Everyone talks about lack of focus, but there’s little understanding of ADHD hyperfocus.
What is hyperfocus? It is exactly what it sounds like.
When a person focuses on something so intently that they fail to notice changes in their environment, other people, and sometimes even neglect to eat or drink.
Years ago I was working on an article, probably for this site. My husband was out of town and my son was at childcare less than a mile from my home. At one point my phone rang and when I picked up this is what I heard:
“Mrs Lewis it’s nearly 6pm and normally you pick up E by 4pm. Is everything ok?”
That phone call was like running full speed into a brick wall. There was this immediate recognition that I’d lost about four hours of my life, my head was pounding, and I’d apparently forgotten to pick up my child.
What kind of mother forgets to pick up her child?!
You know what kind. The ADHD mom whose brain is suctioned to her computer screen.
There are those who enjoy the hyperfocus feeling. They think it’s the same as flow or whatever. I’ve found that the negative consequences outweigh any perceived benefit.
But here’s the kicker, with ADHD you generally only hyperfocus on things that interest you. It’s not something you can force to happen. Even with medication your brain needs to be stimulated by whatever is in front of you.
Most of us struggle to task shift in the context of work and day-to-day activities.
If what we’re doing feels rewarding we’re on it like white on rice. But if the next thing on the list doesn’t feel good at all, or even worse feels hard, we will avoid shifting to that task.
Transitions are very difficult for the ADHD brain.
the benefits and the downsides
When our ADHD brain get excited about something, and that dopamine starts flowing, we are able to master it quickly. Feeling successful is a good feeling, we need more of that. So I’d never want to discourage anyone from experiencing that feeling of accomplishment.
Hyperfocusing on a topic of interest also gives you a break from the mundane. Again, that could be useful to break out of the inertia that sometimes comes along with ADHD.
On the other hand, if you are so focused that you ignore your children/family or forget about important appointments, that is a conundrum. You’ve certainly heard of the ADHD tax. Check out Rick’s video about it here.
Relationships suffer when we forget other people exist.
When you don’t feel in control of your own brain YOU suffer as well. And that’s the thing, hyperfocus can feel like you’re not in control of yourself.
Awareness is key
First, consider what types of things trigger you into negative hyperfocus.
Many ADHD’ers have issues with the internet and video games. Social media is a notorious brain drain for many of us. There’s something really enticing about that intermittent reward when someone likes your post or tweet. If it’s hard for you to put down the phone, you might want to consider one of the apps that lock you out.
Some of us have a hard time with “open loops” when we cannot finish a project.
There’s always that fear that you might forget where you stopped and never complete the job.
“If I don’t finish this NOW it will never get done. It’s as simple as that.”
In coaching we teach clients to become a “keen observer” of themselves. You can practice observing yourself and your behavior without judgment. Even if you find that you’re hyperfocusing more than you’d like, you still have more information to work with.
There’s great value in understanding yourself better. If you have the resources check out coaching, or you can do something completely free like journaling. Whatever works for you.
It’s not a problem unless it’s a problem
If your tendency to hyperfocus is not negatively impacting your life, let it go. Sometimes it can make for a funny story.
When I tell people about leaving my son at childcare until 6pm I can laugh about it and nobody seems judgy. He was completely unharmed, and I learned a valuable lesson about starting a project late in the day.
If hyperfocus has a negative impact on your life don’t be afraid to seek support. Even small changes in your environment can make a huge difference.
You might be unaware of how your environment impacts your ADHD symptoms.
Many of us struggle with awareness of time, or FEELING time. When you layer that with the intermittent rewards of gaming or streaming television you get a recipe for hyperfocus.
I cannot watch The Real Housewives without getting sucked in, and I’m not ashamed of it. So I only watch it when I know I have time to do so. Sometimes I have a designated trash tv time, like a date with myself. I know exactly how many episodes I’ll watch.
You might also try a large visual reminder of time. Like a time timer, or a huge wall clock.
Look at the space you’re in and figure out how you could arrange it in a way that supports you. Some ADHDers who struggle with time need to use visual timers in combination with audible alarms and other reminders.
Remember, transitions are very difficult for the ADHD brain.
Hyperfocus tends to happen when we cannot transition.
The next time you look up and notice you’ve lost hours as yourself some questions:
Does this make me feel good?
Why or why not?
Do I feel worn out?
Do I feel energized and excited?
How is my energy right now?
What do I need to interrupt the brain suction?
Hyperfocus isn’t all bad all the time, but it’s also not a superpower.
ADHD Hyperfocus Recap:
Hyperfocus feels good in-the-moment (but usually not after)
Hyperfocus tends to happen when we’re struggling to transition
It’s not all bad, if it’s working for you go ahead
If you’re experiencing negative consequences seek support
Practice observing how hyperfocus shows up for YOU
Assess your environment as necessary
ADHD and Hyperfocus – via Untapped Brilliance
Hyperfocus – via ADDitude
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