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Rewards and ADHD: Five ideas for a motivating rewards list

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

You set yourself a goal: finish a project at work, hand in an assignment or organise part of your house. You work through procrastination, distraction and eventually (a bit later than you'd planned) you meet the goal. You mention this to your friend or colleague who responds "that's great! Why don't you do something to celebrate?"

Chances are like many people you shrug it off, saying "it's not much to celebrate". You may even think 'well I didn't complete the tasks as quickly and thoroughly as I would have liked, I don't deserve a reward'.

Studies have found that those with ADHD can often have lower self-esteem than their peers (Foley-Nicpon et al., 2012; Newark et al., 2016). Self-esteem is described as the opinion and evaluations we make about ourselves and our core self-beliefs, whether positive or negative (Newark et al., 2016). Lower self-esteem, therefore, is related to imposter syndrome or not feeling like your achievements are worth celebrating.

However, based on the current neuroscience research, rewarding yourself when you have ADHD might be more than a nice thing to do. It could help motivate us overall. Studies have found those with ADHD do not process dopamine in the same manner as neurotypical brains (Tripp & Wickens, 2009). This difference in brain chemistry has been linked to the need for rewards to act as additional motivation.

But even if you'd like to celebrate completing tasks, what counts as a reward? It can often be a combination of what you enjoy and what you can afford. Part of my job as an ADHD Coach is helping you meet those goals and set up rewards. If that sounds like something you're interested in, you can click on this link to book a free 30-minute consultation.

To help you get started thinking of rewards here is a list of 5 different types. Use them as inspiration for your own list!

1. Time:

Time is a reward we often don't feel we have enough of. Something we give to others without keeping any for ourselves. Simple time rewards include going for a walk, going for a drive, taking the time to read a book or watch your favourite show interrupted.

2. Experiences:

Is there something you like to do? Could you put it on the rewards list? Options include going to the beach, visiting something local or going to an event coming up.

3. Sensations:

Eating chocolate, sitting in a bubble bath or getting a massage (if possible in 2020). These are all examples of sensation-based rewards. Keep a note of sensations you enjoy and add it to the rewards list.

4. Purchases:

This is one of the most common rewards and generally should also be used the most sparingly. I recommend combining purchase rewards with goals that involve making or saving money. Examples can include setting up a budget, putting money in savings or working for a promotion.

5. Projects:

Spending time on a personal project is an excellent reward for you if you like to be active. Examples include spending in your garden, painting for fun or even starting your small business venture! Just make sure the amount of time spent on these projects does not dwarf the amount spent on the original goal.

So, if you're struggling to get motivated build yourself a rewards list and see how you feel. You might find a life spent doing fun tasks in between boring ones suits your brain better.

Talk to you next week,


Feeling stuck and want to develop effective ADHD strategies?

We are a team of coaches who have lived experience of ADHD and are passionate about providing you with strength-based, research-backed ADHD strategies and support.


Foley-Nicpon, M., Rickels, H., Assouline, S. G., & Richards, A. (2012). Self-Esteem and Self-Concept Examination Among Gifted Students With ADHD. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 35(3), 220–240.

Newark, P. E., Elsässer, M., & Stieglitz, R.-D. (2016). Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy, and Resources in Adults With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 20(3), 279–290.

Tripp, G., & Wickens, J. R. (2009). Neurobiology of ADHD. Neuropharmacology, 57(7–8), 579–589.

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