Procrastination — Activation vs. Motivation

More than Motivation

© By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Foundational Concepts of the Intentionality Series

EncourageYOU HEARD IT HERE:  Glitches in the activation arena are more likely to be behind what is often mistakenly assumed to be “procrastination” in the EFD/ADD community than insufficient motivation.

As I said in Part I of this series of articles – ABOUT Activation – struggles with activation are a common occurrence in the ADD population.

Closely related, but not the same thing as,
under-arousal and motivation deficit, insufficient 
activation is frequently misidentified, mislabeled, and totally misunderstood.

ACTIVATION is the process that gets you up and doing, apart from what inspires you to WANT to be up and doing (which is the motivation piece of the action and follow-through puzzle.)

MOTIVATION is inspiration — a dopamine/reward system-driven process.

Dopaminergic system dysregulation is common in attentional spectrum disorders, and is certainly problematic, but activation struggles are a BEAR!

Getting Things Done

We want to, sometimes we yearn to, frequently we agonize over the fact that we haven’t gotten around to yet we just can’t seem to “make” ourselves.

Said another way, there are a million ways to get things done, but NONE of them involving sight will work for the blind man – and no amount of “wanting to” will change that fact.

So cheerleaders aren’t what we need – we need Sherpas & Indian Guides – or a breadcrumb trail at the very least!

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What IS Activation and where can I get some?

ScienceBeakerCartoonIt’s difficult for those who rarely experience a glitch in their activation neurochemistry to understand that there are more than a few individuals for whom NO motivation would be sufficient to tip the inertia/action balance — at least not without efforts to understand and handle additional mitigating factors.

That means you have to take an unbiased look at them, right?

The process of activation requires complex cooperation between the dopaminergic system and epinephrine/norepinephrine regulation (“adrenalin” modulation. if you will).

An oversupply of adrenalin produces a state that can be compared to performance anxiety; undersupplied, you simply can’t seem to get off the dime

  • When the problem is activation, “tough love” strategies will only make things tougher.
  • Motivational pep talks at the wrong time will backfire.

They both tip the balance toward the task anxiety side of the scale.

Activation is an area where brain-based ADD Coaching technique can really help — through a process I refer to as “externalizing prefrontal cortex intensive tasks” — but we’ll get to that concept later.  First, let’s take a look at what goes on.

Working twice as hard for half as much

Based on the comments many of us here in “Alphabet City” have received, the assumption of the rest of the world seems to be that we EFD-flavored folk sit around eating bon-bons or something, rather than spending regular time on task.  Not necessarily so.

ADD/EFD neurology has its advantages, but it has more than its share of challenges, too. 

Since those challenges are at the foundational, logistical level, they become much bigger roadblocks than many understand (or believe).

Regardless of intelligence and drive, most of us with Executive Functioning deficits are, effectively, “learning disabled” where building cognitive maps are concerned, in a brain-based manner that involves short term memory deficits as well as a number of other neuro-links that are a tad kludgy.

Moving forward always means slogging through the backwaters until and unless we figure out where the ROADS are located and how they are inter-connected.

We need a cognitive GPS to avoid hours lost in the swamps.   Make sense?

Phillip Martin, artist/educator

Phillip Martin, artist/educator

Alphabet City

I’ve written an entire article about Alphabet City, but for right now let’s take a quick look at what I’m talking about when I refer to “alphabet disorders,” so I can sometimes use a less cumbersome term we can all understand to mean the same thing when I use it.

I am referring to the community of individuals who struggle with executive functioning deficits — what I often refer to as Attentional Spectrum Disorders.

  • At one end of the spectrum are those who, diagnosed or not, have been card-carrying members since early childhood.
  • At the other end are individuals who got their membership cards rather suddenly, as the result of brain injury of one sort or another – or as the result of another condition.

Anyone who reads is surely aware of the well-documented cognitive, mood, and behavioral changes that accompany brain differences that were not present from birth [traumatic brain injury, TBI and acquired brain injury, ABI].

Symptoms of Brain Injury

Neuropsychological impairments caused by brain injury may be characterized in terms of three functional systems

(1) intellect, which is the information-handling aspect of behavior;
(2) emotionality, which concerns feelings and motivations; and
(3) control, which has to do with how behavior is expressed.
Source: Neuropsychological Assessment, 3rd  Ed., 1995,  by Muriel D. Lezak

What I used to be able to do

Ask anyone in the TBI community about the cognitive functionality that was lost as the result of brain injury, and they will give you a list that reads an awful lot like the diagnostic criteria for ADD (ADHD) — a list of newly acquired deficits that cluster around areas that we refer to as the “executive functions.”

(Click on What ARE Executive functions? for an explanation what’s involved – compiled from some of the experts in the field).

TBI and ADD (“ADHD”) are only two of the diagnoses that are characterized by Executive Functioning Deficits.

There is a long list of disorders that are accompanied by difficulties with the volitional regulation of many of the processes of higher order cognitive control, and a great many of them are referred to by acronyms – OCD, SPD, ASD, ODD, PDD, EFD – alphabet disorders!

I’m a coach not a doctor

  • My focus is on explaining what’s behind the behaviors, and offering you the fruits of my 25 years of experience learning how to work around them
  • I don’t think its necessary for me to split diagnostic hairs to help.

So when I use the terms “ADD” (Attention Deficit Disorder) or EFD (Executive Functioning Disorder) – I am INCLUDING any of the other “alphabet” disorders that struggle with the regulation of areas of executive functioning that characterize diagnostic “ADHD.”

Keep that in mind as you read the articles here on

Logical Assumptions

There were many, many years prior to the invention of the scanning technology that can quantify problems more specifically, where most of what we knew about the brain came from a logical exploration of changes in behavior and functional abilities as the result of accidents and strokes.

The assumption was – and still is, by the way – that damage to portions of the brain could lead us to a behavioral/functional understanding of what’s going on.

We can logically extrapolate involvement when similar deficits in cognitive abilities are demonstrated in the absence of damage that we can easily identify as having a specific source.

  • Science is fairly unconflicted in the assertion that our brains operate by way of an electro-chemical process.
  • So it makes sense to explore how the brain does what it does to explain what it’s NOT doing when it doesn’t — so that we aren’t inadvertently breaking The Brain Rules.

So let’s do that.

goodJobBlueReward Deficiencies

Atypical production or regulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine is characteristic of ADDs – underscored by the observation that psychostimulant medication that increases the bio-availability of dopamine seems to help with more than a few of the “deficits” in the attending mechanisms of ADD/EFDers.

Dopamine is also the major player modulating the brain’s reward pathway.

According to Wikipedia,
“In neuroscience, the reward system is a collection of brain structures which attempts to regulate and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects.

It is a brain circuit that, when activated, reinforces behaviors.  The circuit includes the dopamine-containing neurons of the ventral tegmental area, the nucleus accumbens, and part of the prefrontal cortex.

It also helps to promote the formation of HABITS. We learn how to negotiate our world because we are neuro-chemically rewarded for repeating behaviors that work for us — they feel good. Evolutionarily, we were “rewarded” for eating regularly, staying warm, and repeating a great many behaviors that kept us alive.

A hungry infant stops crying when you “reward” the baby by allowing it to nurse.

What if there were no reward mechanism in place?  What would ever induce that baby to stop crying long enough to be able to solve the problem?

Scientists also tell us that part of the problem with addiction is that the over-stimulation of the reward mechanism through the use of certain recreational drugs changes the brain in a manner that makes it increasingly less “sensitive” to the substances that brought pleasure to begin with.

While it initially feels so good to be flooded by excess substance-stimulated dopamine, brain circuits get used to giving the feel-good response only in the presence of increased dopamine.

Ultimately, it takes more and more dopamine to have less and less effect.  The activities that used to stimulate the reward circuit don’t pack enough of a punch to feel good anymore.


©Creative Commons – Wikipedia

Reward for Accomplishment

ADD experts continue to say that, in order to remain in action and on-task, ADD kids need frequent pats on the back – immediately following even the smallest of accomplishments.  Their own reward mechanism isn’t giving them enough “juice” to keep going.

Nobody likes to play a game they can’t win! 

When their own brain doesn’t send out the signal that they are winning, somebody has to.
Otherwise they stop playing.

  • We never outgrow our need for acknowledgement, however.
  • Those of us with inefficient reward mechanisms need to understand how to keep ourselves moving forward with self-acknowledgement.
  • But, whenever we “procrastinate,” what do we do instead?  
    We beat ourselves up for lack of accomplishment — the exact opposite of what will work!! (and there are always people in our lives ready to lend a hand with the beatings!)

Challenges at the foundational, logistical level

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of why ADD Challenges become much bigger roadblocks than many understand (or believe).

As I said in the introductory article on this topic, ABOUT Activation, the activation/inertia continuum is a dense topic, and little has been written about it from a functioning perspective.  In articles to come, I will continue to explore it with you, along with giving you some ways to get out of the quicksand so that you can move forward and STOP “procrastinating.” So stay tuned

In the meantime, review some of the articles below — especially the articles about activation struggles and the articles of the TaskMaster™ Series.  If you are a resident of Alphabet City, your procrastination problems just might have some solutions you haven’t tried.

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More on Activation and so-called Procrastination

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

39 Responses to Procrastination — Activation vs. Motivation

  1. My eldest son had ADD/hyperactivity as a child. Even now at 35 he’s always full of energy, but can at least sit still on a chair!

    Liked by 1 person

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  33. andy wolmer says:


    Liked by 1 person

  34. Pingback: Procrastination — Activation vs. Motivation | ADHD Center for Success

    • RE: REBLOG — THANKS!!!!

      I tried to “like” the article on your site while I was on sabbatical (to let you know I’d seen it and to say thanks on your site), but comments were closed. Now that I’m back, exploring more of what YOU are up to is “on my list” — BUT, in addition to interviewing new ADD in The Spirit Coach Training applicants for the Jan. 22, 2014 startdate, I’ve got a backlog of ten weeks to attempt to clear in some fashion first

      I WILL get over there eventually – and thanks so much for getting over here!



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