Why Can’t We Finish Tasks with Bipolar?

Why Can’t We Finish Tasks with Bipolar?

February 15, 2015 Bipolar blog bipolar disorder

I’m often an ideas person. I have many, many ideas and I like to think many of them are good. And, being a writer, these many ideas translate into articles, which I appreciate as it’s how I pay my bills.

That being said, ideas translate into starting a lot of tasks. The skill (talent, habit, what-have-you) of starting tasks based on a (perhaps) brilliant idea is one thing, but finishing tasks involves a different skill set altogether and finishing tasks when you have bipolar disorder (depression or mania/hypomania) is extremely, extremely challenging.

What Does It Take to Finish a Task When You Have Bipolar?

Bipolar or not, finishing tasks involves delayed gratification. There is immediate gratification when you start a task (yay, another brilliant idea for a book!) but then you have to crave the gratification and reward that comes at the end of the task to actually complete it. In other words, starting a task feels good but then you have to put work into it (which doesn’t necessarily feel good) in order to feel good again once the task is complete.

And the thing about delayed gratification is this: you have to be able to experience reward (pleasure) in order for it to work. Delayed gratification only works if, indeed, you experience gratification at the end.

Finishing tasks when you have bipolar disorder can be tough. Here's why people with bipolar can't finish the tasks they start.Bipolar Depression and Gratification

And the thing about people with bipolar depression is that they often can’t feel that gratification – delayed or otherwise. If you’re anhedonic thanks to bipolar depression, you literally can’t feel pleasure and thus can’t feel the reward once the task is finished. And if you can’t feel pleasure once the task is finished, what, exactly, is you motivation for doing it in the first place?

Bipolar Depression and Finishing Tasks

So if you have bipolar depression, it’s difficult to finish tasks. I think it’s easy to start a task; life, hope and need will drive us to do this, but it’s very hard to finish tasks because it takes work to do so. And if you know that the work will not result in a positive outcome (pleasure), then it’s very hard to find the motivation to do it.

Bipolar Hypomania/Mania and Finishing Tasks

And, of course, we all know how easy it is to start tasks when we’re manic or hypomanic and we know how difficult it is to finish them. Rather than having a problem with the gratification part of the equation we have more trouble with the delayed part when we’re manic/hypomanic. Plus, many people experience a flight of ideas when in bipolar mania/hypomania and each idea sees the start of a task based on it and no task gets completed before another “brilliant” idea strikes us and “must” be acted upon.

Finishing Tasks with Bipolar Disorder

So, if we know that the biological imperative (reward) to finish tasks isn’t present in bipolar disorder, then just how do tasks get finished?

That’s what I’ll discuss next time when I write about Tips for Finishing Tasks with Bipolar Disorder.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

, , , ,


Join the conversation → Add yours

1 Trackback

  • Delayed Gratification | - […] the subject a few days ago in my post Unfinished Projects . The post I’m referring to is Why Can’t We…
Get Your FREE EBook

Get Your FREE EBook

My newsletter contains mental health news and research, speaking engagements and more. By subscribing, you'll get access to a FREE eBook on coping skills.

Thank you for subscribing. Look for an email to complete your subscription.