and then choose a solution based on that. For example, if what you’re trying to do seems boring, find ways to make it fun. If it feels too overwhelming, break it down into more manageable pieces. It’s not about will but rather setting yourself up for success.

Don’t: Insist on doing things the way they “should” be done

I’ve had many of my clients tell me that their reasoning for doing something a certain way is because it’s how they think it “should” be done or it’s the way “normal” people do it. I’m here to tell you there is no such thing. Forcing yourself to do something in a way that doesn’t gel with your natural abilities and learning style just makes things difficult, and needlessly so.

Do: Go with what works for you

If you like working at your kitchen table instead of your desk, great! If blasting rock music while you clean your kitchen helps keep you motivated, do it! If you pack for a trip by putting one item of clothing in your suitcase every day until it’s time to leave, wonderful! The bottom line is, do what works for you and don’t worry about the way you think it “should” be done.

Don’t: Wait until you feel like starting (you’ll probably be waiting forever)

Because ADHDers struggle with finding the motivation to get started, they mistakenly believe that they have to wait until they feel like it in order to tackle a task or project. The problem is, you may never feel like it. There are plenty of chores, tasks, and activities that, let’s be honest, you’ll probably never feel like doing.

Do: Take small steps to build momentum

Action breeds motivation, not the other way around. Taking even a small step toward completing a larger goal or task can often give you the momentum to keep going and a sense of accomplishment. A great technique to try involves setting a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes (you can choose the amount of time that feels doable for you) and working on that task or project until the timer goes off. Many of my clients report that taking even the smallest first step gives them a sense of accomplishment and enough momentum to see the task or project through to the end.

Don’t: Over-complicate things

Systems or strategies that are overly complicated are motivation killers You don’t want a solution that ultimately feels like yet another chore. Further, ADHDers often get bogged down in all the details of a particular task or activity which can bring about feelings of overwhelm and paralysis.

Do: Keep it simple

Whatever the task at hand, keep your approach simple. Ask for help or delegate the task to someone else, if possible. Break the task or activity down into small, manageable pieces and start from there rather than overwhelming yourself with the details. Choose strategies, tools, and systems that make your life feel easier, not harder.

Image: Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures 

Finding the Motivation When You Have ADHD: Do’s and Don’ts

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC is a social worker, ADHD consultant, and certified life coach. Her practice, Lotus Life Coaching Services, provides coaching services for adults, youth, and families impacted by ADD/ADHD and executive function challenges.

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APA Reference
van Rikxoort, N. (2019). Finding the Motivation When You Have ADHD: Do’s and Don’ts. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Nov 2019
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