March 21, 2023

Understanding Executive Functions - Self-Motivation

I’m so relieved to be wrapping up the last episode in the executive function series. Episode 203 focuses on self-motivation, which is quite funny seeing as how I have felt very little of it to get this series done. 

The timing of this episode couldn’t be more perfect, however, because we are in the last few weeks before taxes are due! Many of you adults with ADHD may be especially struggling with the motivation to beat that deadline, and I’m here to explain why.

It all comes down to our lack of dopamine, but that doesn’t mean we are lazy or a lost cause for productivity. A customized cocktail of support can help us improve in this impaired executive function.

I provide several tips in the episode for improving motivation through determination. Three of these include:

  1. Talking to your doctor about medically increasing your dopamine
  2. Setting up rewards systems for yourself
  3. Joining a coaching program, like FOCUSED

Listen to this episode,  and please share with a friend who could also benefit!



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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain, unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hey, what’s up, this is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated, I am caffeinated. And I’m ready to roll. Hello, hello, hello, I’m back at you today, with the final executive functioning episode.

Hallelujah, let us pop a bottle of champagne, throw a frickin party because I am so so relieved that this series is over. I’m no events, but I hated every second of it. I’m so glad that it is almost over. If you didn’t catch the episode titled What to do when your goal is not exciting, you can hear the process that I went through at the beginning stages of planning out this series. And it is so adorable that I thought that this was going to be quick and easy and fun. And I would just be able to get these done in like, you know, a couple hours. And it’s just real cute. That really shows a couple things lack of self awareness, which is a deficient executive functioning, lack of problem solving skills, deficient executive functioning, I mean, it’s just so obvious how my own executive functioning deficiencies like played into this.

But here’s what I know. When you decide that you want to do something, and you are values driven, like you know exactly why you’re doing it, and why you want to do it. And then you are willing to tolerate discomfort and you are okay with just letting go of the fantasy of motivation, and just pulling in willingness determination. You can get it done, you can get it done. That’s a little preview of where we’re going to be going today. Okay, so we’re gonna be talking about what is motivation? And why as ADHD? Or are we motivated to do the things that we want to do, but not the things that are boring, or mundane, but like are still important, like taxes? And how in the world can we hijack our brains so that we can get ourselves to do the things that like, are excruciating, but that are really necessary tasks. And that’s the age old question, isn’t it? So many of you identify as lazy, because you struggle to motivate yourselves. And today I hope to dispel that identity because I do not believe that you are lazy. You hear me? You listening? You Yes, you. You’re not lazy. I can say that with 100% certainty. You are not lazy. If you were lazy. You wouldn’t be listening to a podcast about ADHD and how to motivate yourself. Lazy people do not do self development. Lazy people do not try to better themselves, you are trying to develop yourself. You are not lazy. Okay. All right, well, you know, coming in hot right away, like I don’t know how else to do it. So that’s where we’re at. But as we get rolling, before we really get into the meat of the episode, guess what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna take a moment for an ad. That’s right. It’s an ad, I’m gonna do it.

Now, if you listen to last week’s episode about self awareness, you heard just a teeny tiny bit about my drama regarding ads on this podcast. And you know, I’m just gonna keep talking about it, because I don’t know how else to process it. And this is just this is just the truth. Okay, so I struggle with rejection sensitivity, which by the way, we’re going to be talking about in the coming weeks, and every once in a while, I’ll get a negative podcast review saying that I advertise my program too much. And I’ve allowed that to get into my head. And so I’ve really pulled back from promoting a successful proven coaching program that’s helped over 2000 adults with ADHD, because I’m scared. That’s just the truth. I’m just scared and I’m telling you this, I don’t need sympathy at all. I’ve got a great life and fear is just part of the price that we pay. It’s it’s totally fine. But I’m just telling you to like highlight my humanity and giving you a window into why things are inconsistent around here when it comes to ads. It’s just a little window Okay, just like you, I hate getting negative feedback. And I really want to make everyone happy. And because of that, I’ve been doing the ADHD community a disservice. Because I’ve been withholding I’ve been withholding from you. So here I go. If you’re an adult with ADHD who’s looking for support, you’ve got to come join my group coaching program focused. This program has proven to work for adults with ADHD. As soon as you join, you get four courses immediately that you can binge and you get access to our encouraging and very supportive and kind community of adults with ADHD. In addition, there are three to five live calls each week on varying topics and two of those are with me, always, I’m always doing at least two calls a week. In the program, we often have guest experts come in to teach and serve. And if you’ve been listening to these executive functioning episodes, and realizing how much you really do struggle with executive function focused is the perfect place to improve your self awareness, your emotional regulation, your time management and your problem solving skills.

Now I want to shout out my client, Ricky, who’s been in focus for quite a while now she’s really active in our community adore her. We’ve seen her go through a couple jobs because of her ADHD and this post, made my heart sing. So Ricky says, I’m awesome at what I do. But I was late to work yesterday that I remembered Kristen’s words. And she’s quoting me here. This is okay, whatever, and she’s quoting me, C’s get degrees asked me how I know and quote. So Ricky continues, I got to work, and I effing rocked it reminded myself that yeah, I’m late. Sometimes I have ADHD. That happens. But I’m a great server, and I’m not letting shame or guilt ruin my day. Yes, love, love, love, love watching Ricky evolve into someone who can regulate herself and totally rock a day at work after feeling shame and guilt is one of the greatest joys of my life. She’s learning and growing. And you can too. So listener, come join us and focused, go to I have to learn more. That’s the end of the ad. What do you think? Did you survive?

did I survive? I’m not sure. Okay, let’s continue. Motivation, self motivation. Before we really dive into it, as per usual, we’re going to review what executive functions are. Because as someone with ADHD, you likely have to hear something like 7000 times in 100 different ways in order for it to really stick. So we’re going to review this again, executive functions are the set of skills that work together to help us or in our case, as ADHD ears not help us accomplish tasks and pursue goals. Now, ADHD is much more than an attention deficit. In fact, ADHD ears have just as much attention as the next person. But we struggle to regulate our attention and focus it on the right things at the right time. This is because our weak executive function skills are not helping us to accomplish tasks and pursue goals, okay, they’re very weak. And so our focus goes in many different directions, instead of the right direction.

Now, executive functions are housed in the frontal lobe of our brain. And research has shown that that area of the brain literally for someone with ADHD is smaller than those of typical brains. Our frontal lobe isn’t the same as everyone else’s. It’s got some deficiencies. And of course, that affects our executive functioning skills. So here are the six executive functions. These skills include inhibition, working memory, emotional regulation, problem solving, self awareness, and self motivation, which is what we’re gonna be talking about today. All of these skills can be improved with a cocktail of support. I thought that was kind of cute that I wrote a cocktail of support, like, it’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of things. And you get to choose what that combination of things is. So could be medication therapy, coaching, and anything else that you choose to pursue to support yourself.

Now, today, we’re talking about self motivation, and I can’t wait. So let’s do it. What is motivation? The Oxford Dictionary defines motivation this way. It’s the general desire or willingness have someone to do something, the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. Now, as someone with ADHD, I’m sure you’ve noticed your general lack of desire and an willingness to do certain things. And this can be really confusing, because you may be motivated to do some things, but just not the priority thing in the moment. So you maybe need to get started working on your taxes, since it is tax season after all, but you have no desire or willingness to do. So instead, you feel a strong motivation to finally make that photo album that you’ve been putting off making from that vacation two years ago. And so you spend six hours compiling photos and formatting them. And at the end of the day, you do have a photo album, but you don’t have your taxes done. And so then the shame and the guilt spiral start because the priority task was not completed. And thus the cycle continues. So let’s have a chat. Why do we struggle with motivation? Why does someone with ADHD struggle with motivation more than the typical human? First and foremost, we have less dopamine in our brain. And actually, like, more accurately, we have fewer dopamine transmitters. There’s a lot of science behind this. And listen, this is not my area of expertise, my area of expertise is reading the research and synthesizing it in a way that is digestible for you as the ADHD listener. So we’re not going to get super technical about dopamine transmitters and neurotransmitters and all of the different reward centers in the brain because I just don’t think that’s the point. The overarching point here is that we have less dopamine, which means that the ADHD brain prioritizes short term payoff over long term goals, we struggle to feel any kind of reward system about long term goals. Even if that long term goal will ultimately provide a bigger reward than the thing that’s right in front of us, it’s going to feel good. So because of our lack of dopamine, we struggle so much to delay gratification, and to pursue long term goals. Not only does less dopamine make it harder for us to pursue long term goals.

But it also makes it harder for us to do the mundane tasks that just need to be done all the time. For example, paying bills, doing the dishes, cleaning out and organizing things, keeping your car tidy, maybe doing the things at work that you’ve kind of labeled as like stupid, you’re going to really struggle to do the mundane tasks of life because you don’t have a reward system that is functioning properly. Because you have less dopamine than the typical brain. That’s a big deal. Okay, you are not lazy, can you can you turn up the volume, can you Pump up the jam because you need to hear this, you are not lazy. You don’t have a functioning reward system, you have less dopamine in your brain, your reward center is not working properly. That means that the things that need to be done do not make you feel good in the same way that a neurotypical is going to get a shot of dopamine from doing the dishes, or neurotypical is going to get a shot of dopamine from like, getting the trash out on time or whatever. Like all of the mundane things like going to the grocery store feels like death sometimes to someone with ADHD and yet a neurotypical is just like, Oh, this feels good. So I want you to understand that you are not lazy, you just have a reward system that does not function properly. Okay, that was a big one. Next, why do we struggle with motivation? ADHD errs will often feel a sense of paralysis because of our deficient executive functioning skills. So remember, your executive functioning skills, each of these sets of skills work together to help you accomplish tasks and pursue goals.

But your executive functioning skills are deficient and so you don’t have skills that are able to work together and function properly to help you accomplish tasks and pursue goals. And so you can often feel a sense of overwhelm and paralysis because you literally do not have the skills to execute the tasks. Think about everything that goes into getting out the door on time. Okay, this is something that all ADHD are struggle with. And a lot of times we are not motivated to get to a job that we don’t love or even if we do love our job, we’re not motivated to get there on time. And so we can feel a sense of paralysis because from a wakeup time to get in my car and leave for work time, there are 7 million tasks that need to be completed. And we struggle to organize and prioritize those tasks, we struggle to have the self awareness to see when we’re struggling. And when we need help, we struggle to inhibit ourselves from doing fun things that we want to do like scroll Instagram, or like play with our makeup, instead of just like being efficient with getting it done. We struggle with nonverbal and verbal working memory, meaning we have a hard time keeping the the priority task in the front of our brain, we have a hard time making a plan, and thinking things through. We struggle with emotional regulation. And so if we’re not feeling amazing, we’re going to really struggle to get out of the funk. Okay, so if you wake up in a funk, it’s going to be very hard for you to regulate yourself, self soothe, and just get done, what needs to get done so that you can leave on time. So all of these executive functions are are kind of working against us instead of working for us. And therefore, we can feel a very overwhelming sense of paralysis. That one just really hurt my heart. It really hurts my heart, because I know so many of you are struggling. And I know, so many of us are just really feeling stuck and paralyzed. And I want you to know, it’s not because you’re lazy. It’s because you have less dopamine than the average human. And your executive functions are not working for you. They’re working against you, as my client, Jenny says, my executives are not functioning. Okay. All right, let’s move on.

A lot of times, people with ADHD struggle with motivation, because our motivation and focus is interest based. Now, this is the part where we acknowledge that ADHD can come with, like some strengths, I hate to even say it, because it is so debilitating, and it is so hard. But if we can kind of hack the fact that our focus is interest based, and if we can arrange our lives around the fact that our focus is interest based, we can get a lot of stuff done. But here’s the problem. When your motivation and your focus is interest based, and you’re working at a job that you don’t love, and you don’t find interesting, you’re going to really, really struggle to get the basics done. When your focus and motivation is interest based, and you’re trapped in, let’s say, high school, having to you know, accomplish all of these tasks and sit in class. I mean, how many of us really struggled in high school, not because we weren’t smart enough, but because our focus is interest based and we weren’t interested, like, I’m going to be the first to raise my hand and say that was me. So part of hacking our ADHD is really being conscious to set up our lives in a way where we, we care deeply about our work, we care deeply about what we’re doing. And then motivation really does come. We’re gonna talk more about that later. Another reason why we struggle with motivation is because we struggle with emotional regulation. When we are overwhelmed, or feeling massive amounts of boredom, or depression or anxiety, and we can’t regulate it, manage it, self soothe, we’re going to be paralyzed, there is no way that we are going to be able to get ourselves to do the thing that needs to be done, unless we use massive amounts of bullying.

And that’s not really nice to bully ourselves. It’s also not sustainable, and it leads to a lot of burnout. I just want to put a plug in for learning how to regulate your emotions. Because if you can feel overwhelmed or bored, notice it, process it, regulate it, soothe it and shift it into a more useful emotion you will be able to overcome motivation struggles. All right, the last three are really, really quick. Why do we struggle with motivation? We suck at working memory, it’s really hard to remember even what our priorities are, and so it’s hard to stay motivated about something that you forgotten about. Next, we have way too many things on our plate that we don’t want to do. We’re going to talk more about this later. But listen, that is a big reason why we struggle with motivation is because we’re shutting on ourselves and telling ourselves that we should be doing XYZ when we really don’t Hear about XYZ. And listen, that matters. For those of us with ADHD, we need to do a deep dive into our values and make sure we are aligned with what we are telling ourselves that we should be doing. And lastly, a reason why we struggle with motivation. And we just keep saying, I know I should do this, or I want to do this, but I’m just not motivated, is that we’ve never been told that motivation actually isn’t necessary. And I can’t wait to have that conversation. Motivation is not actually necessary. Let’s just throw it in the trashcan. Let’s just be done with it. It’s not even necessary. Okay, more on that. Let’s go. How can we improve our motivation? After I just told you, it’s not necessary? I see. I see the dilemma there. I do see it. Okay. But I want you to hang with me, I totally believe that you can hang with me here. Okay, so how can we improve our motivation? Number one, number one, first and foremost, take your ADHD seriously, please, can you please treat it? Can you please understand that ADHD is robbing you of your motivation and your ability to just do the things that you want to do? Do the things that you know, need to be done? It’s not because you’re lazy. It’s because you have a D, H, D. It’s not an excuse. By the way. It’s just an explanation. I’m not saying like, Oh, you just like get off the hook. And now you just like, you don’t need to be held responsible. No, I’m saying actually, this is a greater responsibility. Knowing you have ADHD, now you have the responsibility to take it seriously.

Now you have the responsibility to treat it. Now you have the responsibility to educate yourself, your family members, your friends, on how to help you with your ADHD. So I am in no way trying to abdicate you of responsibility. I’m actually trying to communicate that this is a greater responsibility. When you know you have ADHD, you have a lot more responsibility a lot more, because now you got to do something about it. Okay, so treat your ADHD. When it comes to motivation, treating your ADHD medically is the foundation of increasing your dopamine, okay, it is the foundation of being able to regulate that neuro transporter, and being able to have the amount of dopamine that just levels the playing field between you and someone who’s neurotypical, we are not getting a leg up. When we are taking medication, we are simply leveling the playing field, we are making it so that we’re not starting miles behind the starting line, we are able to just like be at the same level as our peers. This is why so many of us with ADHD feel like we’re working so much harder than everyone else is because we are we have to work so much harder to have motivation. We have to work so much harder to get things done. We have to work so much harder just to accomplish tasks and pursue our goals. And so if you are someone who has really struggled with the idea of medication, I understand I really do understand, but I want to just give another plea for it is simply leveling the playing field so that we are at the same place on the starting line and not miles behind everyone else. Okay, I’m done. I’m done. I’m done with the medication. You can all breathe a sigh of relief. I’m done talking about it. Does medication solve everything? For sure? No. And this is why I said at the beginning of the episode that we’re going to need a cocktail of support. Now, Dr. Russell Barkley calls this scaffolding, we are going to need in addition to medication, a lot of scaffolding. And so this might look like therapy, different types of therapy, it might look like coaching, joining my coaching program, it can look different ways for different people, the scaffolding can be really tailored to your individual needs, which is really, really beautiful. Part of that scaffolding is perhaps working with someone to determine what do you really want to do, like having a conversation around values and what you care about and what you really want to do because I know that most ADHD errs are people pleasers and I know that most ADHD errs do things out of obligation and are shitting on themselves and have borrowed tasks and obligations and thoughts and expectations from society and parents and teachers and partners and everyone but themselves and so this leads To a lot of paralysis and lack of motivation, because we’re not actually aligned with a lot of things on our to do list. And I have a theory, my theory is that ADHD errs are allergic to being out of alignment. And this is part of the reason why we struggle so much with paralysis is because so many of us have things on our lists that we’re not even aligned with. So like, let’s just go through the daily tasks. Let’s just go through the list and make sure that it’s something that we want to do that it’s something that we care about. Now, do you care about taxes? If I asked you that you would probably say, No, I don’t care about taxes.

But is it aligned with your values to pay your taxes? Probably. So when you have something like taxes, that you’re just like, I don’t care about this, I don’t want to do it, I want you to really question Is it true that you don’t care about it? Is it aligned with your VAT values to like, participate in tax evasion? Cuz I’m guessing no. Right. And so taxes probably are important to you. And so like, maybe start talking to yourself, like they are, maybe start reminding yourself, why the things on your list are important, is doing the laundry important to me? No, until I don’t have any clean clothes to wear. And then it’s really important to me, totally fair, that is totally, totally fair. So I would just go through each of the tasks that you have put on your list that you are telling yourself, you should do and make sure that it’s values aligned. Right. Next, I want you to set up so many rewards systems, like you need to set up all of the rewards, you should be rewarded for doing the small things, you should be applauded for doing the small things. In fact, you should get more applause for doing the small things than you do for doing the big hard, complex things. Because I know that the big hard complex things are usually easier for the ADHD brain than the seemingly small, easy thing. So set up tons of rewards for yourself. I’ve shared this on the podcast before, but I make my husband High five me all the time. I am like, I did the dishes, and I go up to him. And I’m like, Hi vibe. And he’s like, I just, I don’t really know. I want to high five you for doing like basic stuff. And I’m like, too bad. The basic stuff is really hard for me. I need some dopamine gave me that high five. Okay, so I want you to set up tons of rewards for yourself knowing that your dopamine is deficient and therefore, you’re going to need to externalize that reward system, it’s not going to always come from within

she preaching she’s Britain and I know she is okay. Obviously, this goes without saying but well, let’s just go ahead and say it, we’re going to break down the tasks into really small parts, okay. And that’s just like, that’s kind of like, across the board that applies to everything with ADHD, we really need to break down the tasks into small parts and reward ourselves for each individual, small, small, small baby step. Okay. We’re going to externalize the motivation as much as we can. And I really encourage you to like, externalize the validation, like, Hey, can you just cheer for me because I just did this really, really hard thing for example, every week, I record a podcast and I hate it. I love having a podcast I love it. It is the joy of my life.

But I hate having to like organize my thoughts research, write it out, like make myself sit down and record it. It is so hard and so I set up lots of reward systems for myself. I have a oh my gosh, this is too much information. I’m gonna say it. I ordered a sub from Jersey Mike’s subs. This podcast is not sponsored by Jersey Mike’s subs. It is sponsored by my focused ADHD coaching program however, I ordered a sub from Jersey Mike’s it’s a mini Italian with jalapeno peppers. It’s going to be amazing it is waiting for me all I have to do is get through the next like 20 minutes and I can go and get that I’m going to enjoy it that is like a such a stupid example of a reward and I can’t wait and it is helpful because I’m hungry so I’m going to get this podcast recorded. Okay, let’s move on. Another thing that you can do to help yourself with motivation is embrace the fact that working at the last minute works. So many ADHD errs feel massive amounts of shame and resistance to the fact that they work at the last minute it and N cache, I hear you guys guilting yourself like, yeah, I got it done.

But it was like right at the last minute. And I’m like, who cares? Your brain needed the urgency of that deadline in order to give you the dopamine hit necessary to get moving? Who cares? If you’ve got it done at the last minute? Can we just start embracing it? Can we just start using deadlines for us instead of against us? Can we just start being nice? We just like, like, basic human kindness to ourselves and be like, hey, great job. Hey, it’s not a big deal that you work at the last minute, you actually get you go so fast that the last minute it’s admirable, keep doing it, keep working at the last minute, who cares?

Okay, consider using the deadlines for you, instead of against you. I just I really feel like this isn’t important that that pause was intentional. This is an important piece of this. Stop shaming yourself for working at the last minute and just schedule yourself to work at the last minute, give yourself plenty of time. But schedule it like yeah, I’m going to do this at the last minute. For example, I used to shame myself for not preparing in advance for my teaching classes in focused. And I would be like gathering information and researching and like making notes, like 15 minutes before the class, and I would beat myself up. I can’t believe I’m doing this again. Why? Why am I doing this just right before the class and then I realized, Hello, I am finally feeling like this is urgent. My dopamine is kicking in, and I’m doing the thing I’m always prepared to teach. Who cares? If I’m preparing at the last minute, I always do a good job teaching. I’m always prepared to teach. Who cares? If it’s 15 minutes before the class? Or 15 minutes yesterday? What difference does it make, I’m going to use the deadline for me instead of against me. I really want to encourage you to lower your expectations. And don’t wait around for motivation to come. It’s not gonna come I want you to expect not to be motivated. Is that the right way to say? Or is it expect to not be motivated either way, just expect that motivation isn’t really going to be a thing. I want you to normalize the discomfort, of boredom, and of overwhelm, and of all of those yucky feelings that keep us paralyzed.

Those are just a part of our lives as people with ADHD. And I used to wait around and kind of beg motivation to appear. I really want to do this, but I’m just not motivated. I wish I was motivated, but I’m just not motivated. Who cares? If it’s something that is values aligned? It is if it’s something that you care about, if it’s something that you know, you want to do, who cares if you’re not motivated? Do it. Anyway. Here’s what I mean. Except that motivation isn’t really a thing. For those of us with ADHD. It, it appears once in a while, but it’s unpredictable. We never know when it’s going to come and we don’t know how long it’s going to stay. So it’s not really going to be a big part of your life. Okay, I’m sorry to say it, but it’s just not so. Let go of that expectation and begin to develop determination. Begin to develop an alignment with your goals, begin to develop the willingness to go after the thing, even when it doesn’t feel great.

But because you logically know this is something that matters to me. You’re going to develop that willingness this matters to me I am willing to feel crappy while I do it. Okay, so for example taxes Do you know what matters to me not going to jail? That matters to me and so even though taxes are the worst even though I wish I didn’t have to pay them even though like I’m not I just I’m not really sure that I’m doing it right. I am values aligned with like not breaking the law. I am values aligned with not going to jail. I’m values aligned with like keeping my company really clean, and making sure that I’m above reproach that’s values aligned for me. Am I motivated to do my taxes? No. Am I determined to get them done? Yeah. I am I’m determined to get them done. Am I motivated to drop off all of my tax documents to my accountant, which I did this morning in a very cute green folder? Am I motivated to do that? No, not at all. Am I willing to do it? Because I know that it’s values aligned for me. And then I’d rather do that than, like, suffer the consequences of not doing it. Yeah. And so even though motivation isn’t there, it doesn’t really matter. What I want you to think about is, what do I care about? And am I willing to do it? While bored? Am I willing to do it while overwhelmed? Am I willing to do it while you fill in the blank, whatever emotion comes up for you? So motivation can just be replaced by values? What do I care about? What do I want to accomplish? And then those things, I really encourage you to externalize them, make a list that you can see, put it sticky notes everywhere, this is what you care about. Stay focused on these things.

Okay. Who, this is a big one. I’m surprised this was so long, but apparently, I had a lot to say. Thank you so much for being here with me this week. I cannot wait to move on from this executive function series. Seriously, I am doing a happy dance. It is over. I did it not because I was motivated. But because I was values aligned with it because I cared about it because I knew it was important. I was willing and determined to get it done. I can’t wait to talk to you next week. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, but you still don’t feel like you’re reaching your potential you’ve got to join focused. It’s my monthly coaching membership where I teach you how to tame your wild thoughts and create the life that you’ve always wanted. No matter what season of life you’re in or where you are in the world focused is for you. All materials and call recordings are stored in the site for you to access at your convenience. Go to I have for all the info

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