The ADHD Nervous System

Why can't I complete tasks that I know are important?

My brain does not process importance the same way as a neurotypical brain. Neurotypical people use importance to determine their focus and motivation:

Importance-based nervous system

  1. Importance. Tasks that are important or a priority to you.
  2. Secondary importance. Tasks that are important to a secondary source (boss, teacher, coworker, partner).
  3. Rewards & consequences. Tasks that result in rewards or have negative consequences if you fail to do them.

In general, people with ADHD aren't motivated by these.

We know what is important, we like rewards, and dislike consequences. But knowing does not motivate us into action.

The ADHD brain is motivated by interest and similar factors.

Interest-based nervous system

  1. Interest. Tasks that are fun or involve something you find fascination in.
  2. Challenge or competition. Tasks that involve winning, or proving you are the best at something.
  3. Novelty or creativity. Tasks that are from a new routine or involve creation and artistic expression.
  4. Sense of urgency. Tasks that are imminently due, have timers associated with them, or are crisis situations.
  5. Passion. Tasks that align with your life's one true purpose.

Everyone with ADHD knows that they can 'get in the zone' at least four or five times a day. When they are in the zone, they have no impairments, and the executive function deficits they may have had before entering the zone disappear.

— William Dodson, M.D.