Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
June 3, 2023

What Is a “Body Double” for ADHD and How Can It Help?

One of the most frustrating aspects of ADHD is how difficult it can be to focus on a task, especially an unpleasant or tedious one.

The inability to focus can make every aspect of life a challenge, from housework to life tasks to work-related duties. Not being able to focus can lead to chronic procrastination, stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

I’m a therapist for millennials with ADHD and anxiety. In my work, I help my clients learn how to manage unwanted behaviors and seek out healthy lifestyle changes to improve quality of life.

One effective tool I’ve found helpful for minimizing the ADHD brain’s difficulty focusing is ADHD mirroring behavior using a body double. This practice can be extremely useful in getting yourself to do the things you keep saying you’re going to do – and actually complete them. 

What is a body double

What Is a Body Double?

“What is a body double?” you might ask. A body double is simply anyone working alongside you while you’re trying to accomplish a task.

This might look like working with a housemate or partner to do the house chores, cooking with a friend, or doing tedious or unpleasant life or job tasks with a friend or coworker.

Regardless of the task at hand, a body double lends a sense of solidarity and focus to the person with ADHD.

You can think of working alongside a body double as “borrowing” inspiration or focus from that person. They are there with you doing something, and this presence is in turn helpful for your own sense of focus and accomplishment. 

How Does Body Doubling for ADHD Help?

While there hasn’t been research testifying to the effectiveness of body doubling, it’s been helpful for many of my clients. In general, many people within the ADHD community have found it to be a useful practice.

There are three different subtypes of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive, and combination.

Inattentive-type ADHDers are often described as “dreamy,” “spacey,” and forgetful. These are the people who are often running late, get easily distracted, or spend a lot of time daydreaming. 

Hyperactive-type ADHDers, on the other hand, have a tough time sitting still. Think: jiggling your legs, unable to sit through a meeting or dinner without your mind wandering, feeling anxious and cagey if you’re stuck too long doing any one thing. 

The combination types have some of both inattentive and hyperactive qualities.

Regardless of the subtype, ADHD brains are typically easily overstimulated. Executive functioning, the processes of the brain that are responsible for things like planning ahead, self control, and multitasking, is hindered in ADHD brains. Additionally, ADHDers have less of the feel-good chemical dopamine in their brains.

When you put all these things together – easily distracted, daydreaming, hyperactivity, overstimulation, inability to focus and multitask, and lack of motivation to do things that aren’t inherently pleasurable or exciting – it can make getting things done very difficult.

By modeling attentive behavior, a body double can help induce calm and concentration into someone with ADHD. Body doubling and ADHD can help by grounding and centering you for the task at hand. 

A body double can also produce a feeling of accountability in someone with ADHD. If a body double is staying on task, a person with ADHD is more likely to as well.

Doing the same thing as someone else in your presence is known as “mirroring,” and it can be an effective strategy to help you accomplish tasks that would be harder to do on your own.

ADHD mirroring behavior

How ADHD Mirroring Behavior Works

Mirroring is a natural human behavior. Put simply, it means you imitate or pick up on the behaviors or characteristics of the people around you. It likely evolved as a way to connect and bond with the people around us. It can help you be more empathetic and stay connected to social groups.

ADHD mirroring behavior is no different. And this is partly why body doubling for ADHD works well. If someone around you is focused on a task or getting something done, you’re more likely to mirror their behavior and do the same.

You’re especially more likely to mirror their focused behavior if you and the other person have agreed to work on a project or task together. This agreement creates accountability – you don’t want to let the other person down, so you’re more likely to stick to your agreement. 

How to Implement Body Doubling for ADHD in Your Life

In order for a body double to be most effective, they should have a calming, joyful impact on you. In an ideal world, a body double will help you feel less alone and less frustrated.

If the person you’re working alongside shames you for being inattentive or hyperactive, or adds more distraction to your routine, then they’re not a good fit for you.

Alternatively, you can try joining a coworking group. Virtual or in-person, these can have the same accountability effect as a single body double. Plus, you gain community. It’s a win-win.

While body doubling can be a great way to boost productivity, it’s not for everyone. Some people become even more distracted when working with other people. Others get too anxious or feel like there’s pressure to perform a certain way when someone else is around and in their space. 

The only way to know if body doubling for ADHD is for you is to try it out. Cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD can also help you figure out alternative ways to manage distractions and learn focusing skills.

Therapy or Coaching Can Help You Learn ADHD Mirroring Behavior Skills

If you want support coming up with ways to help you improve your sense of focus and concentration, including ADHD mirroring behavior, and want answers to the question “what is a body double?” – I'm here to help.

Together, we'll help you find ways to reduce any unwanted behaviors, boost your sense of self-worth, and set goals to learn useful skills for getting through tedious tasks and chores. 

Our work together will help you feel empowered and confident, knowing you have the skills and tools to better manage your behaviors and feel more focused.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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