How I Trick My Brain Into Getting Things Done

May 6, 2020 Tonie Ansah

I learned how to trick my brain by accident. You see, several years ago (before my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis), to lose the weight I gained from my second pregnancy, I went on a diet. After learning the ins and outs of nutrition, I began meal prepping and working out four times a week, with only one caveatWednesday was "cheat" day. My weekly 10-piece nugget meal accompanied by a medium, mountain berry Powerade was the absolute highlight of my week. However, once Thursday hit, I was back to my daily egg whites, chicken, and broccoli.

I'm not here to advocate for dieting or habits that could create disordered eating, but rather, I share that story because of one key element I find useful for adhering to tasks I don't want to do—the use of external incentives to trick my brain into helping me reach a goal. 

Why Tricking the ADHD Brain Seems to Work

Sometimes we need to trick our brains because, unlike non-ADHD brains, those with ADHD aren't always motivated to take action simply to cross things off their to-do list. More often than not, if what is being asked of the ADHD brain is boring or understimulating, the person may experience some mental resistance and instead divert their attention to a more interesting task. But there's a reason for this. According to Dr. Ellen Littman: 

"Key aspects of the reward system are underactive in ADHD brains, making it difficult to derive reward from ordinary activities."1

Even more intriguing, is that:

"In mundane, low-stimulation situations these restless brains may compel their owners to increase the intensity level with fidgeting, noise, laughter or conflict if there is no other route to high stimulation."1

Why Using Rewards Work to Trick Your Brain

When you understand a bit about how the ADHD brain operates, it makes sense why following low-stimulation activities like laundry with highly reinforcing and rapid stimuli like chocolate trick your brain into compliance. 

For example, common stimulant drugs are said to work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, thus increasing our focus and attention span.2 By rewarding myself (or my brain), I've found that my motivation increases, not for the task itselfbut for whatever short-term treat I allow myself afterward. Both the anticipation and the incentive are usually enough to get me moving. Since I'm not motivated by shopping unless I can get what I want immediately, sugary sweet treats are strong incentives for me. In fact, just getting myself to sit down and write this took three mini Cinnabon's and dance sessions in between paragraphs. 

Knowing this information about your ADHD brain can be used to your advantage and applied to virtually any boring task. Positive reinforcements can be an hour of TV time, time spent playing a video game, or, if you're like me, a dessert. You know what excites you best, so next time you have a paper to write, or household chores that need completing, try sweetening the deal, literally

Do you trick your brain into doing what you want it to do? What methods do you use? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Littman, E. Ph.D., "Never Enough? Why ADHD Brains Crave Stimulation." ADDitude, May 6, 2020.
  2. Duggal, N., "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Role of Dopamine.", Accessed May 6, 2020.

APA Reference
Ansah, T. (2020, May 6). How I Trick My Brain Into Getting Things Done, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Tonie Ansah

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Christina Sharratt
June, 25 2021 at 8:29 pm

Knowing what makes the self tick in other words.

Lucille age 73 n still struggling
July, 1 2020 at 10:51 am

Really tricking brain with sugar ??
Good way to start another addiction,,sugar makes u crave
More sugar....... will be thinking of some better rewards.....long lasting.
Rewards......any suggestions??

July, 1 2020 at 12:17 pm

Hi Lucille,
I agree sugar isn't at the top of the list of positive reinforcements because it can be problematic in excess.
For me personally, I sometimes exercise and use the adrenaline afterward to get busy work done.
I'm not big on TV, but I've seen TV time used as a reward as well. Some other things I can think of off the top of my head are a trip, a massage, clothing, makeup, skincare products etc..
What is something you really enjoy or like? What do you consider an absolute treat? I think when you have ADHD finding ways to get going will be an ongoing, unique, and creative battle.

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