Harnessing the Shiny

Sept. 26th, 2016

When I was first diagnosed with ADHD one of the things that struck me most forcefully was the concept of choosing new and “shiny” projects. I'd always felt this was something of a character flaw of mine, that if I has real persistence, I'd be able to work on anything, happily. The truth, that the neurochemical dopamine is necessary for anyone to maintain concentration, and it is a challenge to produce or maintain in the ADHD brain, has been something of a comfort and an explanation for me.

The downside being that I was now aware that jumping into a new “shiny” project at the expense of an old, boring one, was sometimes detrimental to me. So, naturally, because I have a very hard time with the cognitive distortion “Black and White thinking”, I decided that this was completely a bad thing. Whenever I decide to go to extremes, the results are never very favourable.

I was talking to a friend a few months ago and we realized we both do this. We decide that because something is fun, we must avoid it in favour of “real work”. Unfortunately the topic at hand was cleaning, which is a very necessary thing!

The trick, as with so many, many things, is to create balance. It doesn't help to continually jump at new things, perpetually abandoning the older, important work. Neither does it do to ignore the treasure-trove of dopamine that comes with jumping at the new project. When something catches our interest, the ADHD brain is able to produce a lot of dopamine, which allows us not only to work at a task, but allows us to work remarkably fast and long. So if we pause, figure out if it is currently appropriate to dive into this new thing, and go ahead if the answer is ‘yes’, time might be saved because of how quickly the work goes.

Another thing I like to do is if that isn't currently possible, just do a small amount of prep or research. This allows me to use the resulting dopamine on my other, more boring project. It also allows me to eliminate projects that just seemed good at the time but those I never go back to after the first initial rush of excitement.

Balance. It is difficult for anyone to attain. With ADHD it is even harder. The longer I strive for it, the more strategies I create and discover. Each time I discover a new strategy, I realize anew that ADHD is truly one of the most treatable of disorders. Everything seems so obvious once explained.

What projects excite you?