25th March 2023
By Grace Morse
I know what you might be thinking – well, we’ve had just about every kind of article and think-piece about ADHD by now, it was inevitable at some point we were going to arrive at “have you tried shoes?”
Now before you click back to the other seventeen things you were doing please allow me a slight indulgence for a moment: When you arrive home, what is one of the first things you do? You take your shoes off – either going barefoot or placing “house-only” slippers on. Immediately, your brain sets forth a neural pathway that says, “I’m home. I can breathe.”
Home has a special significance for all of us, but especially those with ADHD, where it might represent a sanctuary of non-judgmental comfort and control. Conversely, when it’s time to start your day again, you slip on your “going out” and “work” shoes and – bam! Time to enter the world once again. Your brain increases cortisol and adrenaline that signals a narrative of preparedness. They even have a term for it – “context-dependent memory.” The pattern of leaving the house, by the act of shoe placement, signals a new venture in our day. We are, after all, creates of perpetual habit narrated by our subconscious patterns.
So how does this relate to ADHD? If you are part of ADHD club, it’s likely you have at some point suffered from that crushing, intense, and deafening procrastination at one point or another. As someone recently put it to me – “I’ve got a project due in three weeks. Every time I sit down to do it, my kitchen gets even cleaner.” Perhaps you work from home and switching your brain from “home” to “work” –all whilst still at home—may be a herculean challenge.
So, let’s come back to shoes. Yes, shoes. Not any type of shoes, mind you. Proper shoes. Shoes you have to do up. ‘Real’ shoes. Trainers (or ‘sneakers’, for our American readers). Perhaps boots. Wing-tips. High-tops. Anything you can put on, and it takes an conscious effort to remove. In other words, ones that stay on your feet, maximizing this purported benefit. Experts believe that when placed on daily, the act of sneaker wearing can trigger that same “go mode” as if you were to get up and out of the house to fulfill (or in ADHD’s case, fulfill-ish) your daily duties.
Let’s take a peek at the top-three benefits of mitigating ADHD procrastination by throwing on some shoes:
It helps lessen energy expenditure to start the task ahead:
Now obviously, shoes do not magically transmit energy. And we know completion of tasks for an individual dealing with ADHD can feel impossible, either from the symptoms of the condition itself or the accumulated years of attempt or procrastination, and subsequent falling short – or not getting started at all.
In ADHD-ers, the processing power of the frontal lobe of the brain that conducts the executive functioning can be particularly strained, and simply starting a single task takes more energy than completing the task itself for some. By the time executive energy has been summoned to begin, often individuals with ADHD feel too exerted to finish it in its entirety or at all, often being derailed by a more manageable, less-important, urgent, or more sparkly something else. In addition to the preparedness and summoning of the neural pathways signaling ‘work’ or a readiness for being outside the immediate comfort of the home environment, studies have shown that having shoes on already brings a sense of being one step closer to starting the task itself; that the stream of events is jump-started, reducing that initial sense of juggling a million thoughts and yet, at the same time, none at all.
Assists in compartmentalizing and signaling “work time”:
Dr. Marcy Caldwell, a clinical psychologist specialising in ADHD, gives insight that current research has shown “cue-dependent memory” – something especially relevant and potentially beneficial for those with ADHD. Cue-dependent memory means that the environment in which you learn information and perform a task is vital to recall that information and perform the task at a later point. For example, if you always study with music on in a comfy chair (not recommended for ADHD-ers, mind you!), then sitting for an exam in a silent environment on a hard chair actually prohibits that recall. For those with ADHD, Dr. Caldwell notes the potent power of shoes acting at the cue-dependent recall; signaling to your brain when it is time to be in ‘work mode’ and get task successfully completed. Once all the work is done, shoes come off, and the conditioned brain is signaled once more to enter a more easeful state.
Motivates you to do more than you anticipated:
It’s likely that we’ve received certain messages around the wearing of shoes since early childhood. We might recall our parents telling us to “get your shoes on we’re going out now” or particular shoes with particular activities – wellington boots for walks or sport-specific shoes. The generated energy of having our brain’s neural pathways activated make us not only more likely to complete tasks but even to continue them; household chores, or sending off that email, or to pay that bill. Our brains crave streamlined activity, so perhaps think of shoes as a sneaky shortcut to get more done in a sequential manner.
Although it might seem selling ADHD slightly short to suggest putting on shoes as a method of productivity – it’s important to remember that for all its behavioural quirks and symptoms, ADHD is a problem of science. And when it comes to the building of neural pathways, ADHD-ers are no different to anyone else. It might take more effort or mindfulness to get there, but their paths to paths are as possible as anyone else’s.
So, next time you have to compose the first paragraph of the world’s greatest novel or simply mow the lawn, perhaps throw on a pair of shoes. I’d be willing to bet you find your productivity and focus silently running up behind you.