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The Link Between ADHD Brain and Boredom
I have ADHD and I get bored easily. My Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is conducive to increased boredom and it used to be the bane of my existence. Most people with ADHD tend to always feel on the go and feel the need to be moving because they're so restless. That means we also need to constantly be engaged in something or we'll quickly start to feel bored and want to do something else that we think is more exciting and rewarding.
It's not easy living with ADHD when you have this type of mindset. When we experience boredom, we often rely on activities like watching YouTube, playing video games, watching TV shows & movies (although for some people with ADHD watching movies is even too much because they are too long 😅), reading books and doing anything remotely interesting to help us avoid boredom at all costs. That's the dark side of ADHD. 😈
Personally, I always have to do something that I think is more productive; even eating can be unbearable for me. I need to talk to someone or watch TV or listen to a podcast while I am eating or I feel like something is missing. I'm wasting precious minutes of my life "just" eating, am I the only one like that? 😅
That's just an example, for a lot of people with ADHD, their minds are always racing, never taking a break. Always thinking about something, usually deep into the hyper fixation of the moment.
That can be a real challenge when you are trying to do something that requires you to not think as much as meditating, writing, or you just want to fall asleep - hence ADHD & Sleep disorder comorbidity.
Now you hopefully realize how much I can struggle to write all these articles & Instagram posts for you guys. 😅 Thankfully for me, your countless comments & DMs are the only fuel I need to keep me going.
That being said I do have some tricks up my sleeves I want to share with y'all to deal with boredom and find motivation when you have ADHD. Let's get into it!
The Connection Between Dopamine and Boredom for People with ADHD
Some experts believe that the ADHD brain may not activate some specific chemicals which make normal activities feel satisfying. That chemical imbalance affects the part of the ADHD brain that helps you remain focused and avoid getting bored. It is “under aroused” compared to neurotypical brains.
That's why some people with ADHD suffer from problems with executive function. They often have exciting ideas but struggle to plan & be organized to consistently follow through.
Dysfunction in Brain Chemistry
The chemical imbalance I was talking about mostly revolves around dopamine based on the evidence we have at this time. Research suggests that adults with ADHD produce dopamine at a much lower rate than adults that do not have ADHD.
What is Dopamine?
Also known as the “feel-good” hormone, dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that have an important role in your brain's reward system.
Adults and children with ADHD have reduced levels of dopamine that limit their brain's capacity to recognize rewards. Though there are ADHD medications that can help your brain increase its dopamine level, there are some practices that can help you feel motivated or excited without intaking anything.
What does different brain chemistry entail?
Well, activities that are not considered to be interesting by the reward center of your brain never release dopamine in your system. It means you'll never need the chemical push you need to get them done.
Let me give you an example,
You are trying to write this important paper for school or report for work. You muster all your courage and open your Word/Google Document with all the best intentions in the world. You have everything ready... yet, you just can't quite get it done.
That's because your brain did not generate the dopamine you need to carry you through each step of the way.
A typical ADHD brain will procrastinate for hours struggling to get anything done and then will get a rush of chemicals (dopamine often coupled with adrenaline) out of nowhere (usually because he is running out of time) and will get everything done in a record time. That's because when we finally get our "hit" of dopamine, it feels really good, we get in the zone, become hyper-focused and productive.
ADHD and Executive Function Impairments
Someone with executive function impairments may find it difficult to stay focused on a boring task as they are easily distracted by more interesting activities.
Impulse control for example is a common issue rooted in ADHD and executive function impairments.
This is due to the brain's reward and motivation system, which reacts more strongly to something new or exciting.
Many adults with ADHD tend to experience various areas of executive function impairment such as:
- time blindness
- difficulty coordinating actions & managing tasks to meet long-term goals
- troubles with organization and setting schedules
- difficulty controlling emotions and impulses
- having trouble analyzing or processing information
- making "careless mistakes"
These ADHD symptoms and impulsive behavior can result in negative reactions from others who become confused and frustrated with the inconsistencies of a person with ADHD who can do stellar work in some instances then produce nothing good for a while.
How Your Boredom is Related to the Reward Being too Distant?
A lot of people procrastinate and delay tasks because of the way our brains processes time. The closer you get to a deadline, the closer you are to the reward, the more you can feel it. Some people need to feel that at a certain threshold to be motivated.
That's why you can handle tasks more easily when you get instant positive stimuli. But working for something that feels in a distant future or that is very complex will seem impossible and boring to your ADHD brain.
Common Signs of ADHD and Boredom
The most common signs of boredom for people with ADHD are:
-Having trouble concentrating or staying focused on a task that isn't engaging, interesting, or stimulating. When you're feeling bored, it is really hard for you to pay attention.
-Inability to self-control & stay motivated even when you know the work will be necessary for the future.
-Feeling bored quickly while doing a particular activity. Your ADHD brain starts looking for something more fun and exciting instead.
It's not because you are lazy or don't want to do it, but because you can't help that your brain is chemically deprived and actively looking for a reward.
It's difficult to stay engaged when work is boring and routinary.
Some adults with ADHD can suffer from daytime sleepiness where they fall asleep during a routine when their brains are not properly stimulated.
Another common ADHD comorbidity is depression which can be rooted in boredom.
Why is Boredom so Intolerable for ADHD Adults?
A person with ADHD feels that their brain is constantly seeking stimulation. It can cause physiological discomfort when your brain is under-inhibited. This is why some people with ADHD have substance abuse issues like drinking too much or becoming addicted to playing video games or gambling. Because these interesting activities provide the right stimulation for their brains.
We know how addicting things like alcohol, sugar, video games, gambling can be… they are designed to be. Now imagine how thirsty you would be if you spent one whole day in the desert with no water.
Well, that’s how thirsty ADHD brains are for dopamine, so it doubles the risk of getting addicted.
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How to Avoid Boredom?
Let's get into the "ADHD coach" section of this article 😅
The best way to escape boredom is by making sure your ADHD brain gets enough excitement and dopamine.
Try to be hands-on and keep track of everything you do each day for at least one week. Analyze what you did to find patterns. What was boring to you? Is there a recurring theme? What were the most boring situations?
On the opposite side, what was exciting and fun for you? Same question -can you find a pattern?
After the week, try to make adjustments based on your findings, and repeat the same process for the next week.
Keep at it for a few weeks until you start seeing some improvements and get a better understanding of the bigger picture of your relationship between your ADHD and boredom.
Not sure what I mean? Let me give you 2 examples a "work" one and a "social" one.
For informational and educational purposes, I will share with you a personal example. This may not be interesting to you so feel free to skip to the next sections where I explain the tips without this personal flavor. 😅
After analyzing my week, I realized that the work tasks I found boring were the ones that did not feel rewarding to me (shocker😅).
Producing tangible deliverables & social interactions with co-workers were exciting to me, filling out paperwork and accounting stuff: not so much.
I needed an extra layer of motivation to beat the boredom nature of these tasks. The easiest way for me was to engage people so that I can feel accountable for my job. It gives me the motivation to get started and when I'm done, they provide the "reward" by acknowledging my work.\
Socially, I realized that I was struggling in some settings, especially loud bars or group conversations with 10+ people.
My sensory processing disorder makes me struggle in these settings in the first place. I have to fight my ADHD nature of either being too exuberant when I'm too comfortable when socializing with people or the opposite when I'm not so comfortable. I prefer on disappearing from the conversation and just focus on anything but what's talked about.
After a few weeks of analysis, I realized that in similar settings I could be super excited and have lots of fun. When I was doing something else, not just drinking & talking.
Fun speakeasy restaurant outings, playing board games and drinking games... Generally speaking, getting moving, doing something else than just sitting or standing, and talking were key in beating boredom for me.
Once again not surprising when you understand ADHD. We know our brains are designed to be "in the zone" when we do two things at once. Body movement helps the ADHD brain focus.
Combined with the "always on the go" and "can't sit still" nature of the hyperactive component of ADHD, it makes sense that I feel better when I play games like beach volley than standing awkwardly at a bar or brewery.
Let's go over some of the best tips to beat boredom, by the mini ADHD coach.
Bear in mind that these are all my personal thoughts, I am not a trained medical professional here to provide medical advice. I encourage you to see a specialist if you feel the need. This content is just for entertainment and educational purposes only.
Recognize Your Boredom Routine
When diagnosing how boredom is felt, you will need to identify the pattern for your boredom. If you are feeling bored by doing only one specific activity, then you've already established a routine of boredom. And if you don't want to stay in that routine, you will need to change the way you do that activity.
So pay attention to the way you feel and to the main triggers of your boredom.
One key issue ADHD brains deal with is the ability to get started on tasks, especially complex ones.
Complex tasks can overwhelm. Not knowing where to start and what to do...
So we do something else instead, something easy (watching YouTube, browsing the web, scrolling through social media, etc.) or something more instantly rewarding (house chore, working out, walking the dog, etc.).
Chances are you already know that if you are reading this article because that's what you've noticed you do.
You may or may not have adapted to this habit, as you know if you are a returning reader. We talk a lot about how a lot of us overcompensate or develop "fixes" to counteract our ADHD nature.
This is where "setting goals" comes into play.
It'll have to be more or less rigorous depending on your needs and your ability to self-control but the main idea is that you need to create some kind of reward system to "trick" your brain.
Remember that everyone is different and experiences ADHD in different ways, so you need to figure out what works for you- don't just rely on one person as an end-all-be-all for everyone with ADHD. We know how diverse our community is.
It can be as easy as a mental note: "This is my goal for today, I'm not doing anything else until this goal is achieved."
It can be a simple checklist with things you want to do today or a list of actions that need to happen in a certain order to complete the large "scary" task.
It can be something super-evolved if you are very motivated as you might have seen on social media such as bullet journals that look like artwork, designed chalkboards/slates on your walls/fridge, or elaborate spreadsheets.
The point is that it's there to remind you of what you need to do, so you don't shy away from it and most importantly, it feels really good to cross things off your list. That feeling of accomplishment and ease when you don't have to do it anymore releases all the chemicals your brain was craving in the first place but was not sure how to get.
So the longer you do this, the more it'll become second nature and you'll actually enjoy the process because it'll work better and better.
That's the key here, it may not be the most effective the first few times you do it because #1 you won't be great at it so it'll take you more time and it won't be ideal but mostly because #2, your brain is just not used to that process and it will fight to stay within the path of least resistance. You must train that self-control.
OK, so now you know the drill. You understand your ADHD brain. You have set your goals, most days you are in the groove and everything is going good, at least better than before. But you still have "off-days", sometimes your brain just knows what you are trying to do and does not want any part of it.
This is when you should get moving.
When you procrastinate without doing anything productive, you will be losing time, energy, and confidence in yourself. This is the moment that you should stop and get moving. Use your impulsive behavior for good! 😅
The key here is to connect this "tip" to the other key note that we just talked about from our previous post; you can't just always do something else than what you are supposed to do.
If you've been setting goals and you have a checklist of things to do, chances are some of those items require you to "get moving" like:
- working out
- doing dishes
- walking your dog
- cleaning up your house
Well, the second you stop being productive on a task, move to another one and start your "new job".
The change of scenery will help your brain and getting something done will release the chemicals it craves. You can then come back and refresh your initial task.
Do not get derailed too long though. As you may know, a lot of people with ADHD suffer from "time blindness" which can be an issue if you end up spending your entire day "cleaning" your house and avoiding the task that you were supposed to do.
This example about spending time on the wrong things is the perfect segue for the next tip which is to use timers.
Alarms & Timers are my best friends.
I have several throughout the day/week to remind me of doing basic tasks like taking medication, taking out the trash, and of course, waking up 😅.
Typical ADHD brains tend to be forgetful so having reminders is the key. Most of us already use them instinctively as part of our natural tendencies developed to manage our ADHD.
What is less commonly used is "timers" to set time limits on specific tasks & activities. But let me tell you how you can use them to your advantage.
There are three mains reasons you may want to use timers:
- To increase productivity by better managing your time
- To combat time blindness
- To understand the value of time and how long tasks take
Human brains (not just ADHD ones by the way) are programmed to do a task in the precise amount of time set prior to the task. That's why so many negotiations & projects always come down to the last day or the "deadline day".
So when you don't assign a precise deadline, you will de facto increase the time it'll take for you to do that task.
That's when timers come into play. It becomes a reminder that you should be able to finish this in the time you set for it. That additional structure enables you to be in the present moment and unlock an additional layer of focus into the task at hand.
Have you ever had days where you felt like you've done SO MUCH and other days where you felt that time flew by with seemingly nothing to show for it? For me, it's often on weekends. Same time but completely different outcomes.
Well most likely your productive days are the times where you were in "hyper fixation mode" and the other days are quite the opposite. But nevertheless, the point is that you can be super productive and you can also be extremely destructive of time.
By setting timers, you can bring back some control and enable yourself to choose what job are you spending time on.
To give you another idea of how structuring time can help, think about your time at school.
Am I the only one that feels like years, when I was in school, seemed so much longer?
Granted we weren't doing exactly what we wanted so that does not help, but the structure of the class schedules and the clear differences between each year made it seem like so much more was happening during these years compared to years after school where everything blends in and it's not clear what happened when.
Anyway don't trust my word for it, give it a shot. Try it for one day: divide your morning into set time slots for your main tasks of the day with timers to remind you to change your tasks based on your schedule like you would have done at school. Then try to accomplish the same amount of tasks in the same amount of time without setting timers and let me know how it went 😃.
Turn Your Boring Tasks Into Exciting Games
This last tip is pretty much the combination of everything we talked about.
It's all about understanding yourself and finding ways to make "boring" tasks more compelling to you.
So whether you are into productivity, getting things done, making money, gamification, pleasing others... Find what motivates you the most and then turn the most boring tasks in your job description into motivation fuel.
Why do you think sports gambling exists? It's to ensure that people continue to watch boring baseball games & 4 hour-long NFL games 😅
OK, that's not totally relevant here, but hopefully, you get my point. By adding a layer to something, you can make your task much more exciting.
Let me give you a personal example. As a child, I was not particularly motivated to do great at school. I did not really grasp the concrete connection between getting good grades and doing what I want in the future (honestly I'm still fuzzy on that one 😅).
But I really wanted to please my parents, so when they take interest in my school work and my grade, I would feel motivated, but when they would not...
Looking back, this was my source of motivation and if it would have been properly channeled throughout school, I probably would have done better.
The point is, you can transform boring tasks into something more rewarding.
The easiest way to do that is to literally gamify tasks. I can't get into too much detail about gamification in this article, but I encourage you to research the topic if you are interested.
The basic concept is to build out gamification concepts around your boring tasks that leverage human psychology like people's natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, closure, etc.
A simple example would be to instead of simply asking your kids to iron their shirts, create a competition, who can iron the most shirts in 15 minutes?
Add in some rewards and make it fun and you are much more likely to get a positive outcome from most kids in the second scenario than the first one.
The bottom line is to understand what fuels your brain and to plan around that.
Frequently asked questions about ADHD & Boredom
Is boredom one of the ADHD symptoms?
Boredom is currently not listed as an official symptom of ADHD per the DSM-V. It can be the direct consequence of a combination of some official ADHD symptoms like difficulties waiting, difficulties relaxing, and difficulties paying attention. The bottom line is that ADHD tends to be fertile ground for boredom if not stimulated properly.
What can I do to avoid being bored?
Try breaking up your day into different activities so you're not sitting at the same place for too long without stimulation. Try mixing up your tasks to keep things fresh.
What does ADHD boredom feel like?
Boring situations when you have ADHD can feel like you're trapped in a place with no escape and that everything is unbearable for your brain. You cannot stand to sit still and suffer through that boredom and you want to shift your focus as soon as possible because it feels insufferable 🙅🏻♀️