ADHD and the Allure of NEW

April 1, 2010 Douglas Cootey

I was all set to begin writing on my novel when an idea came to me.

"Hey, what if I self-published my already finished easy reader? I could draw the illustrations myself and put that puppy up on the iPad iBooks store faster than you could say 'Steve Jobs!' I wonder if I could have it done by the iPad launch in four days…"

I then did something amazing:

new-badgeI didn't abandon my novel and begin working on the new, exciting project.

Can you believe it? Is this me? What the heck happened? By rights, I should have been knuckle deep in India ink by 2:34am Saturday morning.

There was a time when I raced from shiny glint to shiny glint, constantly engaged in something new. Deeply engaged…obsessively engaged…until I started something else even better.

Adults with ADHD have a tendency to take on projects like sinking boats take on water. There is something about the sparkly goodness of NEW that leads the ADHD person around by the nose with a smile on his or her face.

Any project worth doing is going to involve a lot of work and drudgery. It's easy to think of an idea and much harder to bring it to life. For example, an artist can rave about pointillism (painting or drawing using tiny dots) and its magical, airy realism until they have to make all those little dots. Believe me, it takes a great deal of stamina to spend six hours on one piece of paper tapping repetitively dot after dot. Likewise, a road trip to a distant beach sounds like great fun until one has to experience long hours in the car. An adult with ADHD doesn't ask, "Are we there yet?" They spring out of the car at Wally's World of Wombats and either forget about the beach trip entirely, or remember just in time to arrive in the dark.

During those heightened periods of drudgery, adults with ADHD aren't just bored like everybody else. Their minds are screaming for variety and latch upon almost anything for release. Unless they can notice the impulse and wrestle it down, they either abandon their project or finish it slowly over a long, torturous period due to interruptions. Changing this takes time and practice.

Adult ADHD and Inability to Complete Tasks

Time was I could find myself weeks into a new project before even realizing I had abandoned a previous one. It's not that the previous project lost its cool; it's that the previous project could not compete with the new idea that had lit my mind on fire. There is a spark in our mind—a release of happy chemicals—when our minds encounter something new. It is very intoxicating, but short-lived. Finishing a project usually means working on it without this burst of euphoria.

The trouble for adults with ADHD is that this burst gives an otherwise chaotic mind some very intense focus. It is a moment of clarity and peace. When the chemical high subsides, chaos returns. The mind recoils and finds something new to excite it. Everyone experiences this to some degree, but adults with ADHD can experience it with alarmingly quick cycles.

There is a counter agent. It's called motivation. When I hyper-engage my motivation—an ADHD gift—I can override boredom. I pin my attention down for the count and complete the project. Then I experience the euphoria of completion. Since I have recently engaged my motivation to finish a novel, when I encounter other nifty ideas I am able to see them for the distractions that they are.

Now if only I could get past chapter one, but that's another problem for another day.

Next week, I discuss the related ADHD tendency to take on too many projects. Sometimes we don't abandon projects; we collect them. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about today's article or what you'd like to see discussed in the next one. Thanks for reading.

APA Reference
Cootey, D. (2010, April 1). ADHD and the Allure of NEW, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Douglas Cootey

Douglas Cootey
April, 2 2010 at 10:28 pm

Thanks Claire! You don’t fool me for a second, tho. You have a degree more than I do, and a job to match. You’re doing pretty well for yourself. I’m proud of you.

April, 2 2010 at 1:26 pm

Congratulations on catching yourself and not letting yourself get distracted. I'm not sure I would have been able to do so well!

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