ADHD body doubling is having another person around while you work on a task. They don’t have to assist directly; just simply being present could help you start, focus, and finish.
When you live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dull tasks can be challenging. Sometimes even getting started is difficult.
Body doubling is a strategy that helps many people with ADHD. Your body double provides support and helps anchor you to your task, even if they’re not directly involved.
ADHD body doubling can work for adults and children with ADHD. Whether it’s a classmate, friend, or family member, having another person in your presence may help reduce the distractibility so common in ADHD.
Body doubling is having another person around when you need to do something you’re having difficulty getting started or focusing on.
Your double can be with you in person or virtually, like on a video call. The key is that they’re aware that you’re trying to get something done.
Your body double doesn’t have to actually help you with the activity. Instead, they keep you on track by providing a prompt, or intention.
How does it work?
Body doubling may work by targeting executive function. It can also make an unpleasant task more enjoyable.
Certified ADHD therapist Billy Roberts in Columbus, Ohio, explains, “ADHD is a disorder of executive functioning, the part of the brain that controls concentration, attention, activation on tasks, effort on tasks, and self-control (to name a few).
“One idea is that having a person present during a less-desirable task might increase the joy surrounding that task, similar to listening to empowering music while working,” he says.
Think: “better together.”
“Having another person present simply holds a person accountable to the task, so they are less likely to avoid or procrastinate,” Roberts adds.
Dr. Russ Ramsay, ADHD specialist and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, says, “In my experience, body doubling takes advantage of the observation that adults with ADHD are more likely to initiate and engage in a typically avoided task if someone else is present with them, perhaps even chipping in on it.
“The second body could be a personal trainer or walking partner. It could be a study group or study partner, or whatever sort of pairing works. The study partners might even be working on different assignments, but having someone with you to get to wherever you need to go to study helps get started.
“Another version of body doubling is a trade-off, such as a ‘You help me organize my garage on Saturday and I’ll help you organize your taxes on Sunday’ deal,” Ramsay says.
Certified ADHD and academic coach Megan Buck lives with ADHD herself, and describes the way body doubling works for her.
“You know when your brain says ‘Do the thing’ but then it also won’t let you do the thing? Body doubling works some kind of magic wonder where I see someone else dedicated to being in a space for a purpose, and my brain finally lets me do the thing that I’ve been wanting to do,” she explains.
Is body doubling only for ADHD?
You don’t have to live with ADHD to benefit from body doubling.
According to Ramsay, “As with many coping strategies for ADHD, anyone can benefit from a body double, but such strategies are often essential for adults managing ADHD and its effects on their lives.”
Theara CEO and founder Renee Rosales agrees. “Body doubling isn’t just a tool for ADHD. It can actually work for anyone and can help relieve stress or anxiety,” she says.
Is body doubling the same as ADHD mirroring?
Body doubling and mirroring aren’t quite the same, although they both involve the presence of another person.
Mirroring is when a person unconsciously or knowingly mimics the behavior, speech, and body language of someone else. This is an ADHD masking strategy aimed at fitting in socially.
When you use a body double, you might not talk with the other person. Instead, you might work independently, without mirroring them.
“While there’s not a lot of research on ADHD and body doubling, anecdotal clinical reports seem to point to its utility,” Roberts says.
Because ADHD is characterized by dopamine level differences, body doubling may help people with ADHD by increasing their dopamine levels.
“There’s something about the social presence of another person that gives me the right level of dopamine to get a task done,” Buck says.
Body doubling benefits can include:
Possible downsides to body doubling can include:
- social distraction
- feelings of inadequacy
Rosales adds, “One negative that I can see from body doubling is that you can become dependent on it, making it a tough habit to break as you age. You will not always have someone there to help you, so it’s good to have a healthy balance from the very beginning.”
She points out that not everyone has the same experience, and recommends that you “make your own individual judgment on this.”
Buck views dependence in a realistic light, saying, “I figure body doubling for me is like wearing my glasses — I operate better when I do it, so why not?”
Anecdotal evidence supports the use of body doubling for adults with ADHD.
“The way that it works for me is that it helps me overcome my ADHD paralysis, so instead of freezing, it’s like I get a prompt for getting started and then remaining focused,” Fink explains.
“Even just having another person in the room, without necessarily doing the same task as me, can really help,” she says.
Rosales discovered the benefits of body doubling before knowing she has ADHD.
“Before I even learned I had ADHD, I practiced this concept in different ways and used my friends and family members to help me.
“As I got older and gained more education, I was able to find ways to manage by myself, so I’m not as dependent on it as I was in my younger years,” she says.
“Lately it’s been helping me complete reading. There’s something about reading a book that causes my mind to wander and skip around on a page, but when I have someone else present for a body doubling session, I can read an entire chapter and retain so much more.
“I also have friends come over to sit with me when I have chores that need to be done or adulting tasks that I need to check off my list,” she adds.
Buck also offers this insight: “I find that in order to get myself to do the mundane tasks of adult life, I need something to occupy the part of my brain that will stop me from getting it done — and the social component of having another person present really helps.”
If you or someone you know is living with ADHD, body doubling may help them manage some ADHD symptoms. Having someone to keep you company can increase your ability to stay on task and make low interest activities a little easier.