So my mom sent me an interesting article today on the nature of motivation and attention deficit disorder. I was diagnosed with AD/HD when I was six and we’d always blamed it for my inability to finish or even start a lot of projects. The latest incarnation of this has been my vow to exercise several times a week, stick to the paleo diet, and write more fiction as well as keep up on this blog.
I was going start doing classes on yoga and belly dance, but I went to one class and felt like an uncoordinated git through the entire thing. I never seem to stick to my diet, especially when I’m stressed but especially when I am broke (note: going to paleo is expensive and time consuming!) Even just shooting off 500 words for a blog entry can be daunting some days.
This is not inconsistent with having AD/HD at all. As AD/HD effects impulsive behavior, inattentiveness and hyperactivity* — and motivation is a key factor in all three things. What’s interesting here is that this is actually a chemical issue — in 2009, a study was conducted that discovered that people with AD/HD have a distinctive lack of dopamine, which is a chemical largely responsible for us being motivated and keeping us interested in the task at hand.** In short, my own brain holds me back.
This does not, however, get me off the hook. Just like a lot of other neurobiologically-based disorders, we can hack our own brains through our behavior and habits to override (at least a little bit) our own wiring. There’s a reason why talk and behavioral therapy is just as effective as drugs, and you can create habits to make up for what your brain lacks in a lot of case.
When it comes to exercise, for instance, I have problems with having a sense of urgency and the idea that after a long day of work, I come home and I’m expected to do more work! I also wind up fighting over the use of the big screen TV and the Xbox One with one or both housemates. The article my mother sent me *** advises to create a sense of urgency and to focus on the short term. So instead of scheduling my workouts for the afternoons, I will now be doing shorter workouts in the morning before work. I have to give up my most beloved activity, sleeping, but a shorter workout in the morning means that I am only working out for 30 minutes at most and I have a firm deadline if I don’t want to miss my bus.
Another article**** had some good tips for staying motivated for my writing, primarily by recognizing that motivation is needless. I just have to remember that I need to make my word count for the day regardless of how I feel. The article also suggest that doing things with a buddy can be especially helpful for people with AD/HD. I got some good advice on joining online writing groups at Comic Con and now may be the time to revisit those notes.
Both articles recommended rewarding yourself after completing a task
or even one step in a multi-step task. This one is going to be the one I will attempt to apply to sticking to my diet. However, cheat meals don’t work for me. I have always been an all-or-nothing kind of woman and if I’m going to have one doughnut, I’m going to have two, and then I’m going to have two or three doughnuts every morning until I get caught. As my husband points out, I do not self-regulate well once I’m off the wagon.
My rewards are going to have to be based on weight loss, number of days without cheats, and are material goods. I can buy a new e-book on Amazon if I go a whole week without cheating and lose 2 lbs. I can get a new piece of clothing under $25 if I can go 2 weeks and lose 4-5 lbs. If I can stick to the new exercise program, my diet, and make my word count for a whole month, I can get a massage. A tiered rewards structure actually has me kind of excited just thinking about it, so I think I’ll respond best to that.
I draw the line at letting anything — the diet, the writing, the exercise — interfere with my social life. It goes unspoken that nothing interferes with my work or my marriage, but my social life has always fell by the wayside of other projects. I am finally getting over my social anxiety enough to enjoy being with people. If it comes to a choice between going to a housewarming party or making my word count, party wins hands down. Dinner with Colin’s coworkers at a pasta joint versus sticking to the diet? Pass me the garlic bread! I recharge by being around others, and you know what? It also gives me a chance to celebrate my accomplishments in the company of others, and for me, that‘s really motivating.
Anything I missed? What are some of the ways you help keep yourself on task, or start a project that seems overwhelming? Any tricks for prioritizing?