Learning new things: how design thinking can combat ADHD task avoidance
How to combat one of the most disabling ADHD symptoms
Learning is hard
I know how obvious this sounds. But let us take a minute to truly acknowledge it. Think about a skill that you learned that was difficult. Why did you learn it, despite knowing how difficult it was? Did you enjoy the process? What kept you going when things got tough?
Look, I actually love learning. But I have attention deficits, and trouble with impulse control. This can make learning hard on an OK day, where my brain is doing what is supposed to do but begrudgingly. It can make learning downright impossible and frustrating on difficult days, where my tics and Tourette’s comorbidities get the best of me.
When my brain makes it difficult to focus on programming and visual design, or anything academic and a bit dense… well, it makes it easy for my brain to crave to do easier (and more instantly pleasurable) tasks. Like playing guitar, scrolling instagram, or binge-watching netflix.
I know I have a real interest in these subjects, but (parts?) of my brain don’t seem to always get the message. Depening on the day, it often takes massive willpower to get myself to do immediately non-pleasurable (studying, reading programming docs, etc). However, when it comes to guitar or netflix, my brain is ready to go!! But why does this happen?
People with ADHD are pleasure-seeking missles
I don’t mean to pathologize the activity of seeking pleasure. After all, everyone does it. But when you have ADHD, you take hedonism to a whole new level. People with attention deficits usually prefer immediate over delayed gratification and often exhibit thrill-seeking behaviors. This trait facilitates the discovery of new topics of interests, and can make people with ADHD multifaceted and talented people.
But it is a double edged sword. It makes functioning in highly structured environments like school or work VERY difficult… speaking from experience here folks! This preference for “highly stimulating” activities(usually whatever a person’s hobby is) leads to a notorious (but often undiscussed) sequala of ADHD called task avoidance.
It is human nature to take the path of least resistance… meaning we do what is easiest for us. Whether that manifests as us skipping the gym to eat potato chips, or not finishing a project for work (like a website! yikes). I think this tendency is even worse in some neurodiverse people, namely those with ADHD. If I don’t remain vigilant, it is all to easy to find myself instinctively yackshaving and bikeshedding.
Before I became aware of my attention deficits, I used to think I was lazy and defective. Only recently, when I discovered how powerful having a framework was, did my opinion of myself start to change.
A framework appears
I know I talk frequently in these blog posts about this cool avante-garde web design school called Perpetual Education. Well, that is because they have taught me a radical new way of thinking and breaking down difficult tasks called design thinking. This framework helps designers tackle the demands of a project, but it is also invaluable for everyday life stuff too!
So, what is this nifty buzzword called design thinking? According to MIT,
At a high level, the steps involved in the design thinking process are simple: first, fully understand the problem; second, explore a wide range of possible solutions; third, iterate extensively through prototyping and testing; and finally, implement through the customary deployment mechanisms.
The skills associated with these steps help people apply creativity to effectively solve real-world problems better than they otherwise would.
When I find myself avoiding a task (that probably isnt as difficult) as I perceive, but doesn’t offer the immediate gratification that scrolling through instagram does… I remind myself that I can use design thinking to
break the problem down into smaller steps (still learning! easier said than done)
explore a wide range of possible solutions (my favorite part… usually!)
test the solutions extensively (I’ve gotten more thorough with practice)
With time, my task avoidance has definitely decreased! Some things still take me longer than they should (like writing this blog post!), but having a framework to practice and really reign in my attention gives me hope for the future!
Have you used design thinking to tackle a project, or improve an area in your life? let me know in the comments!