Adult ADHD Motivation Productivity

First This Then That: A Self Motivation Technique

I realize it’s my responsibility to motivate myself and get myself working productively on the things I need to work on. Sometimes that can be a very difficult though, especially when I need to do work that requires a lot of creativity or other mental energy. Everyone experiences this sort of thing at time, but adults with ADHD (or ADD) experience it more often.

About twenty years ago I worked with my Dad installing fire sprinkler systems. One time we were doing an inspection in a very large manufacturing plant. The plant  had signs posted every fifty-feet or so throughout the plant that said, “Motivation is not an external pressure applied, but an internal force released.” That phrase stuck in my mind and has been with me ever since.

If that statement is true, then how do I release that internal force of motivation?

Like a geyser, sometimes the pressure has to build up before it can be released. Once there is enough pressure, or a small puncture, it will be released. Until then, there is no evidence of motivation.

Sometimes I’ll build up pressure through procrastination. This is a bad way to build the pressure. I wait until something absolutely has to be done and I’m experiencing the pressure of a looming deadline; that releases my motivation.

Sometimes I’ll build up pressure by starting something small. If I have a report to write, I might begin by telling myself, I don’t have to write the report, but I’m just going to open Word. Maybe I’ll save a blank document with the filename of the report. Then before I know it I’m writing the report. The idea is to find the smallest activity I have the energy to do; once I get started, the rest of my motivation can then be released. This is like sticking a pin in a water balloon to get my motivation flowing, then, as it flows, the pinhole gets larger and I have more motivation flowing out.

Sometimes I need to build resolve by doing something totally unrelated to what I need to do. Resolve can be related to motivation, but it’s not exactly the same thing. Resolve means, “to come to a definite or earnest decision about. To build resolve, I sometimes use a technique I call the First This Then That Principle. I then use the resolve to release motivation.

There are three very simple steps to apply the First This Then That Principle:

  1. Make a statement about what you are going to do. This is the action that you are resisting. The more specific the statement is, the better it is. It could be something like, “I’m going to work on my income tax returns” or “I’m going to write the report”. Those are both OK, but if you can make it a small definite action (like I mentioned in the “Start something small” section above) it would be even better. Consider something like, “I’m going to gather the necessary income tax forms” or “I’m going to locate the statistics for the report.” This is the “That” part of the equation.
  2. Do something you aren’t resisting. While you’re doing it, periodically remind yourself what you’re going to do as soon as you finish. This action could be something like walking around the block, driving to the coffee shop, taking a nap, reading a chapter in a book, watching a television show, or just about anything you aren’t resisting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a productive task. A 10- to 20-minute activity usually works well for me. If the action is too brief, like a quick trip to the bathroom or getting a cup of coffee, you may not have enough time to build much resolve. If the action is too long, like going to the movies or walking for an hour, you may use too much energy on the activity and not have the energy you need for the activity you need to do. This action is the “First This” part of the equation.
  3. As soon as you finish the first activity, immediately start what you originally planned to do. Make the transition immediately. If you need to work on your taxes, and you chose to walk around the block first, then as soon as you walk back into the house, sit down at your desk and start gathering the tax forms. If you need to write the report, and you chose to watch a video first, then as soon as the credits roll, go to  your computer and start locating the statistics for the report. It’s very important that you do this action immediately. Don’t check email first, don’t check Twitter, don’t go the bathroom, don’t get a cup of coffee. When the first activity is done IMMEDIATELY start the next activity. The momentum will mix with your resolve to release your motivation. This immediate transition becomes the “Then” part of the equation.

So, give the First This Then That Principle a try the next time you have difficulty motivating yourself to do something. If it works for you, let me know in the comments. If it doesn’t, let me know that too. As always, I welcome any other questions and comments you may have too.

Now, I need to document the steps in a SharePoint Administrator Training lab project; first I’m going to take a walk and then I’m going to log into my virtual machine. 🙂

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  • Reply
    1/30/2012 at 10:58 am

    Thnx for this innovative technique….i will try to use it….

  • Reply
    2/9/2012 at 2:15 pm

    Sometimes I do this naturally, I first drink milk then after that I work, it works for me but sometimes it also doesn’t work because I first watch clips of then suddenly I cannot get out of it, what works for me is doing the little things first like opening the photoshop then making a new file then making the graphics, I cannot even imagine you are also doing what I am doing, wow! motivators really find each other, thanks a lot for this!

  • Reply
    Ricky Spears’ Blog » Blog Archive » Two Techniques for Getting Started and Maintaining Focus
    4/16/2012 at 7:50 pm

    […] about several of my coping mechanisms for motivation and productivity here in the past, such as the First This Then That Technique and How to Power Through Email, Complex Projects, or Boring Tasks by Tracking Your Progress. I […]

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