5 ways to tap into enthusiasm as a neurodivergent researcher – and why you should!

Do you ever find that you can do the things that you truly, completely want and struggle to motivate for tasks and projects that feel less than fully, enthusiastically wanted?

I certainly do. Feeling that way is definitely part of my neurodivergent experience. One particular way it shows up is in my research – particularly in getting down to actually creating the outputs!

Ideas are often not a problem. Well, they’re not a problem if I feel relatively energised and well in mind and body. Ideas are usually something I’ve got too many of as a researcher, if anything!

I do struggle with the “bum on seat” aspect of research, though.

My autism can lead me to be low on energy if I have had many commitments (life and work related) that I feel I “have to” do. Without the mental energy I need for bringing my research ideas to fruition, it can be hard to engage with writing and sit down and “do the do”.

My ADHD means that I can be distracted by other fabulous and worthy ideas that – while great – have little to nothing to do with the research output I’m trying to bring to life. This means I may truly want on some level to finish a research proposal, but I can find myself researching the therapeutic benefits of role-playing games in coaching relationships. (See…interesting…but nothing to do with the task at hand!)

When this happens, I know that what I need is a hefty dose of INTRINSIC MOTIVATION. That’s the kind of motivation that comes from having autonomy, desire, passion and enjoyment in what you would like to do.

Motivation is a groundswell of emotional force that moves us towards the things we want and powers us to engage with and complete things like a research output – all while hopefully experiencing some positive emotions along the way.

So what’s the easiest way to create this motivational force to “do the do”? For me, you can tap into the emotional state of ENTHUSIASM.

Enthusiasm is, for me, the emotion of embodied, enjoyable and sustained interest.

In other words, enthusiastic is what you are when you’re attending to something for a long time, and you’re gaining from that sustained interest in terms of positive emotions and, I think, learning or growth.

Dr Monique Scheer talks about enthusiasm as something that might be be deliberately practiced.

I love this idea, and recognise this is what I and many neurodivergent coaching clients naturally do some of the time.

When it comes to the personal practice of enthusiasm, what can we actually do? What specific enthusiasm practices might help with your research?

I have 5 ideas to share that you can work at on your own, or obtain specific support and encouragement around in coaching work with me. Here they are!

1 Feed off natural enthusiasm around you – Set up a call or email exchange with a mentor, co-author or PhD student who shares the same research interests as you. See what you can learn from their work but also share your ideas and ask specifically for their thoughts on anything that is puzzling you. Zesty emotions like enthusiasm are emotionally contagious and can spread. So feed off the natural enthusiasm of those similarly-interested academic folks around you.

2 Find the puzzles – One thing that sometimes happens in neurodivergent brains is PERSEVERANCE. That means that if there is an unsolved puzzle or incomplete research question, your brain may choose subconsciously to keep thinking about the problem…sometimes to the point where you MUST take some action. When was the last time you found a real conundrum that you can solve? Find the puzzles by going over old notes or talking to a colleague or coach about what really intrigues you. It is rare that this does not positively impact enthusiasm for research!

3 Get angry in the margins (or at least frustrated) – Strong emotions lead to engagement and action. When I research, I often read papers that I intentionally know are likely to frustrate me or make me feel aggrieved in some way. I print them or stick them on my tablet and I underline things furiously – on purpose – and scribble in the margins things like “nonsense” or “how is that going to work for an autistic coachee in reality?”. These reading experiences ENTHUSE me to do something about what I read, and I find myself adding to my notes and my bullet-point paper outlines plans directly after.

4 Have 5 minutes of play – Give yourself permission to sit with your project or paper for 5 minutes and do ANYTHING that you feel like you want to do. Whatever it is. Just PLAY. I don’t think we do enough mere messing around with our work sometimes to see what we actually WANT to do. If we’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and therefore avoidant, we may not want to shake our research metaphorically and see what falls out. So just play for 5 minutes. If you want to play more, do so. And if you don’t, well you did 5 minutes of interacting with your output, and that is what we call VALID PROGRESS.

5 Celebrate any of the other 4 with like minds – Celebration is shown in the research to create powerful memories of success and the positive emotions that come with progress. This is so helpful in particular for ADHD brains. We can struggle to remember our progress…and remember the positive feelings we got from even spending five minutes on playing with our ideas. Without those memories, we don’t feel compelled to relive the experience, and that’s when you find another month has elapsed and you’re not further forward. Get onto socials, email your collaborator, or DM me to tell me what you have done and celebrate how you actively practiced enthusiasm for your ideas.

There you have it…my top 5 enthusiasm practices for building motivation to move your research and projects forward.

Every little bit counts!

If you’d like to work with me to get help with setting up a regular practice of engaging with your research, it’s something that I love to do. You can expect meaningful change in just a few sessions.

So, come on – tell me what you’re working on and how I can help. Book a consult here.

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