Attention Deficit

The blessing of a diagnosis clarity. It’s validation, it’s a community of others dealing with similar circumstances.

A diagnosis says, ‘You experience this particular thing, it’s real, and other people also experience it.’

And the more you discuss your diagnosis, the more you seek the experiences of others who share your experience and begin to understand your diagnosis more deeply, a character starts to form from its description.

The great thing about this is that it can help you strategise around the disorder.

The problem is that it gives you someone else to blame when things go wrong.

I slip into this thinking with ADHD all the time.

‘My ADHD doesn’t let me focus when I want to.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t do that thing I was supposed to, my ADHD means I get distracted sometimes.’

‘I forgot what time we were meant to meet – ADHD.’

These are comfortable thoughts, but they’re bullshit.

I can force myself to focus whenever I need to. I just need to isolate potential distractions more-so than most.

If I forgot to do something, or what time I was meant to be somewhere, it’s because I didn’t write it down like I should have, or I didn’t prioritise it high enough. ADHD certainly doesn’t make these things easier to do, but it’s me who lets people down.

I am in no way seperate from my ADHD.

Personifying it, giving it character, and imagining what its motivations are can all be helpful ways to frame the diagnosis and help explain it to other people.

Its usefulness ends at the point where I start believing that its character exists outside of my own.

I’m no doctor or psychologist, but I’d be willing to bet that the same goes for a whole lot more than ADHD.

I returned to my office three times today because of things I’d forgotten to do or take with me.

Not because I hadn’t considered the things, but because each time I left, I was thinking about what I needed to do after I’d left the office, and each time one of the things slipped my mind.

We each only have so much executive bandwidth with which to function.

I held myself up because I didn’t allow myself the focus to finish one task fully before trying to leap into the next.

Look closely and you’ll see people do this all the time.

Rushing from task to task without clear direction – often leaving chaos (and mess) in their tracks.

I try to catch myself when my mind races past the present, but it can be hard in a life so overflowing with distraction.

Be careful not to live too far into the future, lest you undermine your present.

When the quantity of work required to achieve a planned outcome increases disproportionately to the resources you have available to achieve said outcomes, you have scope creep.

Scope creep is entirely common and can be absolutely paralysing, but is totally avoidable.

Scope Creep is often a product of poor planning.

Before commencing any project, you should have a clear list of specific tasks which need to be completed in order to achieve the outcome you’re working towards.

The specificity and tangibility of these tasks is directly related to how difficult it will be for scope to creep.

Vague goals generate vague tasks which lead to not much getting done.

Vagueness is the enemy of progress. Which is why we all have a friend who is still writing that ‘thing’ they have been working on and adapting for years. I have been that friend. In many ways, I still am that friend. But I’m working on it.

More specifically, I’m working on setting goals which are strategic, time sensitive, achievable and meaningful.

Being busy is easy.

So easy that you can live in a perpetual state of busyness without actually doing a whole lot. To stay feeling busy, just make sure that you’re always focussed on at least two tasks.

Productivity requires the opposite. It doesn’t feel as good to tell people how little you’ve been focussing on, but focussing purely on a few important things, one at a time, will get you much further.

When people ask how I’ve been, I’m often guilty of responding with, “Busy, but good.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Is what people usually say. But it’s not good. Being ‘busy’ is a waste of the two most valuable assets we have; our time and our attention.

Protect them from the distractions which would prey on your productivity and feed your sense of busy at all costs.

We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.

Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.

In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.

Image result for paradox of choice schwartz

After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.

To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.

Which restaurant are you more likely to try?

Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.

At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.

But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.

He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.

What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.

As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.

The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.

More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.

When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.

While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.

Do your best to find a balance.

Our attention is even more valuable than our time, and we trade it every day.

We live in an attention economy.

Businesses bid for it constantly. On billboards, backs of busses, and through buzzes in your pocket.

How frugal we are with our attention influences every aspect of our lives.

Where can you see your attention seeping through the gaps of things which don’t matter?

Good time management means nothing without good attention management.

Fail to focus your attention, and all that time you saved is waste.

Now’s the time to stocktake and trim the fat.

I’ve never been a fast reader.

In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.

This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.

I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.

The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.

When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.

Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.

Now we can!

By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.

Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.

I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.

But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.

There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.

It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.

Today was the first day I’ve ever ‘thrown’ clay on a pottery wheel.

Naturally, I wasn’t very good. But after four hours of incredibly rewarding hyper focus, I left at least 200x better at pottery than I when I arrived.

200x better than abysmal isn’t good, but it’s something.

Image result for throwing clay

This experience reminded me of two things;

  • Learning new skills that have tactile feedback loops can be an absolute delight for ADD/ADHD minds.
  • Being shit at stuff is awesome. Our weakest skills usually offer the largest opportunity for progress and growth.

I cannot recommend a pursuit or obsession like this highly enough to anyone who struggles to manage any form of attention deficit disorder.

In fact, any activity which involves a tactile element that you can’t afford to take your eyes off, which also has instant measurable outcomes is a winner.

At its core, ADD/ADHD is the chemical disruption of regular executive functions. This basically just means that we’re not great at resisting impulsivity; we find it harder to stay on the path towards accomplishing goals because every side street or alley way could be where our next adventure begins. Even when we know there’s nothing down the alley, we can’t always resist checking. Just in case.

Activities like pottery are such blessings because they promote healthy hyper-focus. The hyperfocus is built-in because as the wheel spins and your hands are moulding the wet clay in front of you, there’s not room for any other inputs. This feels exquisite to people who don’t get to feel this often.

Hyper-focus is like putting on noise cancelling headphones at a football game.

The background static dissipates and you’re left with nothing but yourself and the task at hand.

This applies to short term goals, and is why we forget stuff, but it’s also why many of us struggle to stay committed to meaningful long-term progress.

By constantly exposing yourself to your own hyper-focus through an activity like this, you become better at managing (and hopefully harnessing) it.

Getting the hang of this and finding ways to maximise the time you get to spend hyper-focussed on interesting activities and problems that you care about is the key to a satisfying ADD/ADHD life.

The few hours after a Jiu-Jitsu class are the most productive hours of my day because my brain is primed to work in a way that it doesn’t prime itself naturally- I suspect this is the same for potters.

If you’re in Perth and are in any way interested in where you can go to try this, check out Clay Make Studio. The staff were lovely and their pricing is totally affordable.

To pay proper attention to anything is to inevitably ignore everything else.

My head does not like this fact.

What if I’m missing something?

Did I forget to…

Has such and such responded to so and so?

Sometimes, if I have enough resistance to a certain task, I’ll bounce around it like this for hours, or even days.

75% of the assignments I’ve ever submitted have been submitted within ninety seconds of the due time.

Given that about 20% have been submitted late… That’s not a good statistic.

This infuriates me.

I’ll bounce around the thing I need to do until there are literally seconds to spare; until I have no option but to do the thing, and only the thing, until it’s done.

This is not procrastination. Well, it is, but it’s slightly more complicated.

Procrastination implies a conscious effort has been made to ignore the thing.

But usually, it’s when I’m actively trying to do the thing that I run into the most trouble.

I get tripped up the same psychology behind choice paralysis.

Choice paralysis is when you have the option of twenty-five seemingly identical toothpastes, and it takes much longer to decide which to buy when compared to deciding which bag of flour you need to buy.

It’s why people spend so much time turning over apples in the produce section; there’s too many to choose from.

My experience, and the experience of many others who struggle with attention deficit stuff, is that as soon as I meet a task which doesn’t offer a clear, immediate and rewarding feedback loop, my brain starts inventing toothpaste brands and throwing apples in the air for me to catch and inspect.

The worst part is that I can often feel it doing this.

I can know that I’m about to avoid a task that I actually want to complete.

I can feel my brain inventing the excuse. Logically I know that I don’t need the cup of tea, or that nothing important will have happened in the few minutes since I last checked my phone. But I can’t stop myself.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

I’m screaming ‘STOP! We need to do this work.’ But my brain runs the red light anyway.

Next thing I know I’m on the couch with a cup of cold tea I didn’t want telling myself that the video documenting the history of Japan will in some way contribute to my essay on negritude poetry due in forty-five minutes.

I then write like a maniac for forty-three minutes, frantically edit the worst mistakes out and submit some sub-par work with seconds to spare.

The solutions I have found to this issue are twofold, and both have to do with stakes;

First, if I tell someone I care about that I’m going to have something done by a certain time, and I know that they’ll check it or know if I don’t, more often than not I’ll do it.

I do not like letting people down. Social stakes work wonders.

This is why I write at cafes and train jiu-jitsu with friends at 6am.

If they’re expecting me to show, I’ll show. But I have never got out of bed at 6am just because I wanted to get some work done for my own sake.

Secondly, if I set deadline pressure before the time things are actually due, I’m far more likely to succeeded.

This can’t be half assed. There needs to be stakes for not completing by the deadline, or I’ll just extent the deadline to the actual deadline and practice the same unwilling procrastination.

For example; assignment is due Wednesday, but if I’m not finished by Monday night I don’t get to eat out with friends on Tuesday night.

This works sometimes, but is less effective than creating accountability through involving other people in my work.

I can still weassel my way out of any self defined deadline. I’m quite good at it.

To pay proper attention to anything, you have to make the thing worth your attention.

If it isn’t by nature, and you’re sure you still have to do it, find a way.

And if you have any better ways of managing this, let me know!

On average, it takes two months for a new behaviour to become automatic.

It’s 11:37pm, and I haven’t published this blog post yet. I got distracted with another project, and here we are.

I will publish before midnight. But I wish I’d given myself more time.

This particular feeling lingers with a bitter familiar aftertaste.

Many of us taste this feeling often.

Two months is a tremendous amount of time for someone with an attention deficit disorder to routinely achieve something.

I’ve only just managed to do this with early mornings (well, at least three early mornings a week), and it’s required taking on a huge amount of social responsibility to keep me accountable.

I can’t write consistently or get out of bed unless I know that someone else will be impacted if I don’t.

I still find this very silly. But there’s no telling that to my zombie brain when it has a trigger finger poised over my snooze button.

I think this is why I’ve always favoured tasks and jobs which commend impulsivity over large scale organisation.

I thrive in places where quick thinking and dynamic problem solving are required to float, and I flounder when I think I have a month to do something, or when I don’t think anyone else really minds if I’m not working.

I believe this is why I first dropped out of uni.

I believe this is why I burned through seven jobs in three years, but wasn’t fired from any.

I believe this is why it has taken so much effort to structure my life in a fulfilling way.

If you recognise this feeling, the lurching of anticipated regret as a deadline looms closer, I beg you to stop whatever it is you’re doing, and ask yourself this question;

What could I do right now, which I’ll be proud I did tomorrow morning?

And do it.

It’s 11:48. I’m calling it a night. If there are typos, I’m sorry.

I promise I’ll wake up proud I published this anyway.