The Lament of Adults with ADHD: If I Know How to Do It, Why Don’t I Do It?

There are few things more frustrating for adults with ADHD than repeatedly failing to do what they know they need to do. When I first met Steve, he threw up his hands in frustration, saying, “Why don’t I do it? I learned from the best how to get organized, but I just don’t do it!”

Steve was smart, charming and outgoing. He loved people and loved to volunteer on committees where he could use his creativity and be part of something exciting. He was valued, respected and trusted, until it became clear that he was not doing what he said he was going to do. This pattern caused Steve deep embarrassment, and he eventually decided to stop doing committee work altogether. He was not able to be keep a job either, or complete any task that required more than a few steps. His family begged him for an explanation, but he could not enlighten them any more than he could enlighten himself. Years of being unproductive eventually led to a sense of inadequacy. By the time I first met Steve, he was suffering from severe anxiety and despaired of ever changing his pattern of behaviour. He asked me, “Why am I not doing what I said I would do?”

The short answer is that Steve also had ADHD an impairment of self-management systems, including the ability to modulate focus and start and complete tasks. A patient once remarked to Dr. Thomas E. Brown, (link to Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, that having ADHD “is like having erectile dysfunction of the mind.” All the wishing in the world cannot make focus appear.

Do you struggle with ADHD?

People with ADHD know that willpower alone does not change their ability to get things done. Why is this? The problem is due to human brain chemistry, which automatically shifts one way when we think about something we enjoy, and another way when we anticipate doing something we don’t really want to do. In either case, the change in the brain is not something we control consciously.

But there is good news: to get our brain chemistry to its optimal place, we need to think of what gives us pleasure. If you’re an adult with ADHD, finding what interests you becomes an imperative, not a luxury. When you know what gives you pleasure, you can use it as motivation to persevere through tedious tasks. In this way, it acts like a tantalizing carrot.

On a deeper level, recognizing your dreams and giving them space in your everyday life is a powerful way to move forward and reach higher goals than you may have thought possible.

I have repeatedly been surprised by how much a client can overcome and get done when sufficiently motivated. The limits in front of us are often of our own making, just as much so for people with ADHD. If we tell ourselves that success is only about doing the boring tasks we find difficult to do, we keep ourselves in a box that limits our potential. By withdrawing, judging ourselves, and failing to try, we keep ourselves small. But what if we allow ourselves to dream big (link to: )? This is where we gather the energy to find the strategies to overcome what gets in the way. Making the dream vivid by visualizing it, feeling it, sensing it, and breathing life into it is a good way to change our brain chemistry. When we operate from this place, we give ourselves a well of energy for getting started, monitoring progress, and continuing to the end. We can then learn to notice without judgment. “Oops, I’m off track, but my trip to the Amalfi coast is out there. Oh the colours, the smells and textures!..... Better get back to work.”

About the author

Lynda Hoffman is a certified life coach who guides clients towards crystalizing their goals and achieving meaningful, long -lasting results.Her clients are professionals from a variety of backgrounds, as well as individuals and families challenged by ADHD. Lynda conducts workshops and speaks on the topics of personal leadership, executive functioning, and ADHD.