Attention and ADHD

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. However, the name “Attention Deficit” is slightly deceptive as ADHD is more about how attention is controlled rather than an actual shortage of attention. It is tricky for someone with ADHD to focus on the most important thing at any given moment since it’s hard to filter out the less important things that are occurring in the environment.

For example, if you are having a conversation with a friend, in an ideal world you would focus on them so they know you are listening and that listening to them is important to you. Yet it’s hard to do that when you can hear a siren going off in the distance, people are moving around in your peripheral vision and your phone is vibrating in your pocket.

The perfect way to illustrate that ADHD is not about a “deficit” of attention is hyper-focusing. Hyper-focus is the ability to focus intently on one activity for hours at a time. When an activity interests you, your focus is exceptionally strong and the rest of the world disappears into the background. Hyper-focusing, like distractibility, is thought to be due to low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Hyper-focus can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a gift in the sense that it allows you to make enormous headway into projects in a way that a non-ADHDer can only dream of. The downside is that if you have other tasks you are supposed to be doing, they can get left by the wayside.

Here are some ways to make hyper-focusing work for you:

1. Fill your life with activities you enjoy as much as possible.
2. With tasks that you have to do, make them as interesting as possible for yourself. For example, the famous swimmer Michael Phelps hated reading and math when he was in school. To make these activities interesting and compelling, Michael’s resourceful mom gave him the Sports section of the newspaper to read and customized math problems to cater to his interest, such as “If you swim one meter per second, how long would it take to swim 800 meters?”
3. After you have done a boring task or two, do one of your hyper-focus tasks as a reward.
4. If you are doing a task that you know you are going to hyper-focus on, yet have other commitments, set an external reminder, such as a timer, cell phone alarm or person, to physically remind you that it’s time to move on.
5. Enjoy the gift of hyper-focus. When channeled in the right direction, it can allow you to excel in life.

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