ADHD Passion Projects Introduction – All The Gear, No Idea
One of the symptoms of ADHD can be poor impulse control, and it’s very common for this to manifest itself in the form of hobbies.
Many people have varying attitudes to hobbies, but for ADHD people it can be especially hard to hold down one hobby; that is, to stick to one thing for a prolonged period of time.
The cycle is all too familiar for many of us with ADHD. A passion project is new and exciting; it offers us dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ drug. We invest in the tools to allow us to fully realise this hobby, often finding that through our hyperactivity we can pick things up quickly and become quite good, quite fast.
And then the dopamine fades, the hobby feels more like a burdensome task than the dopamine-generator it was, and it slowly slips away. We do it less and less until it ends up completely forgotten, reduced to a sports kit crumpled at the back of the wardrobe, or a sewing machine gathering dust in the cupboard.
Everything that I’ve quit on builds a sense of guilt that can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy.
Mandatory Classes as a Child with ADHD
When I was younger my father took me and my siblings to karate class.
Every Tuesday we would all get in the car, and drive to karate for an hour karate class- whether I wanted to or not.
I used to resent him for this; for taking up every Tuesday even when I was bored of karate and wanted to do something else. I had no choice but to get in the car and train for an hour a week, every week.
Yet later in life I began to appreciate that consistency. More than that- I enjoyed being good at something. Through years of training and dedication, I was good at karate. When my hobbies were in my own hands, it was all too easy to quit; I never made it past Grade 5 violin, and I dropped rugby after we lost our second game.
But quitting karate was never an option, and in the end I was grateful for it.
Finding a Long Term Hobby Through My Own Accord
This flash-in-the-pan hobby experience, however, can feel incredibly disheartening; my years spent on karate doesn’t change the disappointment I feel whenever I think of my many ‘failed’ passion projects. Everything that I’ve quit on builds a sense of guilt that can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. I can get in my own head thinking I’ll never be good at playing an instrument whilst staring at a bookshelf full of sheet music.
However, whilst there’s no escaping the fact that my karate classes being mandatory was one of the main reasons I stuck with it for so long, I do feel a sense of pride when there is a hobby that I stick with long term through my own accord.
I have been a dedicated ice hockey player for a number of years now since I started during university – and I don’t plan on quitting any time soon.
The Financial Cost of ADHD Passion Projects
There’s a financial element to this way of experiencing hobbies too.
It is very common for ADHD people to struggle with their personal finances, often as poor impulse control and tunnel vision can blind you into spending money in the moment without thought for the consequences. You get a little interested in video games and before you know it, you own a PS5 and your bank account hates you for it.
I can’t magically expand my attention span, and it’s no good trying to force myself to stick to things when I’m mentally done with them.
Changing My Mindset – From ‘Failed’ to ‘Mastered’
I can’t change my brain chemistry, and I can’t change my attitude to hobbies. I can’t magically expand my attention span, and it’s no good trying to force myself to stick to things when I’m mentally done with them.
But why must all these hobbies be framed as ‘failures?’.
Whilst I’m no longer running my small embroidery business, I made some truly beautiful embroideries. The bag of thread and hoops under my bed doesn’t need to be a hobby gravestone, but instead represent a craft that I picked up quickly, and worked on until I now have a skill I have been, and can be, proud of.
I’ve sworn off the stage since I played Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, but I have photos and videos from a time when Musical Theatre was a big part of my life, and something to be proud of. And I can still project my voice louder than anyone I know; which comes in handy when I’m standing in net at the ice rink communicating to my team.
The only thing that kept me sane through lockdown was sewing; I bought my first sewing machine and used to order colourful bed sheets on Ebay to turn into wacky outfits. I wasn’t perfect; I would cut corners, not bothering to hem or follow patterns properly. And although I may no longer fashion myself patchwork dungarees, I can fix the holes in my friend’s ice hockey kit.
I see all these as skills that have been learnt or even mastered, and ones I can carry forward, rather than being down on myself and framing them as failures.
Tips to Sticking Out a Hobby if You Have ADHD
Maybe you can’t reconcile having brief and fleeting relationships with passion projects. Maybe that’s not an option for you- you need to stick something out.
Below are some techniques to try and keep yourself at something.
#1 Find Someone to Hold You Accountable
One method is to get an accountability partner.
You join something with that person, and hold each other accountable to make sure you go.
My dad rounded me up every week and put me in the car to go to karate, and in later years my friend and I signed up to ice hockey together and walked together to the rink every week.
#2 Attend An Organised Session (Rather Than Self Lead)
Having an organised session for an individual hobby that you attend can also motivate you to push through any boredom or desire to quit.
I’ve been trying to learn a language for years, but Duolingo doesn’t work for me; I forget and break my streak, and then what’s the point?
But this year I have signed up for Welsh lessons, and having a class to attend every week stops me from giving up.
Maybe signing yourself up to a book club will motivate you to finish a book. Or following a fitness programme that has live sessions you join will encourage you to get fit.
Whatever it is, attending a session is sometimes easier to keep to than trying to be self lead.
#3 Remove The Option To Quit
Lastly, sometimes you’re likely to back out… Just because you can.
If there is a (safe) way to remove the option to quit, then having that be beyond your control can work.
Obviously tread carefully with this; forcing yourself through something can be rough but rewarding, but it can also be brutal to the point of not being worth it.
#4 Give Yourself a Time Frame to Not Feel Guilty
Whilst you can use whatever method tricks your mind into sticking it out if you need to once you’ve started, remember that it’s not the end of the world to give up a hobby – especially if you stuck it out for a certain amount of time.
It’s quite common to start something and then decide it’s not for you (how will you know if you like it unless you try it?), and sometimes leaving a passion project (especially one that consumes you) is a healthy, and maybe inevitable thing.
So you can always set a time frame for giving this hobby a go – and if you don’t want to maintain it, then that’s okay. You did it for X amount of time, and that was enough for you.
Remember the Positives, and Jump Into Your Passion Projects!
Trying something new is fun, and being good at a hobby is rewarding.
Passion projects can develop your skills and your social circles, and it can be a positive thing to have multiple. Look for the positives; you can be versatile with many skills and experiences under your belt.
So do it; buy a tennis racket and join a film club and challenge your friends at board games. Go for it and embrace it.
And when you can give people hand-made Christmas gifts, you’ll thank yourself!