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How To Treat Lack Of Motivation In ADHD

April 11, 2023
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    If you have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may notice that they are very motivated to engage in some tasks, like playing games, but unmotivated to start or finish others. While this can be confusing, understanding the root causes and finding the right tools can help both kids and adults with ADHD with motivation and task fulfillment. So, what should you know about ADHD and motivation?

    This article will review ADHD motivation tips parents can use to help their children, such as setting smaller goals, using rewards, and changing routines. First, let's talk about how ADHD affects motivation.

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    Understanding Lack of Motivation and ADHD

    The most important thing to understand about lack of motivation and ADHD is that it is not a personal fault. A lack of motivation does not mean that a person lacks willpower; there are many other reasons behind it.

    First, executive functions, which refer to a set of cognitive processes that control behavior, are disrupted in people with ADHD. This can explain memory problems, difficulty starting tasks, and trouble planning or organizing activities. Accordingly, a person with ADHD may look like they aren't trying or simply don't care to do something to the people around them, when in reality, this isn't the case.

    Some research also suggests that people with ADHD experience motivation deficit. It is said that motivation deficit in ADHD is connected to dysfunction of the dopamine reward pathway. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that provides a sense of reward and pleasure, and we know that people with ADHD tend to "chase" dopamine. This can mean that people with ADHD tend toward immediately rewarding activities but have disproportionate trouble with others.

    Rejection sensitivity and perfectionism can make it hard to complete tasks where one might fail; the fear of doing poorly and disappointing oneself or others can lead people to put things off. These aren't always factors, but they can be. For this reason and others, it's critical to remember that shame is not a positive or ideal motivator. 

    Despite challenges, it is possible to feel motivated and finish tasks with ADHD. The key is to keep the way the ADHD brain works in mind and troubleshoot by getting creative and trying new things when motivation dips or slides.

    How To Treat Lack Of Motivation

    Use information about ADHD to work with your child's brain chemistry - not against it. The goal is to help kids find what works for them. Use the following strategies to help your child with ADHD feel motivated to complete tasks.

    Try Joon To Help 

    Joon is an excellent motivational tool for children. Designed uniquely for kids with ADHD and related disorders, Joon is a to-do app that doubles as a game. Here's how it works:

    Parents sign up first with the Joon Parent App and make a to-do list for their children. Your child's to-do list will be fully customizable and may include tasks such as homework, bathing, or household chores. Kids connect with a separate app called Joon Pet Game. When kids complete items on their to-do lists, they get in-game rewards that allow them to take care of a virtual pet called a Doter. Joon acts as a reward system, promotes productivity, and is built with the ADHD brain in mind. The app promotes well-being and makes staying focused easier through reminders and other tools

    90% of kids who use Joon finish all the tasks their parents assign. Even better, the app is backed by child psychologists, teachers, and occupational therapists. Parents can review their child's progress and adjust, remove, or add new tasks at any time.

    Click here to try Joon for free.

    Set smaller goals

    Big tasks can feel overwhelming and often lead to feeling stuck. Does your child have a large task to complete, such as a lengthy school project or cleaning an entire room? If so, set smaller goals by breaking larger tasks down into smaller ones. When big tasks are made into smaller, more manageable steps, it can help get the ball rolling and reduce overwhelm.

    It is also worth mentioning that many people with ADHD procrastinate and over-rely on the adrenaline rush that comes from a close deadline. This works sometimes, but it can also stop someone from meeting deadlines, cause stress, and is generally not the most productive way to mark items off on one's to-do list. When tasks are broken down into smaller pieces, it can help people beat the tendency to put things off.

    Similarly, it can be highly motivating to check each smaller task off of a list or chart. That way, your child can see and feel proud of their progress along the way.

    Reward completed goals

    With the dopamine reward pathway in mind, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to stimulate that feeling of reward in people with ADHD. If done correctly, this can be healthy and advantageous. One common way people create motivation is through rewards. Reward ideas for kids with ADHD can include but aren't limited to small objects, sticker charts, screen time, going to the park, or other experiences. This is also part of where apps like Joon can be helpful for people with ADHD, since they act as a reward system.

    Create task lists

    Just as ADHD can affect motivation, it also affects organization. A task list is a great way to keep track of and organize current tasks. Task lists can be virtual if you use an app like Joon, but some people opt to use a chart, calendar, or physical list either independently or alongside an app. Apps like Joon allow kids to get reminders for each particular task, which is part of how they can be so beneficial for reducing ADHD tendencies that may affect productivity.

    Note: Does your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience challenges related to focus and motivation? We can help. 

    Joon is an app created for kids with ADHD ages 6-12+. Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the App Store, Joon promotes motivation in a way that works for the ADHD brain. Many parents say that Joon has improved their parent-child relationship, and by gamifying tasks, Joon makes daily routines, activities, and healthy habits more enjoyable for kids. 

    Click here to download the app.

    Use body doubling

    You might've heard of body doubling before. While a lot of people have been using it as a tool for longer, the term was further popularized through individuals with ADHD sharing strategies they use to aid motivation and finish tasks online in recent years.

    Body doubling for ADHD refers to completing a task with another person in the room. This is something many adults with ADHD do. For example, one might go grocery shopping with a friend if they feel unmotivated to do it alone, or they might clean dishes with another person, like a spouse, in the room. Many people find that having someone else present, even if you aren't working on the same task, acts as an anchor and boosts both focus and motivation.

    That said, it's just as beneficial for many kids and teens as it is for adults. For example, a child might work on homework while you read a book nearby. As long as the other person someone body doubles with does not disrupt focus, this can be an advantageous tool.

    Change routines

    Add novelty to a task by trying something new. Finding a way to keep things exciting can help improve motivation, focus, and follow-through in people with ADHD. Ideas for changing routines to increase motivation and productivity can include but aren't limited to:

    • Turning repetitive tasks into exciting games or pairing them with other more enjoyable activities.
    • Changing your child's work environment (e.g., creating or modifying a homework-only space).
    • Singing a favorite song or listening to music during boring tasks (e.g., laundry, washing dishes, or other chores).

    It can also help to take notice of when your child feels most productive and schedule activities at that time. For example, certain tasks that are sedentary in nature, such as homework, might be best scheduled after physical activity.

    Start the day with success

    Although switching things up can be helpful in getting and maintaining interest, a consistent morning routine that sets one up for success can be critical. Eating a balanced breakfast (and regular meals throughout the day) can help with mood and concentration, and adding in activities like personal hygiene, taking medication, movement, or anything else that will make a difference for the unique individual can be valuable.

    A lot of people find that a productive morning helps them get tasks out of the way. Even if someone's not necessarily a morning person, it can help to start off on the right foot.

    Manage ADHD symptoms

    Treating ADHD properly can improve mental health and functioning. This can increase the ability to get things done and may aid motivation. There are different ADHD treatments, but most often, a combination of medication and therapy with mental health professionals like therapists or counselors is recommended first. For younger kids, a combination of medication and parent training in behavior management may be suggested first. Alternative approaches and additional forms of support can also be valuable for some.

    Does Adderall Help With Lack Of Motivation? 

    Adderall is in a medication class known as central nervous system stimulants. Central nervous system stimulants are usually the first type of medication recommended to treat ADHD, and they are also known as the most widely effective. What medications like Adderall do is raise levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which aids executive functions. So, when people with ADHD take an appropriate dose of medication, they often focus better, feel more motivated, and see an overall reduction in ADHD symptoms. Self-control and mental health often improve when ADHD is treated properly, which can boost motivation as well. The right approach to treatment will differ from person to person. Talk with your child's doctor or prescriber before you change their medication and treatment plan.


    ADHD and motivation are often misunderstood. Feeling unmotivated with ADHD often causes feelings of shame, but it is not chalked up to simple laziness. There's a reason for motivation problems in people with ADHD, but that doesn't mean that motivation is impossible in people with ADHD by any means. Instead, understanding the ways that ADHD brains are different can help kids and adults with ADHD promote executive function, motivation, and task completion. 

    The proper tools, like changing things up when a task leaves someone with ADHD feeling bored, breaking up large tasks into smaller ones so that one doesn't feel overwhelmed by the bigger picture, and using apps like Joon can help people with ADHD finish tasks and stay motivated. Try the above tips and use trial and error until you find what works for your family. If motivation starts to slip, switch things up and try new strategies.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.