What Is INCUP with ADHD?

INCUP is an acronym that stands for interest, novelty, challenge, urgency, and passion. The term was first proposed by psychologist William Dodson, who suggested that these five things are the top motivating factors for someone with ADHD.

Importantly, Dodson categorized these five factors as products of an interest-based nervous system. This contrasts with an importance-based nervous system, which is more motivated by things like obligations and timelines. While people with importance-based nervous systems are motivated to get something done due to a deadline or responsibility, people with interest-based nervous systems need to find the task compelling in some way in order to overcome their procrastination.

The idea behind INCUP is that people with ADHD tend to have interest-based nervous systems, which is why factors like interest, novelty, challenge, urgency, and passion are more effective at motivating them. In addition to helping ADHDers understand their own behavior and symptoms, the idea behind INCUP can also guide them in finding ways to incentivize the things they need to do.

A Closer Look at the Five Motivating Factors for ADHD

So, how does INCUP work in real-world situations? Each of the five factors that make up this acronym can potentially serve as motivation for someone with ADHD.


People with ADHD have trouble finding motivation to do things that they're uninterested in. This is largely attributed to ADHDers having lower levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is connected with feelings of pleasure and happiness.

Because they're low on dopamine, people with ADHD often seek it out more. When they find something interesting, they're much more likely to pursue it because it helps to boost their levels of dopamine.


Something new usually feels more exciting and interesting than something you've done a hundred times. ADHD brains are especially drawn toward novel things, and the unfamiliar can serve as a major motivating factor for someone with the disorder. It triggers a desire to explore and engage, making it a great incentive for starting up a project or task.

Unfortunately, people with ADHD often struggle to stick with something once they lose that novel feeling. They might start a project but leave it unfinished or take up a new hobby every few months. For this reason, novelty alone may not be a sufficient motivator for certain tasks that require a significant time investment.


A task that is challenging can be more enticing to someone with ADHD. There's a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from completing challenging tasks that might not result from other types of activities. That feeling of satisfaction can also be a source of dopamine for the ADHD brain.

The payoff may not be as motivating for someone with ADHD if it takes a long time to achieve. However, a good way to manufacture challenges along the way is to break tasks up into smaller steps that are easier to accomplish in shorter periods of time.


While the importance of a task might not be as motivating to someone with an interest-based nervous system, its urgency may help to trigger action. This can be a common motivator for someone with ADHD who tends to procrastinate on things until the last minute. Once there's an urgency to the task, they may finally feel ready to tackle it.

One way to create a sense of urgency around a particular activity is to use timers. For example, the Pomodoro technique can be helpful for someone with ADHD who has trouble sustaining attention for long periods of time.


Most people are aware that ADHD can make it harder for someone to stay focused. But that doesn't mean that those with the disorder are always distracted. In fact, many experience periods of hyperfocusing in which they become intensely engaged in something they're passionate about. When they find that passion, it can be a significant motivator for them.

Managing Your ADHD for Better Motivation

Using the theory of INCUP can help people with ADHD better understand what makes them tick. But putting it into practice is easier said than done. Even if you understand what your brain needs to feel motivated, it can be tricky to make that happen in real life.

One way to help improve your motivation is to make sure you are managing your ADHD effectively. This can help to keep your symptoms under control so things like inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity don't pull you away from the things you want or need to do.

For example, ADHD medications increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. This helps to increase attention span, manage executive dysfunction, reduce hyperactivity, and control impulsive behaviors — all of which can help you stay motivated when needed.

If you have questions about managing your ADHD or want to find a medication that works for you, reach out to us at Done.