A couple of years ago I mentioned to a relative that I knew some kids who never seemed to be bored and probably didn’t even know what boredom felt like. They always seemed to be engaged in something, often by themselves, and I never heard them whining, “I’m bored! Tell me what I can do!”
This relative’s response was, “That’s a sign of good parenting!” I’m sure he meant that as a compliment to the parents involved. But as I have learned more about ADHD, I have wondered what beliefs might have been behind that remark. There could have been one of many beliefs that point the finger of blame for ADHD challenges toward the parents, such as,“If your children are bored, you aren’t doing a good job with them. You haven’t taught them to be resourceful and resilient.”
Kids as well as adults with ADHD seem to have a much lower tolerance for boredom (and hence a higher need for stimulation) than others. Most people know what it feels like to be bored, but folks with ADHD can feel boredom even more intensely. My husband Neil had an ADHD client who experienced actual physical pain from boredom. Others fall asleep when bored – even when in classes or important meetings.
Dr. William Dodson says that for ADHDers it is a neurologic impossibility to stay on task if something is boring, because the ADHD brain is engaged only when something is interesting or challenging, not when someone else tells you something is important (even someone such as a teacher or an employer).
The brain of an ADHDer apparently doesn’t get the full benefit of dopamine, the neurochemical that is responsible for mental stimulation, so ADHDers are in a constant state of under-stimulation – unless they engage with something that is interesting or intriguing or challenging to them. Just importance without interest will not engage an ADHDer. It’s not an issue of poor parenting. It’s not a moral issue. It is an issue of brain chemistry.
So one key to dealing with boredom seems to be knowing what you are intensely interested in (and most ADHDers are interested in many, many things) and using that knowledge to help you engage in the tasks you need to do that don’t hold your interest.
Here’s an example of how I have seen this work in my own experience. I usually find exercise extremely boring. At the same time I know that I can be really interested in stories, especially certain types of mystery novels. I know that exercise is important (definitely not interesting to me), so my challenge is to make it interesting. One thing I’ve tried is checking out audio books from the library – especially mysteries that I know I will find hard to put down — and listening to them while walking. Or, I play some 60s folk music when I need to clean the house in order to keep my energy level up to get that job done.
In your user’s manual for yourself, or your personal operations manual, you might want to keep a running list of things you know will engage your interest. Then when you need to do something that is just important but not at all interesting, you can choose something interesting from the list that you can enlist to help you complete the otherwise boring task.
So the challenge is: What can you do to wrap something important but boring inside something interesting so you can accomplish a necessary task?