How to Hack an ADHD Brain

by Dr. Oksana Hagerty
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ADHD individuals do not work well on non-self-selected tasks (they can, though, just like anybody else, spend hours doing what they truly like). How do you increase task engagement of a brain that is notoriously unable to focus on what is important?

Individuals with self-regulation challenges like ADHD need clear and realistic goals. Sounds straightforward and realistic in theory, but achieving performance is another matter. To court success, avoid tasks that set only a vague general direction but no specifics. An ADHD brain functions better when tasks are broken down into a set of nuclear (further indivisible) actions — steps that are short and clear and cannot be questioned in terms of “how” as every “how” is an attention-killer. Remember, ADHD is not so much about not knowing what to do, but of actually doing what you know.
For example, issuing the order “clean your room” to someone with ADHD is most likely pointless. That directive brims with dozens of “hows,” “whats,” and “whys” built into it, which will divert attention, overload working memory, increase the psychological cost of action — and may ultimately lead to failure.

To resolve the potential paralysis, the task must be broken down into basic actions: “Put everything that’s on the floor away” or “Put the largest items in their rightful places,” etc.
For overwhelmed individuals who do not know where to start, think about one “nuclear” action — something basic and simple you can do here and now to push the task forward.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Jobs’ own quest for simplicity (by conquering, rather than ignoring complexity) took him a long way – a role model writ large for ADHD individuals.
Dr. Oksana Hagerty
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