The executive function of goal-directed persistence is a challenge on many levels for someone with ADHD.

To move toward a goal, it is first necessary to define and visualize the goal. Since most folks with ADHD are exclusively focused on now, anything in the future is hard to connect with, even if the future is only an hour away. A very visible reminder or series of reminders needs to be set up, or the goal may never be thought of again.

If a goal is identified by someone else, perhaps a parent or teacher or employer, the challenge of defining it has been removed. But the individual now needs to remember the goal and that it is important, at least to the person who identified it. Unfortunately, importance doesn’t make the brain of someone with ADHD light up and get to work. Dr. William Dodson tells us that something needs to be interesting or creative or novel or urgent for an ADHD brain to engage and get moving.

How can you take a goal that is important to someone else (not to you!) and make it either interesting or novel or creative or urgent so that you can get your brain to engage with it? That’s a huge question, and there is no one right answer. For each person and each goal there may be a unique set of answers. The answers to questions like these may provide some guidance:

  • How can you break the process down into steps so that each mini-goal is small enough and immediate enough to be real to you and thus engage you?
  • What kind of a small but meaningful reward could you offer yourself for persisting in meeting each mini-goal?
  • Is there an emotion that you can associate with achieving the goal (joy, excitement, pride, satisfaction, etc.) that will energize you to get into action?
  • Does it work well for you (taking into account your likely level of stress) to wait until the deadline is near and only then get to work because urgency will then be a motivator?
  • Is there another person who can hold you accountable in a supportive manner and thus encourage you to persist in moving ahead?

Those are just a few of many curious, non-judgmental questions that can help someone with ADHD emotionally engage with the process and outcome of persisting toward a goal. What will work for you?


Linda Swanson is an ADHD Coach in Warrenton, Virginia. She and her husband, Neil, are partners at Free To Be Coaching, LLC, where they coach in person or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. They coach students from middle school through college as well as adults of all ages, and they also facilitate two support groups for parents of children with ADHD. Linda and Neil are both graduates of the ADD Coach Academy and are credentialed by the International Coach Federation and the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches. Linda can be reached at or (703) 508-4774. 

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