How Body Doubling Helps When You Have ADHD

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What Is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms such as difficulty focusing, executive dysfunction, memory problems, hyperactive behavior, and difficulty with impulse control.

It is something a person is born with and is often diagnosed in childhood, though it might not cause deficits until later in life. It is a lifelong diagnosis that impacts relationships, work, physical health, mental health, and functioning.

A person with ADHD can have primarily inattentive symptoms, primarily hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, or a combination of both.

What Is Executive Dysfunction?

Executive functioning refers to our brain’s ability to do a number of tasks, including holding information, organizing thoughts, managing time, and focusing.

Many people with ADHD struggle with executive dysfunction, which can manifest in many ways, including:

  • Forgetting important information
  • Time blindness
  • Difficulty starting tasks
  • Losing focus in the middle of a task
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Losing belongings
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Inability to prioritize tasks
  • Being late or very early for appointments
  • Missing deadlines
  • Difficulty completing self-care tasks

People with anxiety, depression, or another mental health diagnosis can also struggle with executive dysfunction.

What Is Body Doubling?

A student who goes to the library to study in public is body doubling, as is a student who invites a friend to work on different projects in their home together.

Body doubling refers to doing a task with another person present. You can ask a friend to be your body double and simply share space with you while you complete a task, or you can go somewhere where you know others will be present.

The body double does not need to actively help with the task, and they can do something unrelated while you complete the task. They are simply present in the space while you complete the task that needs to be done. Two people with ADHD can simultaneously body-double for each other while doing unrelated necessary tasks in the same space at the same time.

You can body double in person, over the phone, via video chat, or even through text. The knowledge that someone is “present” and aware that you are doing the task is intended to increase motivation and follow-through.

How Does Executive Dysfunction Interfere With Motivation?

Executive dysfunction can impact motivation in multiple ways. If you have executive dysfunction, you might have difficulty breaking down a large project into several manageable steps and feel unable to start. You might be unable to determine how much time or effort the task will take and become overwhelmed.

It Can Be Hard to Start or Complete Tasks

Since ADHD can cause difficulty with motivation, it can be difficult to start or follow through on tasks. People with inattentive symptoms of ADHD can have difficulty staying on the task due to focus issues and might struggle to finish a task they have already started. In addition, ADHD brains crave novelty, and so a task that is uninteresting or boring is harder to complete.

It May Impact Self-Esteem

Executive dysfunction can negatively impact self-esteem. When a person struggles and does not receive appropriate support, or they do not understand why something is hard for them, they might feel demoralized.

They may have negative thoughts about themselves and their worth as a result of their difficulties. This can lead to more difficulty with motivation in the future because the person will remember that they were unsuccessful in the past and may not see the point in continuing to try.

It is important to remember that having executive dysfunction does not mean that you are lazy. Motivation issues are a symptom of ADHD that can be disabling. A person with executive dysfunction does not need to simply “try harder” or be pressured or shamed into putting in more work.

People with ADHD do not benefit from criticism and ridicule but instead need support and understanding to overcome their executive dysfunction.

How Can You Use Body Doubling If You Have ADHD?

No specific person is credited with discovering the positive effects of body doubling. However, the concept seems to have emerged from support groups for people with ADHD.

Participants found that having another person present improved their executive functioning and motivation. Researchers have not studied body doubling extensively, but individuals with ADHD have spoken to its benefits.

If you have difficulty staying focused on a task, the body double’s presence can cue you to remember what you were doing and provide light pressure to stay on track. You can think of the task as a favor to the body double, which can increase your motivation to finish it. The body double is a physical reminder of the task you are trying to complete as well as a way to boost accountability.

To the other extreme, body doubles can remind you to take breaks, eat, drink, and use the bathroom if you tend to hyperfocus and neglect your needs.

Anyone can be a body double. If you feel you would benefit from having a body double, ask a friend or family member to be present while you complete a task. Remember, they can do something unrelated and do not have to interact with you directly in order to be an effective body double.

If you live alone and do not have someone local who can fill this role, the body double can join you via video or phone. You can even post to social media that you are completing a task to boost feelings of accountability.

Although we do not have research to detail the effectiveness of body doubling, the ADHD community has found this to be a simple and helpful tool in combating executive dysfunction.

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3 Sources
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  2. Gomez R, Van Doorn G, Watson S, Gomez A, Stavropoulos V. Cloninger’s personality dimensions and ADHD: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Individual Differences. 2017;107:219-227.

  3. Molavi P, Nadermohammadi M, Salvat Ghojehbeiglou H, Vicario CM, Nitsche MA, Salehinejad MA. ADHD subtype-specific cognitive correlates and association with self-esteem: a quantitative difference. BMC Psychiatry. 2020;20(1):502.