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How to stop procrastinating by using the Fogg Behavior Model (deprocrastination.co)
804 points by vitabenes 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 280 comments

Some time back, I read all I could on procrastination, and watched dozens of videos on it, and by far the best thing I found on it was this video by Tim Pychyl: [1]

It focuses particularly on procrastination in graduate school, but is widely applicable elsewhere.

One of the key insights that Pychyl, a psychologist who studies procrastination, had is that procrastination is not (as is commonly believed) a time management problem but a problem with managing negative emotions.

He has lots of really useful, practical tips for overcoming procrastination in the video, which I highly recommend.

[1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhFQA998WiA

Yes, Pychil's work is incorporated in our materials.

This is the recipe for procrastination (according to us):

1. Think about a task - "I have to do _____."

2. Have an automatic negative reaction

     2a. Negative thoughts - "I hate doing this,"...

     2b Negative feelings - Feeling stressed, afraid,...
3. Procrastinate - Do something else to feel better.

Procrastination is all about escaping negative emotions.

Something makes you feel bad, you do something else to feel better.

Feeling better (reduced discomfort) is the short-term reward engaging in procrastination.

That's why procrastination can become addictive and automatic)

I really do hope your page helps some people with their procrastination issues. But I can't help feel like your whole approach suffers from engineers disease. But maybe that's what will resonate with some folks.

A compassionate therapist can also do wonders for procrastination.

Yeah, I know what you're saying. This is more of a clinical disection of procrastination.

Many more of our blog posts and book chapters are more about the emotional side of things. Plus, we do coach people 1-on-1 in our program.

That sounds pretty great actually. I just know what for me, none of this really "clicked" until I had someone to work through these emotions with

Most procrastination is emotional management, a sort of self-medicating from stress. Having a skilled therapist working through it with you sounds fantastic.

I really like a technique called the "Sedona Method" for releasing difficult emotions.

I find it amusing when I look up "Sedona Method" I find lots of blurbs in the search previews about how simple and powerful it is, yet none of them actually give any clue as to what it involves (but you can buy a book that will reveal the secret!).

Not a criticism of the technique (since I have no idea what it involves, although I'm curious), moreso of the optics to someone searching for it. As opposed to something like the Pomodoro Technique which a search for does turn up blurbs about what it involves.

Sorry it seems really vague. I think it's so simple it's confusing. Essentially, the Sedona method is to connect with whatever's bugging you and ask yourself these questions.

1. Could I let it go? (You can say yes, or no or anything. Saying "yes" is typical because it's just asking if it's possible. Saying "I don't know", is to be generally avoided because it doesn't let you "try it out".)

2. Would I let it go? (Same deal as question 1, but it puts you in the driver's seat in terms of would you take action)

3. When would you let it go? (It's an invitation to say, "now!", but answer honestly)

When explaining the Sedona Method they have you hold a pen and when you "let it go" you physically let it go. That's it. People protest and say, "it's not that easy", but if you do it earnestly you find you have a slight release. Then you just keep doing it over and over again and most stuff just tends to go away.

The way I think about it is that our mind can be run as a powerful emotional simulator, but all emotions are actually real. When we watch movies it's all a simulation but we have a genuine emotional reaction when we watch. The Sedona Method is a process that simulates letting go of resistant feelings that we have, but amazingly it does actually go away. It may come back but like regular exercise you keep chipping away at it bit by bit. Over time it does wonders.

> engineers disease

what do you mean by that?

> engineers disease

Just a guess:

> jumping straight to proposing solutions rather than working with people to understand the problem 1st. “You think you know enough to solve the problem”. [0]

[0] https://accessgranted.nz/episodes/2016/9/6/ep-98-engineers-d...

aahhhhh..... yes, they warned us about this so much in university that I've had "talk to stakeholders to really understand the nature of the problem, then keep observing" firmly lodged into my professional identity.

Wow that number 3 hit me hard.

I’ve always known myself to procrastinate, but I only think about 1 and 2. In retrospect, I have done 3 in a lot of cases. I just never really thought about it. In fact, I am extremely focused on working on the other task that I’ve always wondered where the motivation comes from.

Sometimes when I am very emotionally upset or have a very negative task I want to avoid like studying, I will get the sudden urge to clean or work on a similar low-brainpower project (which is not something that comes naturally to me in normal times).

If I were merely trying to feel better I'd just go for video games or something like I normally do, but there must be something else going on that directs me to focus on simple and useful ways to feel better in the most extreme cases. It'd be nice to capture that in a bottle.

Feelings are complex. Personally, at any given time, I have two or three of sideprojects, videogames and TV shows I could focus on, each. But when I procrastinate, I end up reading HN or some subreddit or something similar, instead of coding my side projects or playing a game I've been waiting to play for the past year.

I've traced that to feelings of guilt. I can't enjoy a videogame if I feel I'm only using it to escape and make my situation worse. I can probably enjoy a TV show a bit, for a while, until my brain realizes that it's just an escape mechanism and I get more stressed. But social media in general, offer you a bite-sized escape. There's nothing wrong in taking 2 minutes break to skim comments on a HN thread, or scroll through some funny pictures somewhere. 2 more minutes won't make a difference either. 2 more? And suddenly it's been 5 hours.

So in the end, I don't do the things I have to, and I also don't do the things I want to - all because negative emotions.

(Part of my solution to this problem was just blocking certain sites (like HN) on the router during work hours.)

Yeah I can connect with that feeling of guilt. Sometimes I'll need an escape when something needs doing. So I'll browse around Reddit or play a video game, but not an involved, captivating one, but something like a simpler puzzle game so I can feel like I'm not totally abandoning the stuff I'm meant to do.

It's really odd and I'm better off just burning an hour or two on a more intense form of distraction and getting it out of my system. I've found it's worse when my wife is home, I guess it's an urge to keep up appearances, even if she doesn't really care? But when she's out of town I think I get more done just because I chunk time for work and play more effectively.

> I've found it's worse when my wife is home, I guess it's an urge to keep up appearances, even if she doesn't really care? But when she's out of town I think I get more done just because I chunk time for work and play more effectively.

I've got exactly the same. I know she doesn't care, but the urge keep appearances is still there. I tend to schedule checking out videogames for those times when she takes our daughter to visit her parents - even though she would be fine with me taking a break to play games, I would feel guilty about not spending time with them instead.

Guilt is a funny thing.

I'm kind of wondering if it's the brain's way of saying you should talk your problem over with other people. And HN is a sort of maladaptive (for various reasons) version of that.

At first your comment didn't make sense to me (why would it be an instinct to talk to people about our inner turmoil?), but it does make sense, because we procrastinate on mostly societal impositions (work, education, and other productive endeavors), and the way to negotiate ourselves out of them is by talking to the people making that imposition.

Seeking counseling on HN is definitely a recurring trend here, one I've been guilty of too at times, so you may be onto something here!

Oh that's not what I meant, I was thinking of discussing something completely different, or only tangentially related. When you should be seeking counseling.

I misunderstood you, sorry. And yes, I agree with your clarified point too - that definitely happens for me, and I'd guess for a lot of us here. I'm not ashamed to admit that HN discussions satisfy the same needs as meatspace socializing, even if they're doing it the way McDonald's satisfies hunger.

HN is really the worst. With other sites I visit, I can at least honestly say it's a pure waste of time. But here, every couple weeks I'll find something that solves a tough problem I have; every year or two I find something career-altering. If I were to integrate ((value I get from HN) - (opportunity cost of time spent here)), I'm not sure whether it's even negative. My monkey brain definitely feels it's positive (magic of temporal discounting). If I spent this time on other things, maybe I'd be running a space company now. Or maybe I'd be depressed and stuck doing PHP for ridiculously low salaries.

I have this. I think it's because we're procrastinating on a "productive" thing. So to escape to empty feel good is too far for the brain, cue something mindless, easy but still somehow productive.

I suppose stress-cleaning is a common enough trope, so it must be a real thing. The mindlessness and almost meditative factor seems key like you say.

Procrastination is an escape from stress, unease, and discomfort.

Cleaning provides that escape. It gives you a boost of dopamine as well since you're accomplishing something. In addition to that, it's a visual activity - you immediately see progress. It's a super common procrastination activity.

Interesting video. Pychil claims that procrastination is a weakness of will. For another perspective, check out the book, "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much" [1], which claims it's not just about will (executive function), but also about tunnel vision and reduced fluid intelligence, all caused by a situation of scarcity--time scarcity in the case of procrastination. And they claim reduced executive function is situational. It's not a fundamental attribute of the procrastinator.

[1] = https://www.amazon.com/Scarcity-Having-Little-Means-Much-ebo...

I still think this is too limited. Analogous to how Keynes said classical / Ricardian economics discussed distribution of goods given a fixed level of production, the linked article doesn't consider that the maximum productive output on any given day is not the same, even when the 3 variables considered are maximized.

"Behavior" here seems to be a boolean, "why we take action or not take action at any given moment", but I think many people who ask how to be more motivated or productive are asking about total output, not just about the ability to begin a task. They might be able to sit down at their desk and start working, for example, but not be able to continue long even after doing all the tricks.

In my experience, there is some sort of "mental energy reserve", and as that is exhausted it becomes increasingly difficult or maybe impossible to do any further productive work. If you are doing a strength training workout in the gym, no amount of "motivation" is going to let you continue lifting heavy weight indefinitely. I haven't seen much research to quantify that "mental energy reserve" or quantitatively measure how different tasks exhaust it.

There also seems to be some task-related inertia.

Well it is a lot more complicated. There is no "mental energy reserve", but we do get energized by norepinephrine in the brain and once it becomes saturated it it loses its effect.

A simple technique to reset it is to activate the "sigh reflex". You just breathe in twice at a normal pace and then slowly exhale through the mouth.

Another more powerful reset is to do yoga nidra for 10-20 minutes. Yoga nidra, once you figure it out, will actually deactivate the prefrontal cortex and simulate sleep. Which has a huge boost for your cognitive abilities.

Both of these techniques will increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain which will decrease norepinephrine. Once norepinephrine is no longer saturated you can become energized by it again.

For example, imagine a football team winning the super bowl. They've been pushing 110%. Suddenly, they're jubilant and jumping all over the place. The dopamine and serotonin pushes out the norepinephrine allowing to return and become effective again.

I'll definitely try this, but do you happen to have any links about this?

And yes, I realize "mental energy reserve" isn't a scientific term, it's just a term I'm using for lack of something better to label something I experience.

Re: the football team though, no matter how energized they are, that team will not be able to lift more than their 1RM (1 rep max), they won't be able to lift their 10RM (10 rep max) more than 10 times (maybe a few more on a good day). Eventually there are physical limits to their ability. Similarly if that team had not slept for 48 hours, or had done non-stop math problems for 18 hours and was asked to continue doing them.

> Re: the football team though, no matter how energized they are, that team will not be able to lift more than their 1RM (1 rep max), they won't be able to lift their 10RM (10 rep max) more than 10 times (maybe a few more on a good day). Eventually there are physical limits to their ability. Similarly if that team had not slept for 48 hours, or had done non-stop math problems for 18 hours and was asked to continue doing them.

I want to challenge your thought experiment. Consider Navy Seal training. Pushing through via sheer force of will isn't possible. There needs to be a cycling and restorative process that enables above and beyond grit.

Clip of Prof Huberman on "quitting behavior" such as quitting a long bout of work. (Note: Noradrenaline is norepinephrine. It's a weird historical thing where two teams discovered it and nobody agreed on the real name)


Good Joe Rogan with Huberman.


"Pushing through via sheer force of will isn't possible."

That's exactly what I'm saying. I'll check out the link.

> "Pushing through via sheer force of will isn't possible." > That's exactly what I'm saying. I'll check out the link.

What I'm saying is that you can't push your way through Navy Seal training by trying harder. But you can significantly increase your output and down regulate the process around "quitting" by using other techniques that will trigger the norepinephrine reset.

I think you're identifying something important to talk about. If I understand correctly from the PodClip, really the idea is to give your brain a small reward for making progress.

I think many of us on HN are familiar with being able to work 10-12 hours if we're feeling like we're on the track to success. However, even then, at 10-12 hours, eventually the brain gets tired. That's something that I'm also interested in learning about.

When your brain gets tired maybe all you need to do is some Yoga Nidra or alike and you can reset and get more clarity back by pushing out the norepinephrine.

Check out Paul Scheele of Learning Strategies Corporation


No affiliation, just a happy customer.

He's got this one guided meditation called 15 minute memory super charger, or some such, I think it's this one:


It gets me nearly every time. I'd say 7 out of 10 times I listen to it I enter an altered state of relaxed alertness, somewhere between awake and and sleep, where I'm aware of my body and mind, but not fully present. Observers say I looked like I was asleep because I start twitching like I'm about fall asleep, but you're aware of what's happening.

Do it a few days in a row and the change in mental / emotional resilience is nothing short of phenomenal.

Sounds like a regurgitation of the interview of Dr Andrew Huberman on Rich Will's podcast. Look it up on YouTube.

Yeah, sorry I should have referenced the source in the original post.

It's a fantastic interview!

You might enjoy reading about The Spoon Theory:



It's a similar way to describe budgeting mental energy reserves, and how some activities lose spoons while others replenish them.

While "mental energy reserve" is not a standard term, "decision fatigue" is, and is basically the same idea.

Eh, "mental energy reserve" seems to be used like "ego depletion" which doesn't have a great pedigree iirc.

Studies by Dweck, famous for Growth Mindset, and others point to "ego depletion" simply being a reflection of people's beliefs (My willpower is limited) as opposed to an actual resource that gets depleted.



Yes, I mean it in a similar way to the idea of "decision fatigue", but more broadly about all kinds of cognitive tasks.

I remember reading a study about the mental energy reserve that you speak of, or concentration, proving we have a limited amount, but the people who were informed of this fact were giving up sooner than those who didn't.

This actually looks like the ground work for cognitive behavioural therapy.

The idea (grossly simplified) is to take those observations of negative thoughts and build a rational response to those thoughts (cognitive part). Then you build a habit of noticing those thoughts and responding with the rational response. It’s far easier said than done, and perhaps best dispensed by a therapist. But these mental tools have been crucial to improving my own mental health.

Some great books on that go into more depth than I ever could include Feeling Good by Burns or Byrne, Overcoming Anxiety and Overcoming Depression.

a few thoughts:

- how much of society is related to driving up or enforcing overcoming these avoidant reflexes

- the negative feeling is often due to a social obligation that may be distorded. You could renegotiate smaller chunks or different terms.. the idea is that in a different context you might approach it with lot more will.

ps: my current gig is in a national office and I could very well rebrand it as land-of-the-procrastinator. It's an endemic disease where nobody wanted to do things (the way they were asked), any newcomer will be dragged down, ensure a good status-low.

Thanks for posting this video, I found it really helpful. For people who don't have the time to watch this is a strategy I learned from it that I might try out with my TODOS:

"In situation X I will do behavior Y to achieve subgoal Z"

His example was

"When this workshop ends today, I'm going straight to the library to read 4 pages of that paper that I'm struggling to read to achieve the subgoal of finishing this paragraph in my thesis"

The idea is you don't have to think about some vague topic. You just go on autopilot like, oh the workshop is over now I have to do this thing, therefore you're more likely to do it.

>> "In situation X I will do behavior Y to achieve subgoal Z"

I was pondering something very similar to this about 10 minutes before he talked about it only I was thinking about changing perspective for the given task, that is: "what 'mode' do I have to be in to get this done?" in place of 'Y'. His short sentence is much more elegant than what I was trying to think but I think 'mode' also fits just as well.

Basically, I think we get too overwhelmed (emotion) with what we have to do and breaking it down into smaller chucks may not be enough. Breaking it down into modes or specialties might make it less daunting. We can all 'plan', 'study', 'code' or whatever hat you need to wear along the way and wearing them all at once, even on a small task can still be overwhelming.

For example, say I have a new coding project but I'm having trouble organising it into chunks as I'm new to the platform/API. What I can do is say "ok, I need to put my 'study' hat on and learn just an overview of how this all works" (study mode) then go back into 'plan' mode to reorganize tasks into further modes to complete item one ('hello world' app say), rinse and repeat.

I always recommend clients to get familiar with the task. A lot of the stress comes from facing the unknown (unknown codebase, report, process).

Your "study hat" is just that - you get familiar with the complex underlying mechanism and then much of the resistance disappears.

Get familiar, get started.

If you don't have the steps to achieve X and you can't come up with the steps on the fly (or the steps you know do not work) then you will not be able to do X when you want to.

I know I procrastinate when I don't know how to start.

But learning how to break things down into chunks and make a checklist makes it a lot easier to avoid that. A well defined task is actually fun to do, and I'm much less likely to avoid it.

In my understanding X is a situation not a goal to achieve. So it can be as simple as 'Today at 5pm' or 'I am at a bar craving a cigarette'

My comment was more a general issue. If you know what to do then planning specific slots to do them, makes sense.

I think this has to with the unknowns of modern work.

In knowledge work, we need to:

1. Define the work

2. Do the work

Can't do what's not defined.

In general, the simple advice I give our clients is to take a piece of paper and a pen, and put all the ideas about the task out there. Take 5-15 minutes and try to define it.

Basecamp's Shape Up book is a lot about managing the unknowns.

Thanks for this. I found the article to be really naive in a Dale Carnegie kind of way, that probably appeals to someone in their mid-20s trying to reinvent themselves, but is actually a psychological dead end. For me, procrastination has definitely fit the profile of pain avoidance rather than a lack of any of those three elements the article focuses on.

The article is entirely based on Fogg's behavior model. Your criticism isn't really addressing the article, it's addressing the model used. As for pain avoidance, that seems to be a part of the factor Motivation, which is divided into the sub-factors Sensation, Anticipation and Social Cohesion. I've found a number of sites explaining the model and they all have something like this to say about Sensation:

> Searching to experience pleasure or avoiding pain. These strong motivators are thought to be a primitive and immediate response to information.

I can't find an official source for it, so I have to assume it's in Fogg's book. But it seems pain avoidance is something that is addressed by the model.

Some relevant links:





As for Fogg, he seems to be a research associate at Stanford and founded the Behavior Design Lab. How much weight that carries, no idea.


edit: I think I found the paper where FBM is from

http://captology.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Beh... (found through https://behaviordesign.stanford.edu/fogg-behavior-model)

This model doesn't seem to have ever been tested empirically. (I would be happy to be corrected on this point.)

Given that, I think it's appropriate to raise doubts about its clinical effectiveness.

Doubts, sure. Asking for more evidence isn't a problem. But 1) blaming the author and 2) insulting him with something baseless like "I found the article to be really naive in a Dale Carnegie kind of way, that probably appeals to someone in their mid-20s trying to reinvent themselves, but is actually a psychological dead end" is a problem and needlessly adversarial.

I watched the talk and found it interesting. Thanks for the link!

One thing that I was surprised to see was the "ego depletion / willpower is like a muscle" discussion at the end. Did you encounter that a lot in your reading?

I recently saw this article: https://hbr.org/2016/11/have-we-been-thinking-about-willpowe...

In summary, they failed to reproduce a classic experiment for ego depletion, and propose some other theories. Some of the theories proposed imply that holding the _belief_ that willpower is a finite resource is self-fulfilling.

Looking on HN for "ego depletion", a number of articles have been posted regarding the reproducibility of that particular theory.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12068444 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11239674 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16117314

Overall, this leaves me very skeptical about any advice about what procrastination is and how to fix it.

> Some time back, I read all I could on procrastination, and watched dozens of videos on it

Honestly thought you were setting us up for a punchline, there.

Seriously, did he eventually get back to work or what???

Thanks for sharing, I'll watch it tomorrow.

[...] procrastination is not (as is commonly believed) a time management problem but a problem with managing negative emotions.

Could there not be a catch 22 here where the negative emotions causing procrastination are in turn caused by the accumulating mess that said vice so often causes?

I would call that a vicious circle, not a catch 22, but the mechanism you describe is real.

> Some time back, I read all I could on procrastination, and watched dozens of videos on it

You should have not done this; and instead focused on what you wanted to do in the first place!! </silly sarcasm>

Thats interesting!

I'm an ADHD sufferer. And one of the things they about Ritalin is that it's a DRI (dopamine reuptake inhibitor).

More dopamine might mean you kinda feel more positive!

Also an ADHDer here. My current model of things is that Dopamine broadly signals messages like "you're going the right way, keep going".

Insufficient dopamine and you end up being really open to needing frequent positive feedback to follow through on a plan. Leading to either:

1) Distractibility -- greater task-switching in the face of frustration or negative emotions.

2) Hyperfocus -- lower task-switching in the face of frequent rewards (like from a video game or novel or programming with test-driven-development).

And then there's a bunch of other mood impacts from the life-impacts of that. For example: Emotional sensitivity due to memories of people being disappointed in you.

Thanks for sharing. I just finished watching this. It was very helpful!

I also found this video very interesting and I took some notes while watching it. Thank you.

Thank you. I’ve saved this video to watch later.

Yes, Tim is so good. He also wrote a great Medium article for one of our publications there. Here the link that'll bypass the paywall: https://medium.com/better-humans/how-to-use-psychology-to-so...

Alright I will check this out... later.

It’s clearly not the case for everyone, but I struggled for an extended period of time with a few things in my personal and professional life:

1. Remarkable focus in topics which interest me and remarkable lack of focus in topics which do not.

2. Leaving “must do” tasks in areas of little interest until the very last moment, resulting in a predictable lack of excellence in execution.

3. Periodic deep dives into topics which go beyond the aforementioned “areas of interest”.

4. Driven by a motor in meetings: itching to get up and walk around as we talk, feeling more comfortable with any kind of low level motor action happening concurrently to my thinking and speaking. Also led to me leaping to the end of a person’s sentence and others experiencing me as highly impatient / excitable at times.

5. The need to have a TV show or other media playing as I fall asleep. Ideally something I’ve seen before and which is enjoyable but not too engrossing. Almost like one of the cores in my processor couldn’t be idle — it actually made it hard to sleep. (Conversely I always fell asleep watching films with my partner.)

6. Various odd elements of disorganisation — never at work but eg. losing my keys and documents.

If you’re reading this and hearing elements of your own experience, and in particular if this is familiar to you from childhood (“Why can’t you apply yourself to X like you do Y?!”) then I would encourage you to speak to a serious psychiatrist about the possibility that you have ADHD.

Not everyone has it and I accept that many are probably misdiagnosed with it. My experience of clicking every link on HN with hacks for focusing and not procrastinating was actually a very sad one and I didn’t realise how profoundly it had affected me until I sat in the office of a psychiatrist and he rattled off a range of specific experiences he wagered I had had during my life.

It’s been a remarkable process for me of feeling emotional relief as well as receiving medication which improves my life.

Again if you’re looking for a productivity hack you do not need to consider that you have any sort of chemical disregulation, but I did not consider the possibility of a medical condition and found myself often in rabbit holes of productivity hacks feeling deeply unproductive.

Whilst furloughed from my job during lockdown, I found myself bouncing off the walls at home consistently enough to finally seek out the ADHD diagnosis I’ve always suspected.

I’m 29 years old, and one of my earliest memories is of my parents (lovingly) threatening to put an electric fence around my seat at the dinner table. I’d be up and down like a yo-yo after each mouthful.

For the last 5 years, “my friend” has been obtaining prescription pharmaceutical meds from the dark web to treat “his” symptoms. They’ve been life changing — one day of medication leads to more productive output than would ever be imaginable the rest of the week without them.

But they’re a double-edged sword. Like another commenter says, overdoing them leads to one feeling like a shell of their former self.

But at least you have something to show for it.

I put off my diagnosis for years, because I was afraid. I was terrified I would be told I didn’t have ADHD — at which point I would have no answers or excuses any more. If it’s not ADHD (that I know I can treat), then what the hell else is wrong with me? Or, worse, I feared I would be told that I was simply drug-seeking. I felt like I’d entered the Matrix — you take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland.

I’ve had 3 appointments with a psychiatrist so far, and, finally, my prescription begins next week.

If you seriously think you have ADHD, don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Life is too short to waste time fighting against yourself.

> I put off my diagnosis for years, because I was afraid. I was terrified I would be told I didn’t have ADHD — at which point I would have no answers or excuses any more. If it’s not ADHD (that I know I can treat), then what the hell else is wrong with me?

This is an amazing thing to share. Reading some of the other replies in this thread from folks who are now motivated to seek help because they experience the same range of symptoms others are expressing, I bet your comment is going to have a direct and positive impact on someone's life.

It's not easy to share things like this and folks will definitely feel supported by you. Thank you.

> But they’re a double-edged sword. Like another commenter says, overdoing them leads to one feeling like a shell of their former self.

I firmly believe that self-medicating in the manner your friend did exposes you to a heightened risk of this sort of experience. As noted elsewhere, there are so many variables to consider with the various medications that it really does require a committed, serious doctor to collaborate with you during titration. My journey so far has been four different drugs, with seven different dosages, and 4 different timed release / instant release formulations.

> I’ve had 3 appointments with a psychiatrist so far, and, finally, my prescription begins next week.

This is really wonderful news. I've found that the process of ironing out the right medication can be a frustrating one, because my doctor is a careful and methodical person and my instinct is to say "hey let's skip from 18mg to 54mg". No advice, but sharing my story just in case you experience the same thing. I've found that it has gotten a lot better, and I was surprised by the different experience of the different medications.

I got diagnosed at 29 also and had almost an identical experience to yours and the person above you. I often think of what a difference it would have made to know earlier (in so many ways).

>>Life is too short to waste time fighting against yourself

Str8 facts

Just because you don't have "ADHD" doesn't mean you don't have a problem. If someone is hesitating for the same reason you were, they should seek help because there is something wrong, even if it's not what they thought.

28 years old and just got diagnosed.

Do it - it makes a difference. I was amazed how much meds helped me. I'm far more productive doing tasks that are boring.

Happy to hear of your success, and thanks for sharing and helping other people feel supported.

which meds are you taking?

Ritalin, and only 10mg. Twice a day.

It's remarkable the difference it makes for me. I have gotten more work done when needed to, have improved in my hobbies, conversations are much better, I stay focused on tasks...it's incredible the difference.

Ok serious question: Every one of these points is very applicable to me, especially 1,2 and 3.

I haven't been to a doctor in years outside occasional emergency trips. How do you bring this up without seriously. I don't want to come off as the guy who compulsively self diagnoses based off what they read on the internet.

I was in a similar position. I did a bunch of reading on ADHD, convinced myself that I probably had it then I found a clinical psychologist who specialized in ADHD and reached out for an initial appointment. Apparently this is a pretty common story for people with ADHD who weren't diagnosed as children, so a specialist won't be particularly surprised by it.

The initial appointment is probably going to be an in-depth interview with the specialist, coupled with filling out some self-assessments and, possibly, getting somebody who knows you well to fill out an assessment as well. (Apparently people with ADHD usually drastically underestimate their own symptoms, which is why a third-party perspective is important.)

After I got diagnosed, the specialist gave me useful advice, learning materials and resources, including recommendations for psychiatrists to reach out to for treatment. This is pretty important because a combination of psychiatric treatment with learning new skills, coaching... works better than only doing one or the other.

If you can afford it or it works well with your insurance, I would highly recommend reaching out to a specialist instead of (or in addition to) talking to a normal doctor.

> this is a pretty common story for people with ADHD who weren't diagnosed as children

This was an extremely meaningful datapoint for me in feeling "seen". One of the steps was to ask my mother to fill in a survey recalling how she experienced me as a child.

When I told my mother it was for ADHD diagnosis she laughed, and said, "You didn't have ADHD. You just liked to run around. In my experience 10% of kids are just wired that way."

Cue the psychiatrist telling me that ADHD prevalence is now thought to be around around 10%.

A good psychiatrist will not diagnose you with ADHD unless you have it, and they will not sit on the fence and say "maybe" if they believe you have it. Mine was emphatic with me.

> Apparently people with ADHD usually drastically underestimate their own symptoms, which is why a third-party perspective is important

Absolutely! The way people experienced me was totally different to the way I thought that they did.

> Apparently this is a pretty common story for people with ADHD who weren't diagnosed as children, so a specialist won't be particularly surprised by it.

This is very true. And it's not even just due to lack of access to mental health care as a child: everyone over a certain age will have grown up before "ADHD" was a recognized disorder, and thus couldn't have been diagnosed with it no matter what their symptoms were.

It's a lot better recognized and studied than it was in the 80s and 90s. Especially the recognition that while for some it goes into remission (somehow???) or at least becomes sub-clinical, there are a large number of us who continue to struggle with it our whole lives. It's kind of demeaning when it's seen as a children's disorder.

When you're a kid it's not that bad cos you have structure provided for you and little to no responsibility. You're just a constant pain in the ass. That's why it's named after all the things that piss people off about it and not named after what the lived experience is like or how it affects us internally. When you're an adult and you are responsible for structure and getting things done and holding down job it can silently and slowly crush you. It's a much bigger problem once you're an adult.

> You're just a constant pain in the ass

Not as much with inattentive-subtype. Then you just spend lots of time reading and are somewhat disorganized.

Until you get to adulthood.

If you are like 30 and employed they don't dick you around about ADHD the way they do with college students

Go to a psychiatrist. Report your symptoms. They will give you a diagnostic and make the call. As long as you go in without stating your suspected diagnosis, you're not "diagnosing."

Do you have a PCP? You just say that you want to get referred to someone to get tested for ADHD because of x, y, and z and you think a diagnosis would help you

No problem, serious answer:

This is the DSMV criteria: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html

Doctors are typically screening with a quiz that looks something like this: https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/adhd-quiz/

It's perfectly reasonable to say "I think I may have ADHD based on what I've read online, my symptoms match and people who know me have suggested I try adderall".

Some doctors are fine with letting everyone have stimulants, because they're pretty harmless unless you're really binging on them, and they won't give you enough to do that for very long.

Other doctors would prefer to put you on an SSRI or SNRI or wellbutrin or some other "non-addictive" medication (which ironically are more addictive, dangerous, and less effective), so avoid those IMO. You may have to shop around a bit, but your primary care doctor technically can write the prescription, but some prefer not to and you might need to find a specialist.

Contraindications for stimulants are if the patient has a history of heart conditions, complains about racing heart rate, excessive sweating, trouble sleeping, trouble eating, etc.

You generally want to start with a low dose of "instant release" as opposed to "extended release" pills, so you can have more fine grained control over the dose. IR pills can be broken in half, XR cannot. Some doctors are more nervous about IR than XR because they think it has more abuse potential (not true, but it's a common belief).

With all that said, stimulants will fix the problems OP described, but don't mistake that for a pleasant experience. The truth is that amphetamines are extremely mentally exhausting, and if you don't take good care of yourself (planning proper meals, staying hydrated, resting at appropriate times, not taking more pills when you shouldn't), you can quickly spiral out of control. It's hard to explain to someone that doesn't do drugs, but stimulants can leave you feeling like a shell of yourself, and it's really disconcerting. It's sort of like being over-tired where you're awake but your judgment is clearly impaired and you don't feel like "you". If you stay on them long enough, you'll start to feel like a zombie just going through the motions (successfully, mind you), but without identity. I make sure to take weekends off to preserve their efficacy for the work week and to make sure I don't become too dependent.

I'd 100% recommend having stimulants in your toolkit, and chances are you're already supplementing with worse stimulants (like mountains of coffee or soda), so do give them a try, but be careful.

> I'd 100% recommend having stimulants in your toolkit, and chances are you're already supplementing with worse stimulants (like mountains of coffee or soda), so do give them a try, but be careful.

I'll second this. I've got an old friend and former coworker who clearly has serious ADHD and self medicates with tons of coffee/soda/cigarettes. He's killing himself and he knows it, but hates doctors and has a negative view of shrinks.

Anec-data: I cut out carbs and only eat during certain windows and that has done wonders for focus and stick-to-itiveness. Coffee and alcohol hit me extra hard, and I've cut back on them.

> I've got an old friend and former coworker who clearly has serious ADHD and self medicates with tons of coffee/soda/cigarettes. He's killing himself and he knows it, but hates doctors and has a negative view of shrinks.

This describes me to a T. I will not take amphetamines of any kind, so what's the point?

> Anec-data: I cut out carbs and only eat during certain windows and that has done wonders for focus and stick-to-itiveness. Coffee and alcohol hit me extra hard, and I've cut back on them.

I've heard other people say this. I really need to try it.

Intermittent fasting is a lot easier with black coffee. I can usually make it to dinner time (~5pm ish) with nothing in me but coffee and water.

Use decaf if you don't want the double whammy of an empty stomach and more coffee than you might otherwise drink to smash your brain with caffine.

Very well put. My primary care doctor was happy to prescribe at the recommendation of my psychologist. When I spoke to my psychologist initially, I took the approach you mentioned about suspecting I had it based on the symptoms and what others around me had told me.

I know it’s splitting a hair but I didn’t find Effexor addictive. The withdrawal symptoms are terrible. But they motivate you to kill yourself, not take another pill. I never wanted to take two pills or increase my frequency. I would often forget to take one. So I don’t consider it addictive. For reference, I’ve been addicted to cigarettes and alcohol before.

I think that is what is being said. Effexor is not addictive in the ‘traditional’ sense addictive drugs are, but you’re brain and body become dependent on them in ways you don’t realize until you’re trying to come off of them. And because it is a process to find the right medication, you don’t want to be starting and stopping those kinds of medications over and over. A stimulant may be seen as more addictive (due to the potential for abuse / dopamine release), but starting Ritalin then switching to adderall, then say vyvanse, is a less invasive process than starting Effexor then coming off and switching to Wellbutrin etc

That's a worthwhile nit to pick, but I stand by it :)

IMO what you describe is common and the worst type of addictive. You get all of the withdrawal and none of the desirable effects.

> I'd 100% recommend having stimulants in your toolkit, and chances are you're already supplementing with worse stimulants (like mountains of coffee or soda), so do give them a try, but be careful.

Have you heard of anybody managing their condition with caffeine pills or nicotine lozenges?

> IR pills can be broken in half, XR cannot

You can always take the XR pill apart and split it into blank capsules. Or you can just dump a little out and take it without the capsule.

I think this depends on the actual formulation of the drug, right?

For example two of the titrations of Concerta (XR methylphenidate) which I have experienced first-hand are a hard candy-like tablet, and the pharmacokinetic result is that you receive 25% of the dose within a couple of hours, and then over the course of the rest of the day the remaining 75% hits your bloodstream.

But I now take an XR lisdexamfetamine which looks like it would be possible to split into smaller doses, but it's a prodrug so it's a totally different experience.

I know it's a luxury some folks can't afford, but there really are a great range of optimised formulations of the treatments for ADHD out there, and rather than guessing yourself, it'll be better to have an honest conversation with your doctor about the ability to mix XR/IR in a way that works for you.

This is correct. Concerta is interesting because it's a laser-drilled time release. Vyvanse is interesting because it's a prodrug of amphetamine that releases chemically over time.

The XR part is usually the particles inside the capsule. To make them faster acting you also have to pulverize those.

IR does have more abuse potential. You can't snort XR.

This answer chimes the most with my experience. Particularly:

> It's perfectly reasonable to say "I think I may have ADHD based on what I've read online, my symptoms match and people who know me have suggested I try adderall".

Spot on! (Except for suggesting a prescription: the doctor will be able to establish whether, for example, a prodrug like lisdexamfetamine is better than adderall, or methylphenidate might be a safer starting point (I believe it's been studied for longer).)

But yeah: there is zero shame in going to a doctor and stating that you are experiencing symptoms which you recently learned to be consistent with ADHD, and would like a professional opinion on the severity and potential treatment options. Reading the traits commonly associated with ADHD, you'd almost expect someone to have done a great deal of research about the topic.

> It's hard to explain to someone that doesn't do drugs, but stimulants can leave you feeling like a shell of yourself

I've found (40mg lisdexamfetamine, but also previously had IR/XR Adderall, 2x titrations of Concerta, and an abortive attempt at Medikinet which is a different XR timed release formulation of methylphenidate as I understand it) that this is true to an extent. I don't dose on the weekends and have found that Mondays are a blur. It's 4pm before I know it and I'm wired and working on spreadsheets well into the night.

The closest thing I can express to how I know the drug is effective is that there is almost a directional cone of focus which I need to very consciously redirect to a new area of focus. If someone comes to speak to me I'm able to context switch, but moving from one task to another can require effort.

When I didn't eat enough or appear to have a faster metabolisation of the drugs than normal, I can have a feeling of focus for focus's sake: I'm blind to what's going on around me and uncommunicative.

For me, however, in the main the medication has been a pleasant experience. It's helped me to regulate my moods and dark sides -- particularly under stress. This will not be the case for everyone, and a good doctor will be up front about the fact that your body will react differently to different drugs. They'll have a preferred starting point for treatment which they know well, but they will not be afraid to switch it up in order to find you a solution which works well.

BTW I'm really glad that you shared in as much detail as you did given the empathy I feel for OP's potential need to battle ADHD symptoms without treatment in order to even get to treatment. It's really kind of you and I'm glad there are so many people on HN who have been through similar experiences to me. After experiencing 30-odd years of thinking I was deficient in some way, feeling the resonance of other people's similar experiences has been a huge boon for me. So thanks.

There's nothing wrong with using self-diagnosis as a way to inform a professional inquiry. In my unqualified opinion, you probably have ADHD.

Shoot me an email if you wanna chat about my experience in more detail! Email address in profile :)

Obviously you feel the medication is useful, but do you think just knowing vs the medication has any positive benefit? I have read dozens of articles online, and replies like yours and can always relate extremely well to all of the symptoms. Taken the online quizzes and all that. I am pretty much certain I have ADHD. And I have known for years. But, I have educated myself on it, understand how I work (or don't work) and just kinda roll with it. But I have been thinking about it more lately, and wonder if its really worth more steps and medication.

There is definitely a deep, abiding sense of relief and peace at the fact that a lot of things which caused me pain in the past now make sense.

That doesn't help with the day-to-day of things, but it does contribute to an overall happiness which I do not think the medication alone would offer me.

Agreed 100%

Emotional relief like "I'm not a shitty selfish person after all and it isn't my fault".

But if you employ a tonne of ADHD coping mechanisms and they work for you it'll improve things a decent amount.

I haven't tried CBT but it's a recommend approach. I'm trying (painfully slowly because it's not super interesting) to teach myself DBT to help with it too.

Dx is only strictly required to get Rx but an additional benefit is they do a differential diagnosis so they make sure it isn't down to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, trauma etc. All of which can cause some of the same symptoms.

There are a tonne of people who get diagnosed with depression and anxiety and the recommended treatments just don't work that well for them. Then they get diagnosed with ADHD, everything falls into place and they can get their life together so they're not anxious they're going to constantly screw things up nor depressed from shit life syndrome and the depression and anxiety go away.

Yes, thankyou for mentioning the differential diagnosis stuff, it's definitely a good idea to rule other things out. :)

I was wondering if I had ADHD; in all the online tests I score in the ADHD or borderline range. But it's just symptoms of my anxiety which is particularly bad at the moment. If I'd done the tests a year ago, the result would have been completely different.

There are a range of interrelated symptoms and experiences (e.g. autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, anxiety), and part of the job of a good psychiatrist is to pick through these and make a determination.

An analogy you might be experienced with: imagine you're a product manager and you want to make a customer service person in your company twice as efficient as they are today. If you ask the CS person what you should work on for them, they might be able to give you some direction, but they don't know the full range of possible things that you can do for them. E.g. they might think "Well, I've got to type emails to customers so it would be useful for me to have a new support ticket load on my screen as soon as I'm finished with the last one." But you -- an expert -- might say "We can actually auto reply to some of these emails for you using a canned template!"

Self-diagnosing, and in particular self-diagnosing mental health and neuroatypicality issues, is a hard ask.

I was diagnosed with ADHD almost twenty years ago as a young adult. In my experience learning about how your mind works and spending time to come up with the best system and techniques to keep yourself on task is absolutely critical and should be worked on by any adult with ADHD. I would say that long-term it is more important than medication.

With that said, medication is also quite helpful. In my experience it provided a quick and independent support to my feeling better and productive. I found them critical when the controls I had built for myself proved insufficient or had collapsed. For example, when I moved from an office job to remote work I found the change and the lack of societal pressure to be focused on work left me in disarray. Medication helped me stand myself back up and find the routines and structures that worked in the new environment. As I built these support structures up I found the need for medication was reduced and stopped taking medication for many years. Years later, after a cross-country move which came with the loss of local friends and community I found it necessary to restart. I prefer to not take medication unnecessarily so one day I may be at the point where I stop taking them again, but I'm not there yet.

My advice would be to try medication if your gut says you need it but if you already feel fairly happy and productive then it may not be necessary.

Medication has been truly life-changing for me. The ability to actually follow through on things within a day is amazing.

Very well written!

Recently I was diagnosed with severe ADHD. The struggle finally became too much. Perhaps the effects of the health crisis on my work and finances gave me the final push, I don't know.

My life is so much more enjoyable now I am medicated and have had some very minimal therapy.

In hindsight all the tricks and strictness I forced onto myself to be able to keep up were very unhealthy, unsustainable, and not even that effective. The psych even seemed quite concerned when I did a show and tell.

To anyone else struggling: Just make that appointment and find out what's up. Even if it doesn't turn out to be ADHD these people can help you get so much more out of your life. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right?

So glad you're in a better place now. This:

> To anyone else struggling: Just make that appointment and find out what's up. Even if it doesn't turn out to be ADHD these people can help you get so much more out of your life. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right?

Is great advice and lots of people reading this thread are emailing me to say how supported they feel by hearing others' stories. Nice one for sharing.

Thanks, I really appreciate that! Good to know people are getting something out of this.

With #1, someone told me 90% of K12 education is supposed to help you get over this. School is supposed to train you to focus on and produce work on subjects that you have zero interest in. I was pretty good at that before, now I think I'm just burnt out.

I think that's probably right in neurotypical folks! Maybe I wasn't clear, but I exhibit what people characterise to me as a remarkable ability to focus and remarkable ability to not focus. Huge deviations from the mean in both directions!

The other thing to remember is that whilst ADHD is likely overdiagnosed, that doesn't mean that many kids who have it will simply not respond to K12 education as an environment which conditions them. This is not something which can be corrected with hard work and thought, although people who do not experience ADHD often (understandably) say things like "just sit still!" or "don't interrupt people it's rude!". The crux of ADHD is that it's a neurodevelopmental disorder and a disregulation of dopamine and chemicals designed to help regulate executive function, focus, anxiety, etc. It is generally not possible to see significant results with therapy, although there is some limited evidence that early intervention through medication has long-lasting effects in children who are able to move off medication in the medium term.

Heh, didnt work for me. I just failed the classes I didn't give a damn about.

Getting diagnosed this year changed my life too.

I'm sure at some level the standard science and advice still applies but it's truly as those mechanisms aren't likely missing in our brains, but it's truly remarkable how the developmental delays change your brain such that things really are different for you and it's not just a matter of "trying harder" or "applying yourself".

I was absolutely stunned at the profound impact it had on my life once I was able to connect the dots together. Equally stunned at the drastic improvements I've been able to make without following the standard advice but by following what works specifically for ADHD e.g externalize information, externalize decision making etc.

> Getting diagnosed this year changed my life too.

This is awesome!

> following what works specifically for ADHD e.g externalize information, externalize decision making etc.

I bet everyone would love to hear a little more context around what this is, and how it impacted you, if you have the energy to share. (Me most of all!)

Don't leave it up to yourself to decide what to do and when. Find a way to put the environment in control.

Pre-diagnosis I would try this and it wouldn't work that well or it would work for a short time then after the novelty wore off it'd stop working. Things like set an alarm/reminder for throwing out the rubbish. But then eventually you ignore it and swipe it away or you're dealing with something urgent that day etc.

Getting diagnosed allowed me to commit my being 100% to that strategy. I reexamined it and found that it works reliably if you're able to layer systems several layers deep, so that they reinforce one another and act as failsafes.

Alarmy plus the barcode mission has been an absolute revelation in my household. I'm now able to throw out the trash, do the washing, use a calendar and mark things off on my to-do list.

I finally became able to use a calendar as I have a whiteboard in my kitchen that I put a barcode on that alarmy makes me scan once at night. That kicks off an hour dedicated to maintenance tasks. It starts with a habit stack of basic self maintenance tasks one of which is "check the calendar for the entire week".

Things like that aye. The difference is huge. I'm getting healthier physically, and my marriage has improved a lot as I'm not constantly getting yelled at for letting my wife down or putting too much of the housework/parenting on her.

This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing. Do you have any recommended further reading? You could write a great essay on this, I bet.

Well, you've convinced me to go back to the doctor. I was on the cusp of taking one of the ADHD tests but my insurance couldn't tell me how much it would be and the doctor's office said they couldn't either. I was told it would be between $200 and $900 and couldn't afford the $900 risk. I ended up being billed $200 just for the initial visit of course.

But the longer I wait the more damage it's doing to my life. Out of your list I'd say 5/6 affect me, 5 being the odd one out as I can't sleep with anything but a fan on.

I'll be making my appointment today...well, probably tomorrow now. Let's hope I don't procrastinate.

Yes, do it now, make appointment today. Stop everything else and do it. If you have a doctor that hems and haws about it find another doctor. I got my diagnosis and prescription without any formal test. I have stopped seeing my psychiatrist but once a year since my general practice doctor decided they could fill my prescriptions. The medicine, even the expensive stuff, has payment help programs. Like print out a PDF payment help program easy.

If you want more pushing or personal story my email is in my profile. Best single thing I've done in my life to date.

$900 is a small price to pay for a lifetime of better earnings, assuming that’s the problem.

I'm glad you're doing that! Feel free to email me (mistergeorgespencer+HN@gmail.com) if it would be useful for you to hear more about my experience or for you to share some of what you're experiencing. I have an iCloud note with every shared symptom I see someone else describing on the web, and it's getting pretty huge -- and makes me super happy that other people have had the same experience.

I put off the diagnosis process for a year and regret it, but don't consider that a pressure for you to do it. If you have ADHD, one of the things you can't really know (in my experience) is the feeling of a balanced ability to focus and be productive. Feeling compelled to seek a diagnosis is a big step.

I had a lot of serious conversations with the doctor about the impact of medication, the causes of ADHD, potential neurotoxicity, neuronal elasticity, etc. before I committed to taking medication. Here if you want to talk!

If you suffer ADHD, I strongly recommend reading Scattered Minds, by Gabor Mate. I found it enlightening

Thanks! I have a fortnight off coming up shortly and have added it to my queue. An area I spent a long time discussing in multiple consultations was the tension between genetic predisposition and environment.

Interesting for a few reasons: firstly there’s some limited evidence that early treatment with medication can have a permanent positive impact on the condition in children. Which to my pea sized brain is suggestive of the possibility that we have sufficient elasticity during our brain’s formative years to consider this, sometimes, an illness not a condition.

Secondly there is some evidence to suggest that other disregulations such as dyspraxia and dyslexia are linked to ADHD. A common question in diagnosis is about family history of those conditions.

I was also concerned when my doctor and two psychiatrists told me that therapy was certainly an option but highly unlikely to be successful for me. It seems like this book may paint a different picture.

Thanks for the recommendation! If you suffer from ADHD, do you mind sharing if the book changed your approach to treatment?

While Scattered Minds does a good job describing the “experience” of ADHD and will likely resonate with people who have the condition, a lot of its conclusions are not scientifically supported.

ADHD is a nuerodevelopmental disorder, it has strong genetic components and the only strongly supported intervention that improves life outcome is stimulant medication. Unfortunately medication doesn’t work or cannot be taken by all of those with the condition.

That said, Scattered may help someone work through other common comorbidities of ADHD (depression, low self esteem, etc). It may shine light on the complex interactions between ADHD, the family and society in a way that’s helpful for understanding ones own experience.

It didn't change my approach to treatment, no (I continue to take vyvanse)

However, the description of behavior of people with ADHD, made me say "oh, shit, that's 100% me". So, it was nice to know that I am not alone. It's comforting to know that some of my weirdness is from ADHD, and not inherently "me"

Hah, reading through that list I thought 'hey this is my ADHD', and sure enough that is where you went with it.

After 30-odd years of feeling alone on this front, it's always lovely hearing that others have had similar experiences. Thank you!

If all you have to go by is the popular stereotypes, you will be shocked by the number of engineers with ADD.

I think #2 is actually great. Without this trigger things never got done for me. University taught me that failure is okay, which removed the trigger for me. End result was that things got even worse.

I hope one day I'll be able to find a replacement for it.

> I think #2 is actually great.

Remember that there are a range of intensities to all of these symptoms!

A lot of people I know find that leaving things to the last minute can help them focus and they're good at assessing the time required to deliver something high quality.

For me it results in disaster more often than not.

> University taught me that failure is okay, which removed the trigger for me. End result was that things got even worse.

Ah sorry to hear that. Do you generally exhibit other symptoms consistent with others in this thread, or do you think it's just one area which you suffer in?

>Do you generally exhibit other symptoms consistent with others in this thread, or do you think it's just one area which you suffer in?

I think I exhibit pretty much all of them. From the chronic lateness to being unable to start doing something that doesn't interest me to being unable to put something down that does interest me. This was just the one thing that I didn't realize how useful it was until it stopped working for me. Sure, my work was shoddy compared to what it could've been and I could never feel pride in it, but at least I had something to show for it.

You sound very similar to me in that respect. I found it a real grind and pretty demoralising in general. Is there anything I can give you comfort on regarding the process of speaking to a doctor or psychiatrist about it? Or is it something you feel is not having serious enough downsides in your life to warrant the time?

I do think it has had a large negative impact on my life, but I've lacked insurance for the past couple of years and have been unable to see a psych. Things kind of spiraled away a couple of years ago. At the time I did see it coming and went to see a psych, but I had no idea what ADHD was. Was treated for depression, but obviously it made little difference. I did find out about ADHD at one point and realized it described me to a T, but I had an old psychiatrist at the time who essentially said that only kids have ADHD (I'm from a former Soviet state so that might've been the prevailing knowledge at the time). Eventually when I get insurance again I'll try to see one. But thank you for the thought.

The main thing is that I'm just not sure how much of it is ADHD and how much laziness or something else. It just seems like all of the things ascribed to ADHD could come from other things.

Why see a psychiatrist? Are those really things to 'fix' on the whole - given the upsides?

I'm incredibly energetic. I can't sit down for long - so I just stand in meetings. TV is a waste of time, so is social small talk, I do what I care about (and it rewarded me well). I've just felt like the speed, risk tolerance, freedom it provides me, and intuition make a powerful combination.

I'd say the ADHD (if it is) makes you unique. All the world needs is more conformists... [I may be conflating ADHD with my incredibly independent personality]

> I may be conflating ADHD with my incredibly independent personality

I think you are, to a degree. Serious ADHD is AWFUL to live with and there's barely any upside.

> I can't sit down for long - so I just stand in meetings.

It's nice that you can mitigate not being able to sit down for long by just standing, but for many people with ADHD, not being able to sit for long is more than just stance. It's because they can't focus on the task they need to do in front of them so they feel the urge to physically leave and seek out more interesting things.

Before I began medication, meetings were a nightmare to me. I was constantly zoning out every few seconds and absorbing absolutely nothing. Even if I did pay attention for a few seconds, I would forget everything a few minutes later. So I tried writing notes, but it became completely impossible to listen to people when I was actively writing. It was extremely humiliating to walk out of a 2 hour meeting knowing I wasted the entire thing.

> TV is a waste of time

Again, I think this is separate from ADHD. If anything, people with ADHD are more likely to seek out distractions. This does depend on the individual, though.

> I've just felt like the speed, risk tolerance, freedom it provides me, and intuition make a powerful combination.

Speed? It took me 3 days to find the motivation to fill out a simple 1-page form.

Risk tolerance? I think you may be referring to impulsiveness. The main difference is that being risk tolerant at least acknowledges the risk, while being impulsive means using an exciting new mental stimuli as an excuse to make rash decisions (often with poor consequences).

Freedom? ADHD is incredibly suffocating. It's wanting to start doing something but feeling overpowered and locked-up. It's wanting to achieve long-term goals but feeling like you're constantly self-sabotaging yourself. It's making a plan in the morning, being unable to accomplish anything during the day, and furiously kicking yourself at night in an endless cycle of self-hatred. For me, ADHD is the complete opposite of freedom. It's a prison.

I apologize if I'm disregarding your experience by citing my own experience. But please don't suggest people to not see a psychiatrist, or that ADHD isn't something to fix. For most people, ADHD is a constant and serious detriment to school, work, relationships, and just everyday life.

> Freedom? ADHD is incredibly suffocating. It's wanting to start doing something but feeling overpowered and locked-up. It's wanting to achieve long-term goals but feeling like you're constantly self-sabotaging yourself. It's making a plan in the morning, being unable to accomplish anything during the day, and furiously kicking yourself at night in an endless cycle of self-hatred. For me, ADHD is the complete opposite of freedom. It's a prison.

This describes my life with haunting accuracy.

Can't tell if you have a diagnosis or not. If it would be useful to chat my email address is in my profile and a few people have already reached out. I'm not a doctor and can't diagnose you but I'm happy to hear about your experience and share where it chimes with mine.

The minor upside has been I just don't do what I don't find interesting. So, my life has always been interesting. Often that's not been in a good way, like boss phones "why aren't you at work?" and I reply... "I could probably make it there by like...11". This was at about 9am when I was supposed to be in at 8:30am. It was some factory job I fucking hated. The wall of awful struck and I couldn't seem to attempt to get myself there any earlier than 11. That's what my mind was telling me. He didn't know what to say, so he hung up the phone. He called back 5 mins later and told me not to bother coming back to work. I was relieved and terrified all at the same time. Relived cos I just couldn't do it anymore anyway. Terrified because I had spent the last 2 years freeloading off my girlfriends mother who i later learned took out loans to support me and I'd only just got that job 6 weeks earlier after not working all that time.

Life was fucking hell in my early 20s. In my early 30s I'm a successful software engineer (thank fuck) and it tends to manifest in me bitching about how the software should be, daydreaming of it being that way, then endlessly pursuing side quests at work to make it so. Turns out that is actually a valuable way to be as a software engineer as I tend to make the software better at a much faster rate as compared to my peers.

wy35 - well answered response. I don't know that I am ADHD, so your experience trumps mine!

Hashtag nailed_it

ADHD has a wide spectrum, people with real ADHD cannot function without medication ( speaking as a parent with a child who has it). Yes, without medication he would either be not focussed or hyper focussed. But, the biggest issue is lack of executive function, which is debilitating. And, no matter what, real life needs you to be able to follow instructions, and do things in order. If a 7 year old with a simple life cannot function, think what it can do to an adult? The medication helps, but it's a process, and you have to find the right one and the correct dosage. Added to that, you need a competent psychiatrist, we lucked out after a few tries. Basically what the medication is doing is strengthening the neural connections, so that executive function becomes a habit, to the point where you don't need it. If you do it right 50% of people with ADHD won't need it. And, you can be a genius but if you lack executive function, you can't do basic everyday things, let alone complex tasks. Somehow the media has started painting ADHD as some kind of superpower, when it's a serious debilitating condition.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Really valuable to me and many others on here. A question and a quibble if that's OK:

> what the medication is doing is strengthening the neural connections, so that executive function becomes a habit, to the point where you don't need it. If you do it right 50% of people with ADHD won't need it.

I had understood that this only applied to children who are young enough to have developmental neuroplasticity. Is your understanding different? Appreciate your steer as it sounds like something you have understood in more detail than me.


> people with real ADHD

I don't think you mean to, but this is a little clumsy. As you say in the previous sentence, ADHD is a wide spectrum. You can have ADHD but function, there is no "real" ADHD, only various degrees of severity.

From what I understand, the brain never loses its neuroplasticity, but early intervention is always better. You hear stories of people who got diagnosed as adults, got the right medication and therapy and their lives improved tremendously. Again I want to stress that it is a combination of medication and behavioral changes. For a child, it means a lot of repetitive suggestions, patience and accommodations at home and school. For adults, I've heard Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and meditation working well.

When I said "real ADHD" I was responding to the earlier comment, where the person was trying to say how ADHD is some kind of superpower, and there are a lot of folks I hear say they have ADHD when they clearly do not. It is a large spectrum, but even folks at the lower end of the spectrum find it really hard to function. To give you an example, my son would be at the lower end of the spectrum, but we saw him struggling as he started elementary school. We were less worried about academics, but we started noticing that he was losing confidence because his peers would get what the teacher said while he did not. And, all that was leading to a loss in confidence.We read a ton of books, tried behavioral changes and recommended suggestions before we tried medication. And it simply did not work. We tried 3-4 different medications before one worked with no effects. It was a painful and heartbreaking journey. And our psychiatrist told us we were right to intervene early, because once the kids get to 3rd grade, the academic pressure increases and they are already behind their peers. I recommend Russell Barkley's you tube videos, they are excellent, and really helped me understand what ADHD is.

To expand - why not use it to your advantage? Consultants for larger, competitive companies do well w/ ADHD. Leaders do well. Founders do well (if they can stay focused on the opportunity).

I have a CompSci degree, and loved doing algorithms, etc - but can't be bothered to sit behind an IDE for hours. So what - enough of people can do that well. I've found leadership to be the best use of skillsets where these 'symptoms' appear.

I think this is a really interesting, nuanced point. It's one I talked to my doctor about because it was a concern I felt (and feel). Thanks for sharing it here! HN is usually a good space for contrarian opinions, but even so this sort of thing might get shot down a good percentage of the time.

The way I would express it is: ADHD medication curbs the downside of ADHD, but many people report and experience significant upsides to their condition too. The traditional view of ADHD medication is also that it turns children into "zombies". Do I run the risk of losing my 'edge' as a person?

I'm not a scientist, and I'm not a doctor. With that said, here are my notes from my doctor when we discussed this:

  1. I feel that oftentimes negative and positive personality traits in people go hand in hand, outside of ADHD. For example, the calm, methodical, detail-oriented people who make excellent assimilators and "deliverers" in startups are often a necessity to building something incredible, but can also be the very *worst* people to have around you when you're trying to "yes and" about fragile ideas, because they live relentlessly in the real world. Do the traits I exhibit in my ADHD also make me a more effective leader? Do I simply not understand the upsides because they exhibit as personality traits?

  2. Dr. X: There is little in the way of conclusive evidence, but he believes that it's possible that ADHD medication can curb traits that are either perceived as positive or genuinely positive in ADHD patients. This is why a key assessment is the extent to which negative traits manifest themselves. If you have ADHD but do not suffer from life-deranging consequences in some material sense (executive function impaired to the point where your career, relationships, or emotional wellbeing are suffering), then it's often not necessary to take medication at all.

  3. Dr. X: the common impression of ADHD medication -- and in particular Ritalin -- seems to be magnified by the fact that parents are in general deeply worried about their children and the sense that their personalities are altered in some way. In adults, the available treatments do not appear to have serious long term consequences for personality and cognitive function. So it's completely permissible to take XR/IR medication for ADHD on days when you especially need to focus, for example, and not worry about "missing" a day. Equally, if -- in consultation with your doctor during titration and your family and friends -- you feel that there is an untenable negative consequence of medicating, then you can of course stop.

  4. Dr. X: Anecdotally, ADHD sufferers frequently both underestimate and ignore the consequences of the disorder in their lives. Sometimes it's necessary to have them tell stories about areas of their relationships and personal lives which they find are surprising or hard which are unrelated to their ADHD, and very often doing so reveals that their ADHD manifests itself in ways which are wholly unsurprising but not visible to the patient.

  5. Taking the time to find the right medication and dosage is vital. Diagnosis is step one, and after that it is very often months of tweaking, talking, and collaboration with the doctor to establish the right dosage level (strength), formulation (XR/IR, and within that e.g. prodrug is an XR which is a sort of "prequel" to the chemicals you need -- so it stimulates the body creating them rather than dumping the chemicals themselves into your system), and brand (e.g. Ritalin, Concerta, and Medikinet are all methylphenidate, but Concerta is commonly a 25/75 release, Ritalin is available in IR or XR although XR is less popular than Concerta XR, and Medikinet is a 50/50 timed release). Finding something which works for you takes time, and is not an easy feat.
It's fantastic that you're not experiencing significant downsides to ADHD! I'm glad you were as clear as you were in your articulation of your concern, I worry that when some people express things like this they cause unnecessary worry in those who are experiencing meaningful downsides which put them off seeking medication. The tradeoffs are different for everyone.

Thank you for sharing that.

Because it is extremely difficult to control ADHD to your advantage. It is your entire experience of reality.

i have a history of failing to meet deadlines because of my procrastination. this disqualifies me for most leadership positions because i am labeled as unreliable.

i am happy for you that you have been fortunate with your path.

No idea if I am ADHD, I could just have a lot of energy - because I focus well.

a big question is how does one find a therapist/psychiatrist?

a seemingly simple yelp/google search yields a sea of anonymous faces and trusting these strangers with your brain already feels daunting.

i'm in san francisco and am on a PPO if anyone has any recs. email in bio, thank you!

This was daunting for me too.

I had a series of private evaluations in London, and the proxy I used was to seek a consultant psychiatrist (just about as senior as they come) who had a longstanding relationship with his local NHS trust (hadn't jumped from one area to another), looked him up on the GMC (registry of doctors in the UK which would report malpractice or other issues), and asked for a telephone consultation to discuss his work in this area and his approach. I appreciate many of these will not be possible in SF, so I would try to move back in stages towards a person you trust. Do you have a good relationship with your regular doctor? If no, do you have a trustworthy friend who does? Etc.

hi george thank you for your response here and elsewhere in the comments. i have found them very helpful.

i did indeed just reach out to a friend who recommended i talk to my primary care provider (PCP) and go from there.

now that i'm looking into all this, mental health is a luxury in america. sessions are approx $200/visit here in san francisco.

It is not that much better here in the UK for specialised things like mental health. My local private specialist for ADHD charges around £1500 for the consultation, and it is hard to justify risking that much money to just be told you're lazy.

I would avoid a specialist ADHD centre.

What you're really looking for (in my opinion) is a consultant psychiatrist (i.e. a senior, experienced psychiatrist) who supplements their NHS commitments with locum-style private practice work. (You know how you can use Babylon Health to speak to a real GP on the phone immediately for £10? And they can give you a prescription? Like that, but obviously clinical psychiatry requires meeting in person a lot.)

I think specialist ADHD centres run the risk of having a hammer and thinking every patient is a nail, if you know what I mean, and they also are geared up for the kind of deep clinical assessments which are often not required in adults (imagine the nightmare of trying to diagnose ADHD in a child with comorbidities).

Once you have titrated you can move from a private prescription to an NHS prescription which reduces ongoing costs significantly.

> just to be told you're lazy

Do the research into other people's experiences and think about your own downsides and consequences of e.g. inaction/inattentiveness/inability to focus. You can also check out the DIVA assessment which many psychiatrists will use. A good psychiatrist will also cut through the crap and tell you whether they think it's likely you have ADHD early in the process. They do not want to glean hundreds of pounds for you in order to say "Yup all fine here!".

Ping me on email and I'll share specifics of my consultant.

It's relatively expensive in the UK too (my initial diagnosis was close to £1,000), but I believe the benefits are very noticeable.

Here is what I might do if I wanted to cap at $400 (assume $400 is two hours) before finding out whether I need to do any more.

Before I book the appointment:

1. Find the most commonly used clinical assessment tool[1] and commit to undertaking it, with a specific emphasis on any corroborative components (i.e. friends and family who have known you for years helping to share experiences of you in childhood)

2. Research qualitatively: e.g. read essays from people who have had diagnoses and treatment and see how much of it chimes with you.

3. A useful experiment I did was to go to the ADHD subreddit and, ignoring the ebullient teenage blogger-type posts, make a list of posts and experiences which closely correlated to my own.

4. Write down your own summary of your experience and why you're seeking some help. Not necessary ADHD-specific, but what are the things you're aware of that you want to improve on in your life? What are the consequences you experience from those areas?

At the appointment:

1. Explain that you are aware diagnosis of most conditions requires a multi-stage evaluation from a psychiatrist, and that you am committed to taking the process seriously but have concerns about both the cost (hence doing a lot of research and being very organised, which runs contrary to some people's expectations of ADHD!), and the risk of getting a doctor who simply writes prescriptions without a second thought.

2. Tell the psychiatrist that you would like a preliminary recommendation from them on whether it's worth continuing with assessment and/or treatment after two sessions, and you'd appreciate it if they could do their work as methodically as possible but sensitively to the fact that you don't want to initially deploy more than $400 to the task.

3. Share with them that you have researched DIVA or another clinical assessment for ADHD because it feels like the symptoms of that chime with you, and you wanted to be sure it was worth your time coming in at all.

4. Tell them you're giving them this information because you don't want them to think you're doing stage management or trying to score some drugs, and commit to letting them run the session from there.

5. They will likely ask you to explain what has motivated you to attend in the first place. What 'thing' happened to get you off your ass and into their office?

I think it's very probable that you can find someone who understands that this is a debilitating condition in many people and which also needs a sympathetic approach to diagnosis.

The other thing to remember is that there are multiple clinical assessments because many people have comorbidities and it requires unpicking. If that isn't the case for you then you don't need hours and hours of assessments.

Feel free to reach out on my email (in profile) if you have Q's or I can be helpful.

[1] E.g. in the UK it's DIVA https://www.advancedassessments.co.uk/resources/ADHD-Screeni...

For those of us in the UK, would you be able to recommend the consultant/practice?

I have a private practice locally that specialises in ADHD but I've no idea about their reputation.

Sure! Best thing would be to email me on mistergeorgespencer+HN@gmail.com if that's OK! (And same goes to anyone who wants more detail.)

nicely written. that point-2 totally resonates here :(

For things that I don't have the motivation to do (things I procrastinate), my strategy is to start doing the smallest possible unit of that thing as I can.

Recently I started meditating, something I've tried to get into, but never have. I downloaded this app Balance which encourages daily practice (reminders, 3,5,10 guided meditations, etc). I am still not "motivated" to do it, but I don't need to be because it is just part of my schedule.

The reason I say this is that I feel like "building motivation" is kind of the wrong attitude. You won't like everything that you do (go to the gym, pay your bills, etc), but building a repeatable habit makes it so you don't need to feel motivated. This might be a nitpick, but the big change in thinking for me was around not having to be motivated to do something.

I agree - in my experience, "motivation" is a wildly volatile concept, especially in how a) when it arrives to your thought process, it's usually in the form of bemoaning a lack of motivation, and semi-consequently b) one almost always thinks about "motivation" in a form that is highly moralized (i.e. inviting shame & co.). I find that usually when we employ "motivation" as a concept, it is usually (whether explicitly or latently) in the context of personal failing.

The most success I've had in actively dealing with things like this is when I am able to frame a situation for myself in an extra-moral way and actually believe it - i.e. that something is, like you said, a matter of habit-building and consistency, rather than ontological and exertional good-enough-ness. The tough part here is that many people understand this, cerebrally, but it takes drilling this perspective quite a lot to actually ingrain it into one's belief system.

There's a night and day difference, though, between "well I guess I couldn't do it after all" and "well I guess that's a one-day blip on a four-day streak", and people with 'motivational' difficulties also aren't that great at conceptualizing about & nurturing incremental progress towards an abstract goal, which this also helps immensely with.

All in all I love that your takeaway was, effectively, that 'motivation' can be seen as behavioral inertia that hasn't yet been solved by habit-training. It's not a poetic nitpick at all; at least in my view it's the fundamental operative basis for dealing with the phenomenon of procrastination.

Made an account just so I can thank you for this comment. You have done an amazing job of illustrating the problem of thinking of things in terms of motivation as well as moralizing it.

I'm going through a major depressive / procrastination episode. And now i'm asking myself, why can't I just apply the same thinking and approach I use for exercise and diet to the rest of my life. (I.E. it's just something I do, a habit I build on.). Epiphany for me. :)

I had made an account just to post it! It's warming as hell to know it could help give you a workable verbal framework.

This way of thinking isn't (yet?) /always/ something I'm able to just root myself in, down to the autonomic depths of my lizard-brain or whatever, and I definitely still slip into moments or swathes of variations on, "I am in some way fundamentally wrong/insufficient".

So, sure, it's not a panacea that lets you evade depressive troughs completely, BUT it lets you go through those with a supervisory lens that says, "was that thought/attitude/self-perception unambiguously extra-moral? no? then it's not real; it's just a shame narrative; carry on". That's MORE than enough for a shit-ton of cumulative and lasting progress.

It's a good point. We do easy things even though we're not motivated.

B J Fogg talks about motivation waves - motivation comes and goes like a wave. When you're riding high, Fogg recommends taking a hard action that will make future actions easier (register for a yoga class, go for a long run after months of not running).

When motivation is low, take the easiest step possible.

Over time, what we're familiar with (daily routines) become habitual and we don't need motivation.

> We do easy things even though we're not motivated.

Ah, I see you are, at best, an amateur level procrastinator :)

I used to be a pro, but blocking out distractions (the easiest, most "fun" activity) helped me do more.

I know you didn't ask for advice, but if I were to give you just 1 bit of it, it's to block distractions in the browser (or unplug wifi) and put your phone in another room.

Then you'd get bored for a while, and then you'd take the easy work-related actions despite not being motivated.

> I know you didn't ask for advice

No worries, I appreciate it anyway.

> it's to block distractions in the browser (or unplug wifi) and put your phone in another room

Good advice, agreed - few months ago I started using two separate Windows accounts where I block all distracting sites on one of them. It's not perfect but does help.

I still find it a bit too easy to just switch accounts. What I'm going to try next is setting up limitations for certain times of day at router level.

Funnily enough, phone is not a problem at all.

I have found it helps if I put an entry into hosts file for for all the sites that I waste time on. Eventually I will go back in and update it when I feel I have caught up but it gives me a reminder when I can't go to the sites at all.

> For things that I don't have the motivation to do (things I procrastinate), my strategy is to start doing the smallest possible unit of that thing as I can.

I wanted to address this in a separate comment, especially given the prevalence in this thread of mentioning ADHD and its co-morbidities as further context for struggling with procrastination and 'motivation'.

It's important to be very aware about the ways to win and lose at what feels like the perpetual battle of trying to trick yourself into doing things, and for the crowd who can relate to this, I'd offer some caveats to what you said.

The operative point of "the smallest possible unit of that thing" is never, ever to systematically map out the entirety of a task and then select a small atomic subtask to do; that's just reaffirming your portrayal of something to yourself as insurmountable and monolithic.

Instead, choose the "smallest possible unit" that describes starting a task, and if the descriptions sound absurd then you're doing it right. For example, to a certain disposition, "do your laundry" or "do the dishes" basically invite avoidance, but "put your pair of teal socks into the hamper" or "turn on the faucet / wash one plate" is extremely easy to engage. What usually happens is you autopilot through a bunch of the task (it's OK if it's not all of it), and moreover you end up feeling great about yourself for doing more than you expected, which is strong positive reinforcement.

This is because you're not "shit at doing things"; you just need tricks to start doing things. And if the "smallest starting point descriptor" doesn't carry you through the entire task to completion, that's fine -- you can either parallelize a bunch of things this way and jump between them, and/or, your next "smallest starting point descriptor" is just the next step for that task anyway, so you can jump right back in.

This sounds like a hack, but after doing it for long enough, you realize it's just a much-needed refactoring.

"Doing the dishes" is made up of individual actions, guys. If the outcome of your actions is that your sink is "mostly clean, but has a bowl in it," that's...just fine!

The human mind is far more complex than a lot of these models or frameworks suggest. A model or a framework can mean any structured representation, but I am explicitly talking about the market of psychological frameworks. The ‘supply’ of that market consists of pretty bad models that do more harm than good (e.g. Mindset by Carol Dweck, CBT, Fogg Behavior Model, or anything based on behaviorism). I don’t recall fully, but ‘The Mind’ by Andre Kukla has a great exposition on this.

What I recommend for people is directly observing your mind with autonomy. Or if you don’t feel like observing your mind, following your impulses, whether it’s ‘bad’ or not. This kind of self-exploration is the only real way out, especially when most times people attempting to help (sadly) impose upon rather than liberate people’s minds.

Why are growth mindsets bad? Challenging yourself seems pretty common sense no, the idea that you can get there.

The big problem with growth mindset isn't the mindset itself, it's the theoretical framework and the broader milieu surrounding it. It would be one thing if the concept were simply put forward as a way of framing and thinking about certain differences in how people learn in certain contexts. But there's apparently now a faction of education experts who have decided that growth mindset is Right and fixed mindset is Wrong, and so we're failing children if we don't "educate" them into having a growth mindset. Even if that means totally ignoring their lived experience and making them fill in a bunch of worksheets that are basically just "Goofus and Gallant" for beliefs instead of actions.

Not only did it fail replication studies (as most psychology experiments do), but on a model analysis level it vastly oversimplifies things. The mind is a lot more complicated than growth vs. fixed mindset.


I have this constant feeling that some post on HN will motivate me more, or just teach me to be less of a procrastinator. That’s the reason I check HN frequently, and click on these kinds of links. Then I see the post is too long, and scroll-skim it. Nothing really changes about procrastination; we don’t do shit until some other shit is on fire.

Check out the browser extension on our site! That might help, if an article won't.

I used to check Twitter 100-150 times a day, but with the use of the extension, I got it under 20 times. Try the Focus Zones feature. Try it, let me know if it works. I'll give you 3 months of Pro features for free if you shoot me an email.

What's your site?

The one with the article linked in the original post.

Agreed! Fear and despair are strong motivators for me. The trick is that fear sits in only when time becomes scarce. "How to start noticing something should be done before it's too late" is a good thing to have.

You can read the paper itself [0]. It was originally introduced as a behavior model for persuasive design, later on has become quite popular in self-help field.

To summarize, it states:

"The FBM asserts that for a person to perform a target behavior, he or she must (1) be sufficiently motivated, (2) have the ability to perform the behavior, and (3) be triggered to perform the behavior."

The author then makes the case that since any attempts to modify the motivation level of an agent is hard and often fails, one can focus on modifying the ability of a task, thus making it easier for the agent to perform.

Let's say you want to start flossing your teeth, following the FBM, you can modify the required ability to perform the task by saying "I only need to floss one tooth." By doing so, you compensate for your low motivation and increase the likelihood of doing it.

[0]: https://captology.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Be...

"Just 1 tooth" sounds silly, but "just the teeth that feel like they need flossing" doesn't sound as silly and is a lot more manageable because of it, IMO. And once you're in there doing those teeth, there's a good chance you'll do all of them.

And if you don't do them all, and only do the ones that you think need it, at least you did that much. It's certainly better than none.

You have to select a random different tooth every day though.

Or just repeat the small task 26 times

Not strictly related to procrastination, but the "just one tooth" method didn't work for me. Stuck with it for a few weeks, and then my motivation just tapered off.

What worked was permanently bundling flossing with brushing. That meant that if I _really_ didn't want to floss I didn't have to, but then I also had to skip brushing. Not brushing feels gross to me, which is why I think it worked. There are now a few nights a year where I don't brush my teeth... but overall it's a huge win.

When you get decently good at one thing you discover there are no recipes. There exists an infinite possible issues that can disrupt a working system and applying a few canned solutions is lottery.

If you are looking at issues as a linear scale, for example a bolt from too tight or too lose, "making sure all your bolts are tight" (common tutorial type of advice) is not a very good thing.

Similarly, "how to stop procrastination". First thing I would ask somebody who would come with this to me in my field is "why do you want to stop, what are you actually trying to achieve?". Is the customer sure he should stop? Maybe he is overworked, maybe his job sucks, and solving procrastination would actually make his life worse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_problem This is just one example of the many questions that should be asked before offering solutions.

That's what we do in 1-on-1 coaching in our program, but it's somewhat hard to do that in an article.

What if procrastination was the simple act of postponing something just because...you can. Erase the 9-5, the arbitrary deadlines, the impossible requests of a boss, a client or a partner. Poof! Procrastination conceptually ceases to exist.

It's ok to do nothing for 2 days and then put in 12 hours straight of purely productive coding, if you are not supposed to follow a specific timetable.

It's ok to be a few days late on a deadline if that deadline has no reason to exist (which, let's be honest, most don't).

It's ok to spend a few weeks on a project then abandon it for a few weeks only to rediscover the joy of working on it afterwards if there is nobody constantly asking "is it ready yet?".

Because, let's face it, nobody in their right mind procrastinates if their livelihood is on the line or if it means letting someone down. We only procrastinate when we can. And if it gets so bad that you just can't get around to doing something, no matter how hard you try, congratulations! You've just found something you hate doing :)

What if it was all that simple?

I don't think that is the case for many people, myself included. There are two sides to this not being the best way to think of it for some:

- slipping on deadlines becomes cumulative and does affect your career or business; the more work that is delayed, the most difficult it seems to be to ever catch up

- there is a fast-approaching deadline for all of us, and I don't want to look back on what may be my last decade of high productivity and realize I spent most of it on Netflix and Steam

As said by others, procrastination is often a symptom of negative visualization of a task; if you can train yourself to drop the fixation of a task being unpleasant, you can overcome most procrastination.

That has worked for me; now, when I miss deadlines, it's more due to overestimating my energy than falling victim to my own procrastination.

What if you framed those 2 problems (having to catch up and not wanting to realize you watched too much Netflix) as self imposed goals? Then you'd have to answer the question: why do you feel the need to catch up (unless not catching up leads to consequences that would make you feel even worse and from which you cannot recover)? Why do you feel like spending most of the time on Netflix or Steam is a waste of time?

What if the need to set an arbitrary goal and the need to achieve it were just a way to cope with the fact that we are not genuinely interested in having any (at the moment)? And what's wrong with that?

I personally don't feel contentment can come without some form of productivity, not that it has to be a traditional concept of work. I think not having goals is a breeding ground for discontent and depression.

But like everything else, it often depends on personal experience.

> Because, let's face it, nobody in their right mind procrastinates if their livelihood is on the line or if it means letting someone down.

I see you've never met a person with impaired executive function.

It's frustrating and heartbreaking to watch an otherwise intelligent and capable person just...stop living.

> in their right mind

This post just seems to be to draw semi-sensational attention to a self-help book. The site isn't generally referencing primary sources or otherwise giving signals of why it should be trusted. It also doesn't identify the authors.

It's hard to take the site seriously when it equates gaming to being an alcoholic (while later in the same post backpedaling it): https://www.deprocrastination.co/blog/should-i-quit-video-ga...

We'll you got a point. We could link to primary sources more often and add our faces to more places.

Also: we equate gaming addiction (addiction being the key word) to alcoholism, not gaming as such.

Have a great day!

Yes, every website returning "application error" is one less chance for procrastination. However, since it is rather hard convincing everyone to break their website for me, I'll continue using a browser extension to keep me from procrastinating. ;)

Working on that error. Sorry about that.

The Trigger one really resonated with me. I've been desperately struggling with getting tasks done - I thought it was Motivation mostly (and a good deal of the issue is, quarantine is sucking my energy). But when I think back to all the times I was successful, it was the presence of good triggers.

For example, I did a coding bootcamp, and it was the most productive part of my life, because in my opinion of the powerful triggers. I show up, I do a coding challenge. Every day. That's how it worked. Then at 9:30 or whatever there's a lecture. I go to it and I take notes. Then there's a pair programming excercise... etc. All I had to do was plug myself into the schedule, and the motivation and ability basically came for free. It was a sort of freedom - sorry brain, we don't really have a say in this, gotta follow the schedule.

Recently I've been struggling to work out as frequently as I did when I was working. Before, I'd bicycle to the gym, and then go from there to the office. Obviously right now that wasn't happening - but functionally I had more time to work out now. I have more freedom, so why am I working out less? Then I talked to a therapist about depression etc, and she said "well before we can do anything else, you need to start working out again. 30 mins cardio a day, elevated heart rate and sweating." Suddenly it was easy. Suddenly it was like Freedom again. Sorry brain, we gotta just run, doctor's orders.

Interestingly, for the first time in my life (big weightlifter, never a big cardio guy), I could do a 30 minute run without stopping. Sure, a pace of 11.5 minute mile, but before I couldn't even do 20 minutes without interspersing walking (about 12.5 or 13 min mile for a 2 mile run). But day 1 after doctor's orders, I just did it? It's completely fascinating. I obviously always had the ability, the restriction was entirely mental.

So I really like how this author put the Trigger into words. It reflects my own personal experience.

Happy to articulate it for you!

Without a trigger (also called a prompt), there is no behavior. We need someone (ourselves, others) or something (alarm, calendar) to take action.

For me, the main cause of procrastination was lack of clarity on what needs to be done.

I've found that following a rigorous brain-dump process makes a big difference.

For my brain-dumps, I start by jotting down a list of everything I can think of that's related to my task. I let ideas flow freely.

Then I scan through what I've written and check if there's anything that's not specific and actionable. If so, I zoom in and do another brain-dump on that task. I repeat until I have only very specific items


Yeah! Brain dumps are a great tool.

I think this is in general quite insightful, but I want to pick one nit (in reaction to "A professor doesn't tell you when to..."): having advised a number of PhD students (in applied math), I think one of the most important parts of the job of an advisor is to coach. That is, help students make decisions, set timelines, figure out when to do what. Most students who get this far are capable of solving well-posed, textbook-sized technical problems. What they have trouble with is how to break a big problem into smaller ones, which of the smaller problems to solve, in what order, how to prioritize, where to compromise, etc. Good advisors help beginning students do this. (Not that I'm good at this -- I've certainly learned this the hard way over the years; just hoping the students didn't suffer too much as a result.)

My biggest problem is writing/presenting efficiently. Usually I spend several hours on a single paragraph or beamer slide. Today I spend all my time preparing my defense presentation (besides social media), but only made drafts for two slides.

And my advisor is also very busy. He says he will write the introduction for a paper and then finds no time to finish it

The making of slides (or sentences in a paper) gets easier with practice. The advisor or collaborator or you yourself being too busy is, unfortunately, not something that gets better with time. The most important thing is learning to say "no" to new responsibilities without becoming an irresponsible member of whatever organization (university, research lab, etc) you find yourself in. It's a balancing act.

Fogg has some good thoughts on positive behavior change. James Clear, who wrote Tiny Habits, is another good person in this space who writes reasonable stuff.

Self-plug for an overview on research into the habit formation literature that I recently cleaned up. Covers many evidence-backed interventions (of varying quality) for habit formation and removal.


Just a small clarification "Atomic Habits" is the name of the book written by James Clear.

Also, Tiny Habits is another book which also discusses the same space.

Yeah, my bad. I mis-remembered. Thanks for clarifying!

I find concepts like "procastination" problematic, including associated ones in the comments like "resolve", "discipline", and separately, "weak will".

Take the case of "resolving" to watch just one episode of your favorite TV show after dinner. You then end up binge-watching three episodes. Why is this a case of "weak will" when it is simpler to explain it as a change of mind? After all, there is "new data" post the first episode; maybe an increased curiosity into what happens next, or still feeling wide awake.

The idea of "free will" is well motivated. I am not so sure about "weak will" etc.

Is there some other way to characterize the applicable cases?

There is nothing can stop procrastinating but only if we do things we love. I remember being passionate about little electronics projects when I was young, I would spend 10+ hours per day without getting bored. Now if In need to do anything I will find something to postpone or do it half assed while doing something else at the same time.

Do something you love and wouldn't get bored of. Like gardening or something. Something simple. When there are more parts and added steps in the process (like a web app) you will eventually stop doing it because of the complexity.

The problem is I spend 8+ hours a day doing something I don't care about and by the time I can work on the things I love I'm mentally exhausted and just sleep for hours.

See my other comment in this thread. I think the model's lack of consideration for "mental exhaustion" means it's incomplete.

I’d add removing inner resistance, which could be expanded under motivation in the formula. Increasing motivation isn’t simply an additive process — you can introspect on the things limiting your motivation, eg. fear of failure, and address them. After that, you have more cognitive space, and a difficult task might suddenly seem much more tractable. It’s about letting go of the thoughts/emotions holding you back. In my experience, tackling this has been most rewarding, not to say the practices in the article don’t help.


I think that could fall under "improving ability" in the Fogg model.

I have an a bit different approach: Just stop this "self-optimization" bs and start being a human with all his flaws and failures. I think if you tinker to much with yourself and your flaws you are in danger of loosing yourself and become some sort of machine.

I generally disagree with these kinds of models. Not because motivation, triggers, etc. aren't real things, but because they couch the problem as being either outside of us, or quasi-genetic (ADHD, etc.), instead of a choice that we make and own.

Taking action has varying degrees of difficulty for every person. The factors are numerous. But in history, in life, in every scenario I've ever read or studied or watched, there's only one factor that matters: regardless of conditions, health, limitations, weather, whatever--the person made a decision and took action, over and over. In my experience, it's as boring as that. No mental hack, no shortcut--decision and action.

Sure, you can work on 'clearing obstacles' to getting things done--mental models, physical problems, whatever--but you don't wait for this to be 'solved'. You have to act. And do it again until you're done.

"[..] the person made a decision and took action"

Is not that a very low information content theory?

I mean, is not all this discussion about why somebody would choose not to take an action that it's beneficial for them if they know it is beneficial? That's the real question.

It's like this people that say that everybody can choose to be a millionaire. OK, but in that case, why so many people choose not to be a millionaire? Or why millionaires don't choose to be billionaires?

It seems to me that to answer "because they choose" is just wasting ink and explain nothing.

>the person made a decision and took action, over and over.

This is the precursor to successes. It's also the precursor to failures. In my experience, considering success factors in a vacuum leads to skewed conclusions.

There's an assumption that "meaningful rewards can be reliably expected to follow worthwhile efforts". That isn't universally true at all. You could append "in cases where efforts aren't negated by uncontrollable forces" to make it truthier.

To be helpful to more than a minority, advice-givers ought to be able to answer: "X has been done as prescribed, above and beyond even. Y isn't happening. Now what?"

So your solution to procrastination is to just take action?

I've got ADHD, and sometimes I feel like telling ADHD people to "just do it" is like telling a depressed person to "just be happy". It might work great for you, but for many that just doesn't work.

I get your point, and sometimes I can psych myself up enough to do something with the "just do it" mentality, but sometimes that doesn't work, and articles like this can help me understand why and how to fix it.

> I feel like telling ADHD people to "just do it" is like telling a depressed person to "just be happy"

That is literally what it is like. You are asking someone with a neurodevelopmental disorder which results in disregulation of various brain functions to behave like a person WITHOUT a neurodevelopmental disorder which results in disregulation of various brain functions. The person literally cannot.

It's but an apparent fact that we do not have full control over our actions. Just think of the popular game Sims, how you can control your sim to do whatever you want it to do.

Now compare that to your own experiences of attempting to control hunks of flesh on disintegrating bones.

Thus any simplification in the form of "just do it, it's your choice" motto fails to account for these very real biological constraints.

I disagree, and that's a common reply. Making decisions and taking action are not the same as 'attempting to control' anything. And the idea here is obviously not 'limitations are not real', the idea is 'you make the decision you can and you take the best action you can'.

Example: you want to run a mile, but you have a foot deformity that makes it extremely difficult. That's fine. Decide to stand up. Now, decide to walk around the block. Can't do that? That's fine. Decide to stand up. Now, walk to the curb and back. Do it three times a day. Can't do that? That's fine. Stand up. Repeat.

Do you understand? Fundamentally, you will always have the ability to choose, even if that's no more than choosing how to respond to the limits you're under. You always have the ability to take action, even if that's no more than how you think.

You literally explained Fogg Behavior Model with your example. Yet, you stated in your original comment that you do not "generally" agree with these models. Have you even read about FBM before disagreeing with it?

I agree. What anyone needs to keep procrastination at bay is strong enough resolve. It's the only thing that's ever helped me take action.

Do you never find yourself doing things that after you’ve done it, you realise you shouldn’t have?

I find procrastination is sometimes a sign that my subconscious has realised i’d be better delegating or rejecting something rather than doing it BUT my consciousness hasn’t realised that yet.

Resolve is my last choice for things i’m procrastinating. It comes after questions like: maybe i really do want to do this and i just haven’t considered why

We often say to our clients that procrastination is a teacher, an indicator.

What does it indicate? Could be:

* you don't like a type of work * you don't have sufficient skills to match the task * it's not important enough for you * you don't believe you can do it ...

We teach them to ask themselves: why am I procrastinating?

Resolve often isn't the issue.

You left one of the more obvious reasons, in my opinion: you are avoiding responsibilities and hard work because it's easier and safer--in the short term--to fuck around and slack off all day.

That wasn't an all-inclusive list, but you're right, that's a big reason.

No problem. I was writing from my own experience, as well, so that's the first reason I immediately thought of.

If motivation and ability are both already there, I usually find the easiest way to move past procrastination is to choose a small-mid sized task and set a 15 minute timer.

Committing to working on that task for 15 mins, even if I really dont feel like it, is usually enough to get the ball rolling.

Yeah, it's a simple technique that we also recommend. Our extension has a timer for that reason.

Thank you. Will read this later.

Not sure if this is a classic procrastination joke or a promise, but either way, please do :)

:) yes


This sounds like it might be useful. I'd seen the motivation equation before, but hadn't seen ability, cue.

In general, I like to think that a lot of common problems are easier to solve than to identify. I suspect a tough part of this is recognising when you're procrastinating.

I think the form of procrastination I encounter the most is the "lack of action from a lack of a cue". -- With programming, if there's some significant delay in getting feedback (build takes too long, tests take too long), I'll get distracted by other things without getting back into it.

There's a great book called the Procrastination Equation that addresses this, and offers a different equation than Fogg.

Motivation = (Expectancy + Value) / (Impulsiveness + Delay)

It's useful to know what each of those terms means.

Your motivation is for a specific task or goal.

Expectancy is your confidence that you can complete a task or reach the goal.

Value is the importance you assign to the goal.

Impulsiveness is how distractable you are, or your susceptibility to other interesting things that you might do instead of working toward the goal (like writing comments on HN! ;).

Delay is the amount of time you have until the task should be completed.

The more distractable you are, and the more time until you hit your deadline, the less motivation you have.

The more confidence you have in your ability to complete the task, and the more importance you assign to it (eg this is life or death), the more motivated you are.

Cedric Chin has a nice overview here:


I have started subscribing to the believe that it is not about motivation, it's about discipline. There is only so much you can do to motivate yourself to do a tedious or onerous task. But if you have discipline, you don't need the motivation.

I still struggle a lot with procrastination, but I find this reframing to be helpful.

I think one issue with discipline is that there's a value judgement attached, so that when I procrastinate, I'm an undisciplined slob, I feel worse, more procrastination, spiral.

As you said, having discipline reframed into triggers and motivation allows more objective reasoning. You do the task because you have a well created system of triggers that you follow regularly because you know the _why_ of what you're doing at a big picture level. If I procrastinate, it means my system or my why isn't working for me, and I need to reevaluate.

Have I mentioned how I dislike the use of "mental model" for this type of post?

Or how X=Y+Z is misleading (set Z to zero, and you still have X). From post: " Behavior = motivation + ability + trigger...

According to FBM, there are three things we need to do something:

No, addition doesn't mean "You need all three". Multiplication does. B=MAT.

AND = multiply

OR = add.

Good catch, will change it.

I've been procrastinating to read this article for a while. Realizing THAT was good enough motivation for me to read the article through.

Clicked through fully expecting a treatment of the Plileas Fogg model, i.e. place your bet, then without further ado set off on your journey around the globe that very same evening, i.e. Just Do It.

Which is propably, all told, more useful advise than any number of overthought musings and bullet lists and schematics to bury myself in before actually, you know, doing it.

That might also be a fun short article.

Imo, the Fogg Behavior Model is not overthought. It can be explained in 2 minutes and yield immediately applicable insights ("Oh, I need a trigger"), I recommend reading Tiny Habits for more nuance on this.

I'm missing the "trigger" piece of this since remote work kicked in. Any tips for effective work triggers when wfh are much appreciated. I've tried the common ones - designated work area, set schedule etc but I end up spending all day (apart from mtgs) surfing the web instead! ugh... I thought I mastered this in grad school

This is nicely summarized. Bookmarking as a resource for helping team members who are new to relatively unstructured work. Thanks.

Awesome! Happy to help

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