Hyperfocus

In a previous article, I discussed how people with ADD or ADHD actually do not always have a ‘deficit’ of attention, but rather a difference.

One big difference in the attentional abilities of people with ADD or ADHD is the ability to hyperfocus.

What is hyperfocus?

My definition of hyperfocus is: the ability to completely and utterly focus on one topic or issue, often to the exclusion of others, with precise and productive concentration, until the end result is achieved.

“Wait…” you may say. “That sounds really productive. That sounds like tremendous concentration!”

It is.

Yes, people with ADD or ADHD can actually hyperfocus and create tremendous focus, achievements and results.

How?

They need to develop the skill of hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus can actually come out if there is a natural crisis. This could be someone is in danger and you need to pay attention to save them. This could be that the boss needs a report done last minute and you are the only one who can help to save the team.

In a school setting, often times procrastination leads to a ‘crisis’, which then lends itself to the increased stimulation needed to get the job done, and this paves the way for hyperfocus to come out and help out.

How can you use hyperfocus regularly to improve your functioning?

  • Set little deadlines, and focus on achieving them.
  • Use a timer to keep you going for a set period of time.
  • Make yourself accountable to others – so that getting something done as you’ve said you would becomes a matter of pride or honor.
  • Keep a journal to keep track or multiple goals your are aiming for – so that if and when you do start hyperfocusing, you won’t let other priorities become major crises.

The important point here is that when people have ADD or ADHD, there is actually more of a difference than a deficit in attention and one needs to learn to harness this difference to improve functioning.

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Comments

  1. I have a 10 yr.old boy with adhd,he is curently using SR Ridalin(40)daily for school. We do not medicate during weekends or school breaks so that we may see his own true personality,however,being unmedicated can be extreamly chalenging(as anyone dealing with adhd knows)….

    My question is..I am still trying to come up with an appropriate way of dealing with disapline when the situation calls for it(it calls for it alot). My son doesn’t seem to care about losing any of his privliges(video games,t.v,toys..etc.) or being sent to a private area or he may compleatly explode if he is sent to a private area and a bad decision he has made where he would get 10 -15 minutes of disapline now turns into 2 – 3 hours of disapline..

    I am having a really hard time with my son not taking responsibility for his actions, this is why his disapline ends up growing in length because he is exploding about not doing anything in the first place.

    Also, I really suspect that I may have adhd as well (which would explain my difficult childhood) which cuts my patience level to about a third of where I think I should be (lots of yelling going on here)…

    I don’t know if this question has been asked but it probably wouldn’t hurt to repeat it if it has.

    Thank you

    Lisa Rizzo

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for your comments and question.

    Here are a few thoughts:

    1) If the medication is working, talk to your doctor about continuing it 7 days a week. If it helps with the ADHD symptoms, it may help with the behavior as well.

    2) If the medicine is changing his personality, consider a different medicine. Potentially an amphetamine (like adderall) or a non-stimulant (like strattera) may help the ADHD without changing his personality. Talk to your doctor about this.

    3) When it comes to discipline – consider rewards first. In other words, reward good behavior for a while, and then move toward punishment of bad behavior.
    In my product, Secrets to ADHD Success, Dr. Russell Barkley and I cover some great strategies along these lines: http://www.secretstoadhdsuccess.com

    4) If you have Adult ADD, talk to your doctor about getting assessed. If you do have this, and you get help for yourself – your patience level will increase, and this can help you dealing with your son a lot too!

    I wish you all the best.
    Dr. Kenny

  3. Lisa,
    There is so much informal learning taking place that I feel too that medication is a 7 days a week effort. As far as parenting goes , most approaches are about choosing your battles and there is a big preference to positive reinforcements avoiding negative consequences. Time outs if used should be short as possible even seconds just to help the kid change gears and get him back on track. usually positive behavior leads to better positive behavior , very little is achieved making a kid feel bad. For many kids consequences just reinforce their perceptions of you being unfair and the focus becomes the inforcement of the consequence and not the behavior itself . For me accountability is not paying a price ( a kid may prefer to pay the price and not change ) but a commitment to the future , coming up with a better plan and once having a vision for the future and relationships are in tact , you can help the kid try a fix what he did , some restitution. I love this quote from author Eli Newberger
    The method of withdrawing privileges is essentially negative: I can’t communicate with you, and so I’ll hurt you if you don’t mind me. The positive counterpoint is: We all make mistakes, and you can trust me to help you do better in the future.
    Dr Handelsman has recommended also the explosive child .
    Here are some links to various articles that may help. We need to learn to be problem solvers if we want our kids to be better at problem solving. We need to create a happy , relaxed atmosphere, lots of music , be less controlling and flow with the kid, lowering the rope. There is no magic bullet , education is a long process . I highly recommend a older brother , buddy-tutor etc

    http://www.explosivekids.org/dcforum/DCForumID2/130.html -handout
    http://www.explosivekids.org/dcforum/DCForumID2/112.html – Greene interview
    read chapt 3 from Treating explosive kids by Ross Greene
    http://www.guilford.com/excerpts/greene.pdf
    http://www.adhdlibrary.org/library/a-new-approach-for-handling-explosive-children/
    http://www.millsconsulting.com/MFT/pigsfly.html

    http://www.explosivekids.org/dcforum/DCForumID2/79.html – Edward de Bono -problem solving skills
    Myrna Shure http://thinkingchild.com/
    How to get your kid involved in problem solving”
    http://empathic-discipline.com/talk/YaBB.pl?num=1171442844
    Alfie Kohn – Unconditional parenting http://alfiekohn.org

    When discussing parenting you may look at 3 areas

    1 influence , control and relationship – our influence on our kids and this will become very apparent in the teenage years which can start 11+ depends really on the quality of the relationship and trust. Limit setting is most effective and becomes more of a self discipline when understanding are reached , the kid and you have examined and empathized with both your concerns , inductive learning than deductive learning. Relationship is not just sharing moments of success , praise , warmth , love but rather communication, dialog , feeling understood , giving a child a voice , respecting her as individual. Education and that is what parenting is all about , the word discipline comes from the latin to teach , hence the word disciple , a student etc ,

    2 Values – The kid uses thinking and understanding , and will integrate the values you are trying to teach, make them his own in his individual and unique way that gives expression to his personality and uniqueness. Here articles by Alfie Kohn – intrinsic motivation and reward vs what’s in it for me motivation.

    3 Life and various cognitive skills
    The way we talk with our kids is the greatest educational tool we have . We teach the life skills of getting along with people, problem solving skills and cognitive skills such as executive functions , language processing skills, cognitive flexibility, social skills, emotional regualtion skills. Educationalists are becoming more aware that teaching kids how to think is more important than giving information.

    Our relationship with others = empathy
    Our values – prosocial and being a contributor focusing on internal motivation and reward
    Our life skills
    are some of the important gifts we can pass on to our kids.

    If we become proactive parents, working on the front end , rather than reacting to situations that go wrong , we can develop a relationship that will ensure cooperation for both the child and parent’s emotional growth, development annd happiness. We have to focus on all the time with our kids , not only when things go wrong.

    Allan

  4. Hi,
    A short comment on kids being able to focus for hours on Tv , video games etc. There is a view that ADHD is where the right side of the brain is highly developed and the left side is immature. Visual skills are situated on the right side , so ADHD kids are very visual and can therefore concentrate for hours on TV , video games etc

    Allan

  5. Hi

    I have ADD and I used to be HYPER FOCUSED specially near the dead lines but quite often happened that after finishing my task I feel really frustrated.

    now whenever I want to focus I became anxious because I’m affraied that I put all of my energy on one task. probably I should find away to balance between but I don’t know how.

    and one thing more I’ve read somewhere that people with ADD if built a
    structure can improve their creativity but I don’t know if it’s true or not because in my case

    having the structure make me more bored but also not having structure make me nervous . and somehow I’m afraid of having the structure because I was also labled with OCD (attitude to be high structured).

    Just one thing more I read somewher the problem of people with ADD is that they don’t have self talk so they cannot organized themselves but I used to

    have self talk and quite good imagination but probably because it was too much it made me so introverted that my docter assumed I had Autism.

    but now I’m quite sure he was wrong after he labled me with Autism I try to escape from my inner world but as I also did’nt use to become sociable I wasn’t

    successful in the social relationship and it makes my self-esteem even worse
    and I also was frightened to dream but now I’m trying to make the balance between these.

    when I think about all of my experience I somehow think that it migth not be possible that someone has all of these desease together and I think in my case probably all of them comes from one root just trouble to live in moderate way.

    but it’s really aproblem if someone don’t live in moderate way?

    live in the exreme migth be dangarous and probably migth destroy someone life
    but it migth also make someone outstanding.

    so it migth worth if I just take risk and live in the way that I like but try also to accomplish my daily task, but someone these dailt task are too much that’s

    quite imposible to even finish them

  6. The downside is that hyperfocusing is a stressful way to work. This is because you must convince yourself that every task is urgent (or wait until it has become urgent). As a result, each task produces more stress than it would for someone without ADHD. Chronic stress takes it’s toll. It can result in sleep problems, immune dysregulation and depression. In addition, you can only hyperfocus on one thing at a time. For students taking multiple courses or adults working on more than one project, the other projects have to go on pause. This is not always practical. Therefore, managing multiple projects produces a whole new level of stress and difficulty.

  7. One of the 1st things I did when I realized I was ADHD was to get out of the attention surplus rat race, and measure my accomplishments not against my neighbor’s new car, or my friend’s promotion, but the impact on society that famous ADHDers like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, William Wrigley, all had. Felt lucky to be in the 4% of the population genetically disposed to create new things, rather than the 96% working as drones for someone else’s creation. Moreover, so many unsuccessful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with have attention surpluses, i.e. would be an “S” on a Myers-Briggs test, and think starting a business is about lawyers, establishing corporate operating procedures, or just building a product a market survey says is in demand, as opposed to seeing a need that’s invisible to everyone else.

    I have made a lot of progress recently, and have gotten a lot of recognition in my industry. The way I harvest my ADHD is to use hyperfocus as a tool. I don’t time anything or set clocks. Rather, I shut off my phone, close my e-mail client, and just focus exclusively on the particular task I’m toying with, whether it takes me 40 minutes or 5 hours. With hyperfocus, limiting time limits your accomplishments.

    As a matter of practice, the onset of darkness usually alerts me to the passing of time, but if you start trying to work according to the 9 to 5 attention surplus clock, you might as well get a cubicle job with the other drones.

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