ADHD body doubling is a practice where a person with ADHD works on and completes potentially frustrating tasks with another person. This other person is the “body double” for the person with ADHD.
The body double’s job is to help anchor the person with ADHD to the present moment and task, reducing the risk of distraction. This practice emerged in the self-help literature as a strategy for ADHD self-management. There is no recent research testing its effectiveness, but anecdotal evidence from people with ADHD suggests that they find it helpful and soothing.
The body double may make a boring task more rewarding and fun. Alternatively, they may place subtle pressure on the person with ADHD to remain focused. In some cases, the mere presence of a body double soothes the anxious mind of a person with symptoms of hyperactivity. A body double can also model attentive, focused work.
Body doubling simply means doing a task in the presence of another person. The other person may help with the task, such as when a couple or housemates do housework together. They may work on the same task, but independently, such as when friends do homework together. Or they might simply be present, listening to music or quietly performing an unrelated task.
The body double can be a classmate, friend, or family member, or another acquaintance. A person might use multiple body doubles to accomplish different tasks or change body doubles for the same task. For example, a person might work with their spouse to complete housework but partner with a variety of different colleagues to complete work projects.
It is also possible to use a virtual body double. Two or more people can work together via video chat.
No research has directly tested the benefits of body doubling. The practice emerged from ADHD self-help groups, so the evidence supporting it is based on word of mouth rather than rigorous scientific research.
A few insights about ADHD might help explain how body doubling could work.
ADHD may reduce the motivation to do tasks and lessen the psychological rewards associated with completing them. Having someone else present may make boring tasks more pleasurable, helping overcome this motivation deficit.
A calm presence in the form of another person may help deter hyperactive behavior by either modeling focused behavior or calming the person with ADHD.
People with the inattentive form of the diagnosis may feel modest pressure to remain on task. For example, if a couple cleans together, a person may be less likely to wander away or start sending emails because they do not want to let their partner down.
Another person may also model how to remain on task and do a chore well. If two people study together, the more attentive student may help the person with ADHD take more effective notes or better understand the course material.
Researchers have not tested the effects of body doubling using controlled experiments. The data supporting it come from anecdotal evidence, including reports from people with ADHD who say that body doubling helps them focus.
The potential benefits of body doubling include:
- The body double may learn more about the challenges of ADHD, which can be helpful for friends and family members.
- The body double may model more effective ways to complete common tasks.
- Working with a body double can make boring tasks less frustrating, creating an incentive to complete them.
- A body double may help a person with ADHD feel less isolated.
- Having someone alongside them can help a person with ADHD feel calmer and less annoyed.
- The body double provides some accountability and may even be able to offer feedback on distracting or self-defeating behaviors.
- If the strategy works, it may promote a sense of mastery and self-efficacy that inspires a person to develop additional techniques for coping with ADHD.
- A person may learn new skills from a body double.
ADHD body doubling will not work for everyone. Some potential issues include:
- The body double may become a distraction.
- A person might feel embarrassed about their ADHD in front of the body double, especially if they continue to struggle to focus.
- An unsuitable body double might shame or criticize the person with ADHD.
- A body double can prolong the time it takes to complete the task if they distract the person.
The standard treatments for ADHD
A person might also try other strategies as a supplement or alternative to body doubling. Some options include:
- working in a collaborative group to get more done and learn from others
- developing a personalized organizational system that includes frequent reminders
- implementing tools for remaining focused, such as using apps to prevent navigating away from schoolwork or avoid logging onto social media
- taking classes on attention, mindfulness, and organization
- putting lists by the door to avoid forgetting things on the way out
- asking for disability accommodations at school or work
- allowing more time for challenging tasks
- taking breaks to exercise or meditate rather than engage with distractions such as social media
- using personalized cues to remain on task, such as putting a sign next to a workspace
Body doubling is a self-help technique that can help some people with ADHD complete daily tasks, such as cleaning and studying, more efficiently and effectively. When it works, it may give a person a sense of control over their diagnosis, reducing frustration and perhaps even improving self-esteem.
Body doubling may also help a person learn to work more independently if they gain new skills by watching how their body double works. This practice does not work for everyone, though. For some, it may even intensify the symptoms of ADHD.
It is important to experiment with different ADHD interventions. A therapist can help with generating additional strategies. Some people also get support from study skills classes or organizational training. These lifestyle strategies are more effective when a person is also receiving appropriate treatment in the form of medication and therapy.