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Intrinsic Motivation for People with ADHD: Reach for the Sky

A whirlwind of excitement followed by an enormous crash.  Push, push, push.  Here’s a piece of candy.  That’s our folks with ADHD.  What do we want?  Motivation..

Extrinsic motivation is the one we know.  Intrinsic maybe not.  Research has found that they differ in how effective they are at driving behavior.  Is one better than the other?  It depends.

Scientists define motivation as a general willingness to do something.  The differences in modifying behavior lies in perspective.  

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation strategies are the more common of the two.  It is based on influences from the outside for reinforcement.  This includes earning rewards and avoiding punishment.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the person.  It is individually rewarding.  The ultimate goal is to perform for its own sake rather than some external acknowledgement.

Teens and young adults with ADHD are often slow to get started, especially for unknown tasks.  They know of their importance, but they don’t attend to things on their to-do list.  Feeling down on themselves is common as they focus on mistakes and missteps resulting in a lack of inspiration.

With more than 50% being diagnosed, people with ADHD are particularly likely to have negative self-feelings.  Trying to complete seemingly impossible tasks?  Throw in the towel?  The answer is often yes.

Building Intrinsic Motivation at Home

Inertia is key.  Nearly all the friction in a task is at the beginning.  Luckily it is easier to finish than to start in the first place.  Motivation begins the process to create success.  The person must determine whether it’s easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining in the same place.  The question is where that inertia comes from.  Home is a good place to start for older kids with ADHD.

  • Do something creative or personable.
  • Remove “should’s” or “supposed to’s” by turning them into “wants.”
  • Maintain perspective as motivation will inevitably dip.
  • Model by being a realistic optimist.
  • Be specific with strategies.

We all respond to motivational triggers.  The same is especially true of people with ADHD.  Both methods are good, depending on the situation.  Keep in mind, though, that external motivation can decrease intrinsic motivation.

Making it Happen at School

What plays out in the classroom for students with ADHD?  It’s easiest when seen as the carrot-and-the-stick.  Many schools integrate programs that accentuate the positives.  PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) has become popular in its use of rewards highlighting good attitudes/actions.  Classroom economies are often used for as a behavior modification tool (buying something of value).

Adversely, the stick is what schools are best known for.  This includes detentions, suspensions, and withholding from favorite activities.  They’ve been around for a long time, but do they do any good?  It’s uncertain.

There is limited research on the efficacies of the detractors, but intrinsic motivation is more popular.  Self-persuasion is more powerful and has longer-lasting benefits.  Students with ADHD most positively react to it and really want it too.  Threat groups show to be less interested and uncommitted.  

Ultimately, they want to declare their own goals and become accountable to themselves.  To begin the process, students complete goal sheets.  Teachers should create student-centered rules, reminding them by asking questions.  Best of all, they become more responsible for outcomes.

  • Talk to a friend.
  • Highlight small successes.
  • Measure immediate progress, then give feedback at each step.
  • Help others to reach a higher level of success (pay it forward).
  • Use incentives carefully (avoid unappealing choices).

Doing it at Work

Doing what you love is a great first step in being intrinsically motivated in the workplace.  This is especially true when facing the challenges of having ADHD.  

People managers should use extrinsic rewards sparingly.  This is critical when dealing with lack of success, frustration, and social challenges.  They should make sure that staff is getting and resources to explore skills and projects.

Management should develop projects that the staff is already excited about independently.  Bonuses, commissions, prizes, and promotions can be effective ways to reward the team.  Make certain that their abilities allow success.

Looking within is important in building intrinsic motivation in the later ages.  People with ADHD are known for their high energy.  They should strive to use it to reach goals.  When facing challenges, they should stay strong and seek out support from peers.  Turning weaknesses into strengths, workers should tap into creativity to adapt to a variety of situations.  

People with ADHD are known for their inquisitiveness.  They should spark curiosity by finding a good balance.  Finding ways to make tasks relevant will avoid seeing tasks as busy work.  Too easy can result in being bored.  Remember, intrinsic motivation is not driven by compensation.  

  • Plan to do something that feels rewarding.
  • Give yourself permission to let go of work tasks (delegate).
  • Come up with ways to match your skill set.
  • Brainstorm what obstacles are being faced, then plan how to deal with them.
  • Empower yourself through direct understanding.

Intrinsic motivation improves well-being and raises self-esteem.  It raises self-efficacy and independence.  Best of all, it’s longer lasting than extrinsic motivation.

Maintaining higher levels is key to ongoing success.  Avoid routines that become monotonous.  Spending time with like-minded people can be its own reward.  Keep a positive attitude with realistic goals.  More is possible than you think.

What excites or re-energizes you?

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