What Do We Know About Motivation?

Motivation has been studied for years by psychologists, educators, workforce specialists, and others; thus, countless variations of what motivation is and how it can be fostered have been described in literature emerging from an array of fields. Within the context of coaching young people with ADHD, I define motivation as the desire to take action toward achieving one’s goals. Thus, a perceived lack of motivation in young people with ADHD pertains to the absence of momentum and drive to achieve their goals. This lack of momentum is often fostered by a lack of skill or other inability to achieve one’s goals and doesn’t mean that young people with ADHD are being obstinate, willfully disobedient, or inflexible. Oftentimes, these young people simply have trouble getting started because their executive functioning capacity is underdeveloped or they have yet to acquire the skills needed to get started on accomplishing their goals. Other times, these young people have trouble getting started because they are used to their efforts toward achieving goals being met with failure rather than success. Somewhere along the way, these young people have become tired or even fearful of trying, believing that one more disappointment awaits them around the corner. Many of my young clients have trouble initiating tasks, especially difficult ones. Although these problems may seem insurmountable, especially to the clients, I have found that by chunking down a task into small steps and offering a “carrot” for taking just one step at a time, I am able to help clients move forward with greater momentum and less resistance. Despite their past experiences, these clients discover that they can gain the momentum to complete the task. Thus, lack of motivation in young people with ADHD is not simply about making a choice not to act or about choosing to do less than is expected of them. Lack of motivation in these young people stems instead from the neurobiology of ADHD and the resulting challenges to their executive functioning, which often result in an insufficient skill set and demoralizing life experiences. Fortunately, the neurobiological, skill-related, and life-experience components affecting motivation in young people with ADHD can be addressed, whether through proper medication management, therapy, coaching, or some combination of these. Before examining possible means of doing so, for greater insight and understanding, it is advisable to look a little more closely at the components of motivation in young people with ADHD.