I have a son who has ADHD. He is very passionate and loves to work really hard at anything he does, but he has serious trouble focusing on anything which involves a non-trivial amount of (perceived) difficulty. For example, he loves gaming and he is always really passionate at any games he plays. He will work for weeks or even months to reach the top of the scoreboards and he'll spend tireless hours at work to max out his character. He grinds so much in the game that it's more like real work than play. But he doesn't see it that way--the reward aspect of the game makes it worth it to him.
However, there are other subjects he wants to pursue which are actually productive. For example, two such interests are music-composition and game development. He has a wonderful musical talent--he can learn to play most instruments very quickly and he has a good ear for what sounds right. Consequently, he expressed a desire to compose music. But he immediately became discouraged when he realized that composing music involves a bit of thought (boring!) and also a bit of theory, so he can learn how chords fit together, etc. Once he hit this bump of difficulty, he immediately became disillusioned and lost his former desire to compose music. But periodically, he still expresses an interest in it, yet once he remembers the element of work involved, he loses that interest again.
Similarly, he struggles with game development. This one is more serious for him. He has a strong desire to develop games and he constantly comes up with neat ideas for different games to develop that are quite unique and marketable. However, this one has yet more bumps of difficulty involved. He detests the idea of sitting still and thinking about a problem. Debugging simple problems can be a nightmare for him, because he doesn't want to focus. He doesn't like having to look things up in the documentation to figure out how a method works, for example. All of this usually overwhelms him and he slips back into compulsive video-game-playing and watching endless amounts of Youtube.
Of course this is entirely normal behavior and I would be inclined to just let him do as he wishes. I have no desire to force him to pursue activities he does not enjoy. But here's the catch: he's not satisfied with just playing games and watching Youtube. He actively comes to me and tells me that he is depressed and unhappy with his constant cycle of consuming entertainment and he wants to do something more productive. The remorse for game playing and Youtube is clear. He immediately identifies his love/hate hobbies (gamedev and music) as his go-to solution to this problem--yet, the minute he encounters difficulty while trying to rekindle his interest in the productive hobby, he gives up and goes back to games again. And he inevitably, eventually approaches me again expressing his remorse/depression and dissatisfaction with his time spent on constant games and entertainment.
How do I handle this situation/help my son? I want him to be happy, and I spend a lot of time trying to teach him while he is programming or making music, but if he just quits whenever the going gets a little rough then he'll never have the satisfaction he wants. The fact is, no matter how much I try to gamify hobbies like gamedev, it will never compete with the adrenaline rush and flashing colors of a real video game. As long as his hobbies are split between addictive fun stuff, and not-quite-as-fun yet productive pursuits, I don't see how he can choose the better option over the funner option.
It's like he wants to eat his broccoli because he knows it's good for him, yet he can't resist the cookies and ends up eating a whole jar. Yet then he comes back and expresses guilt and pain for having eaten the whole jar and wants me to pull out more broccoli and feed it to him. But after a few bites, he puts the broccoli down (because it's gross) and goes hunting again for more cookies. The cycle repeats more-or-less ad infinitum.
What can I do to help a kid like this? I've tried a number of options, like positive reinforcement, rewards, encouragement, and even punishment, but nothing seems to work (at least not reliably). I'm sure this has to be a fairly normal problem, but I don't know how to find out what other people do in situations like this.