Because the ADHD brain thrives on interesting, challenging and novel tasks, it’s really hard for people with ADHD to complete anything that bores them. This has nothing to do with laziness or some character flaw.
Rather, it’s the nature of ADHD. In her book The Elephant in the ADHD Room: Beating Boredom as the Secret to Managing ADHD Letitia Sweitzer, M.Ed., BCC, ACC, defines boredom as “the feeling of too little stimulation.” She features a quote from ADHD expert Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., from the book Delivered from Distraction. Dr. Hallowell describes his own experience with boredom as “like being asphyxiated.”
Sweitzer also quotes this 2002 article by Colorado psychiatrist William W. Dodson:
For persons with ADHD, the ability to maintain attention and impulse control is determined by one factor — if the task is interesting, desired or challenging, the individual with ADHD has no problem with distractibility or impulsivity. If, on the other hand, the task is boring, it is a neurologic impossibility to stay on task. Interest and challenge only determine the ability to function, not importance. This ‘interest based performance’ is coming to be the hallmark diagnostic symptom of the disorder and the key to successful management once medication treatment has been established.
Intolerance to boredom can affect all areas of your life, from completing tasks at work to maintaining a household. When you’re bored, you stop focusing, start looking for something interesting, dismiss details, make careless mistakes and don’t do the things you need done.
However, you can implement strategies to beat boredom, which Sweitzer includes in The Elephant in the ADHD Room. The book is for clinicians, teachers and anyone else who works with people with ADHD. It features valuable suggestions and case studies. Below, I’m sharing some of these suggestions, which you can try on your own. Or you can discuss Sweitzer’s tips with your coach or therapist and work together to navigate boredom and get things done.
Elements of Interest
Sweitzer suggests figuring out what interests you and then applying those elements to boring tasks or situations. She calls this concept “Elements of Interest.” This is simply “the underlying aspects of an activity that interest or excite” you. This isn’t the actual activity, such as history or soccer, because that involves multiple elements of interest.
For instance, you might love to play soccer because your Elements of Interest include physical action and competition. Or you might love it because of the social interaction. Again, once you have a better understanding of the specific elements of an activity that interest you, you can add them to activities that normally bore you.
In the book, Sweitzer includes a thorough list of Elements of Interest. It includes: advocacy, altruism, competition, contemplation, curiosity, danger, drama, entrepreneurship, exercise, hands-on interaction, humor, imagination, mastery, nature, novelty, physical action, problem-solving, rule-breaking, story, surprise, time limit, urgency and variety.
A helpful way to discover your Elements of Interest is to create a list of “Top 10 Joys.” According to Sweitzer, this includes writing down 10 occasions, events or activities in your life that have given you the most joy, satisfaction or happiness. Then for each item, ask yourself: What about this made me joyful? “The sources of your joys are your Elements of Interest,” Sweitzer writes.
Adding Interest to Boring Tasks
There are many ways to incorporate your interesting elements into tasks you find tedious. For instance, if physical action is an Element of Interest for you, bounce a basketball while practicing your presentation or speech. Take a shot after you make each bullet point. Or make phone calls while you’re walking.
Sweitzer worked with a client who had to do boring temp work that was far below her expertise. The most boring part was waiting for the super-slow computer to load the next task onto the screen. Together they came up with the idea of the client exercising with dumbbells or resistance bands while she waited. She didn’t mind doing this in front of her co-workers.
If imagination is an Element of Interest, daydream while you’re doing an activity that doesn’t require your complete attention, such as folding laundry or waiting for paperwork to print. You also can use your imagination to satisfy other elements. If competition is important, “score a goal for every task or step of a task completed.” If applause is important, imagine an appreciative audience for every project you complete.
Sweitzer suggests learning everything you can about the work you do so you can find it more interesting. As she writes, “The more you know about a subject, the more interesting it can be.”
It also might help to brainstorm responses to this question: “What could you do to shape the feeling of emptiness or boredom into a satisfying experience?”
When people with ADHD aren’t stimulated, they get bored. This is typical and understandable. But thankfully, you can find ways to make tasks more interesting so you can get things done.
Bored man photo available from Shutterstock