Squirrel overcoming the wall of awful
Productivity for Creatives

Overcoming Your “Wall of Awful”

I recently watched a really good video created by How To ADHD on YouTube about “the Wall of Awful.” Although I’m neurotypical, I found a lot of the concepts were interesting and applied to me as a creative.

The “Wall of Awful” analogy was created by Brendan Mahan of ADHD Essentials to describe why it is so hard for people, especially those with ADHD, to get themselves to do tasks that should be easy. In the analogy, you are on one side of the wall and doing the task is on the other side. 

Now, the wall we are talking about is an emotional wall. It’s bricks consist of failure, fear, disappointment from those around us and in oneself, worry, anxiety, etc, and it prevents us from getting done the things we know we need to do…and sometimes even what we want to do. 

In my case, the wall of awful gets in the way of writing, but I think this is a common problem for everyone. 

Getting Over the Wall

Mahan says there are a handful of ways that you can try to get past the wall. Just to be clear from the get go, there isn’t a way around the wall because an emotional wall can literally be endless.

One way we could handle the wall is to stare at it, but nothing really gets done that way. Another way to handle it is to get mad enough, usually at ourselves or someone else, that we can Hulk smash through it, but this isn’t recommended either. 

A better way to handle the wall would be to put a door in it, which equates to changing emotion, or put hand holds on it, which equates to establishing strategies to make tasks seem easier.

Putting a Door in It

In order to put a door through a wall of negative emotions, you need to change them to positive ones. There are many different ways to do this, but my favorites were listening to motivating music or exercise.

These two methods quickly change your state because it helps you focus on the positive emotions, rather than dwelling on or staring at the negative. It increases dopamine in the brain, which helps with motivation and happiness, and you use that momentum to get you past your wall. The downside to “door” methods is that the effects are short lived, meaning they can only help you get through your Wall of Awful on a case by case basis.

Creating Hand Holds

Creating hand holds is a longer lasting way to handle your Wall of Awful. The trick is to create strategies or hand holds that remain in the Wall of Awful that help you climb over it each time you need to confront it. Here I have only listed a few, and feel free to come up with your own.

Set clear milestones or mini goals

It is so much easier to reach a smaller goal than it is a bigger one. Big projects and tasks can be overwhelming if we try to do it all at once! So instead, what if you broke down your task and creative project into bite-sized pieces? 

Think about what miniature wins or goals you can reach along the way that will push you, but are also still attainable. Those little bursts of success can help you climb over the Wall of Awful and feel like you are making progress.

Time your tasks

We have our big project, we’ve broken it down, but sometimes, we feel like we either have to dedicate several hours to it every day or none at all. 

This isn’t the case.

Take a look at your mini goals and time how long it takes you to reach them. In my case, I found I can write my 500+ words/day in about 45 minutes on a really good day. Another option is to put a set amount of time to do your tasks. Another example, setting aside 30 minutes a day to practice the piano per day. When you have time frames or limits set to your tasks, you can remind yourself, “I only have to do this for “X” amount of time, and then I’m done” and it will add a solid hand hold to your Wall of Awful.

Make time to mentally prepare

It is so helpful to go through the motions. It is like I’ve mentioned in my blog post, “The Writer vs the Elephant” about action triggers. If we can plan out what our action triggers are going to be, then it is a lot easier to overcome the Wall of Awful because we have already practiced how we are going to do it in our head.

Reflect on your successes

David Goggins calls this “reaching into the cookie jar.” Goggins is a Navy Seal and incredible athlete who has completed many insane feats of physicality. One thing that helps keep him going when things get hard is to remind himself of all the things he has succeeded in. It gives him that extra boost to finish out whatever it is he is doing because he can ride on the chemicals his brain produces by reflecting on those good moments. 

Take a moment to do that for yourself. Make a list of all the things you have done well or succeeded at and reread it if you feel yourself coming up against the Wall of Awful. If you can elicit those positive emotions, it can help you get through it as well and empower you to get the things done you need–and want–to do.

What is in your “Wall of Awful” that always holds you back? What are some things you can do to try to overcome them? Let me know in the comments below!



Why Is It So Hard to Do Something That Should Be Easy? (2019, March 28). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo08uS904Rg

How to Do Something That Should Be Easy (But…Is…Not). (2019, April 30). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlObsAeFNVk

Goggins, D. (2017). David Goggins – The Cookie Jar | Motivational Video. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEg1SG1TOr4

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