Something fun I’ve been working on lately has been learning to use Blender. I’ve always been fascinated by 3D modeling and animation and have tried learning it before, but never had the patience to sit down and actually, you know, commit to figuring out how it all works. Over the last few months, though, I’ve had a few opportunities come my way to give it a shot. I find I learn better when I actually have a goal — something concrete I’m looking to produce — to guide me. Goals can be broken down into individual tasks that seem manageable and help me target what I need to learn.
I touched on this in my post from last month, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way that having ADHD has shaped my life. I definitely think that the struggles I’ve had in the past with trying to learn software like Blender have due to Executive Dysfunction. Basically, one of the things that’s really hard when you have ADHD is making yourself properly prioritize and execute tasks that lack an adequate amount of structure. Part of learning to live with and manage the way your own brain works, then, is also about learning to create structure when the world doesn’t come packaged with it.
Of course, that doesn’t always work. When I say I’ve been learning to use Blender over the last few months, what I mean is I got really into it back in April, didn’t touch it for months, and have now gone and cracked it open again. Why? Well, I’m on the communications committee for the Young Dems and we have a video project we’re going to be posting fairly soon that I’m using it for. Without the structure of actually having something to use Blender for — a goal — I fell off, lost interest, moved on to other things. Now I’m back on the horse, so to speak. But I’d set goals before, and those weren’t enough to keep me going.
So what’s the difference? Well, people with ADHD are motivated and typically make decisions based on four criteria: ICNU: Interest, Challenge, Novelty, and Urgency. If an activity doesn’t involve one of those four criteria, doing it can be functionally impossible simply because our brains don’t respond to other forms of motivation. So, for example, when I first started learning Blender, it was interesting, challenging, and above all, novel. But as I got more comfortable with it, it ceased to be novel and became familiar. It didn’t necessarily stop being interesting, but I’d satisfied my curiosity about it to the point that other things were more interesting (or novel, or challenging). And while there were still plenty of things I didn’t know how to do, they weren’t necessarily challenges because they weren’t standing in the way of any particular goal.
So why have I been able to focus on it again now? Well, I have an external goal now. Something I’ve been asked to do by friends and that will leave them disappointed if it isn’t done. So that creates a sense of urgency. More importantly, though, I have an actual end goal for my project besides just “learning Blender”, which makes the parts of it I don’t know how to do yet into challenges instead of just things I don’t know how to do. So motivating myself here isn’t just easy: it’s actually hard to focus on other tasks because now working on this project holds so much potential motivation that nothing else really compares, leading to hyperfocus.
So how does that relate to goals and creating structure? Well, it’s a lot easier to make realistic goals and provide yourself the necessary structure when you have a better understand of what motivates you in the first place. A lot of neurotypical people see people like me, with ADHD, as just lazy. For a long time, I thought I was too. It’s been a big help to both my ability to manage my ADHD and to my self-esteem that I’ve learned more about it and been able to actually apply that knowledge to understand why I work the way I do. It’s not always foolproof, but when I know what my sources of motivation are, I can work on finding ways to make tasks challenging, or urgent, or novel, or interesting.