We all know that feeling of dread – it’s time to clean the bathroom. Clean out the garage. Go to the gym. Wash the dog.
For neurotypicals, after a battle between that dread, and the feeling that you should be doing said dreadful task, the task wins, and off they go wielding a toilet brush – maybe grudgingly, but they go.
However, ADHDers have a different approach. When faced with a low dopamine task, ADHDers will avoid it. The consequences of ignoring the task – a messy house, a smelly dog – are in the future, and therefore, aren’t important. The ADHDer knows that cleaning the bathroom would be a good thing to do, but without the urgency of “someone is coming over today!” it just doesn’t happen. Add in some shame at having avoided the task, and you have the recipe for classic ADHD living.
But there is a way to make those tasks more palatable. Dr. Katy Milkman, professor at the Wharton School of Business and renowned researcher, discusses what she has termed “temptation bundling” in her book “How To Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want To Be” (which, BTW, is a really great book, super readable and terrific ideas).
Temptation bundling is the concept of putting together a source of instant gratification with a less desirable but “should” activity – so, in sticking to our example, cleaning the bathroom while listening to a podcast that you love. Per Milkman’s research study, when subjects had an indulgence “bundled” with something considered a chore, their participation in the “should” activity increased.
There is a caveat here. In the study, participants only had access to the fun activity while participating in the required activity. So that means that whatever you choose to bundle with scrubbing that toilet, it can only take place while the brush is in hand.
I use temptation bundling often. I have a particular podcast that I only listen to when I’m cleaning. I put my tea in to steep while I’m cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. I only listen to my workout music playlist, well, when I’m working out.
And I will tell you – this works!
Is it hard to resist the urge to do the “fun thing” at other times? Yes, it can be. One way to avoid that as an issue is to schedule your chore right after the indulgence becomes available – so, as one of my clients is doing, cleaning on the day after two of her favorite podcasts come out. But if you don’t have that flexibility, you might want to consider something that you can put aside – maybe an audiobook, or TV show that you like, but can wait to watch.
So, instead of putting that toilet brush away, see if you can bundle it with something fun. Science says it works; hopefully you will too.