This is a question we should be asking our ADHD selves on at least a daily basis. “What is it that has my attention?” One of the things that ADHD is identified by is a person’s lack of their ability to pay attention. The truth is, though, it is really the inability to inhibit attention. Go ahead… Ask me what I mean. I’m so glad you asked! Dr. Russel Barkley described the inability to inhibit in the ’90s in a book he wrote called “Taking Charge of ADHD”. If your not familiar with Dr. Barkley’s work on ADHD, I recommend looking him up. He was and is ahead of his time in the research and coming up with management skills for ADHD. Theory is that ADHD is the inability to inhibit.
The Prefrontal Cortex, the part of the brain that is affected by ADHD, has many complex processes. One of these is to balance reflex and emotion with logic and reason. When this part of the brain is effected by ADHD it doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. Just like it processes information going out, it also processes the information coming in. When it’s not working efficiently, we become bombarded with information and stimulation that is unfiltered and unorganized. Just to trip us up more, the Prefrontal Cortex, in need of stimulation, will take the most significant stimulation it comes across as “the” priority. When it comes to attention, like many other things in the life of someone with ADHD, Dr. Barkley explains that ADHD causes us to be unable to filter out all of the information coming at us, and therefor impossible to prioritize our attention. That, mixed with the fact that our brains are in need of stimulation causes us to pay attention to the newest stimulating thing that crosses our path or enters as a thought.
Now, don’t beat yourself up. I know that deep down you want to focus on what your partner is saying, or the project at work, that test that is sitting in front of you. It really is a nerobiological condition that is causing it to be impossible to prioritize your attention. Ok… Well, Not impossible, but for sure, challenging.
So, back to my question. What has your attention? I have often found myself feeling busy, working hard, only to find I haven’t payed attention to the right things, let alone one thing long enough to accomplish anything. I worked really hard at getting nowhere. This is what happens when I don’t check in on myself. When we repeat that cycle over and over, we can quickly fall into being overwhelmed.
Now, let me ask a new question. What do you want to pay attention to?
To answer that question, we need to take a step back from that paperwork on your desk, the hundred emails you have waiting, the social adgenda you have planned. Take a moment to look at what you focus on. Is it something that is going to make you successful? Does it fit your intention? Is what you are focusing on in line with where your heart is?
Write down what your intentions are. List the things that matter to you in life. What are the things that you want to be remembered for?
What is distracting you from focusing on these? Are your own self beliefs distracting you from seeing you goals as reality? Are you distracted by what someone else believes you should be focused on. Are you having trouble seeing how you fit into the big picture of your own life? Are you caught in a cycle of negative rumination? (negative thoughts running over and over in your head)
You have control. You can change the path you are on. Weather it be with a Therapist, a Coach, both, or on your own. There are tools available to help manage the inability to inhibit our attention. We can focus on what we really want in life, and like a seed we plant, watch it grow into something real.
Be mindful… Be focused… Be successful…
- Russell Barkley: Executive Function’s Critical Role in ADHD (lifelongaes.net)
- Russell Barkley on ADHD and Emotions (capeadhd.wordpress.com)