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Attention Adults with ADD: What To Do When Hyperfocus Works Against You

By: Jennifer Koretsky

Adults with ADD are both blessed and cursed with the ability to hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus is a unique ability that we have to focus so intensely that the rest of the world temporarily disappears. It's the the opposite of boredom. Instead of having difficulty concentrating or getting started, the hyperfocused ADDer has trouble shifting focus away from the interesting subject at hand.

Hyperfocus can be a really good thing. If you're highly interested in what you're concentrating on, then the ability to hyperfocus is an asset. It can help you get through a difficult task, like a report for work or a household problem that needs to be fixed. It can also help tremendously during creative periods in which your juices are flowing and you're having fun writing, painting, crafting, or expressing yourself in an artistic outlet.

This positive hyperfocus is what I call being in the flow. You enjoy what you're doing--whether it's work, problem-solving, or being creative. You're productive and you enjoy not only what you're doing, but also the fact that you're making progress. Your thoughts and actions are flowing.

However, hyperfocus can also be a bad thing. Adults with ADD often go into hyperfocus mode when a stressful problem or situation presents itself, and the inability to tear yourself away results in more stress. This can happen when writing a paper for school, trying to solve a problem at work, attempting to fix a broken gadget, or even surfing the Internet.

Negative hyperfocus is what I call being in the stick. It's really about an inability to shift focus, and the frustration that results. You want to finish a task or make progress but your frustration in the situation has you feeling unable to move on. You become determined to do what you set out to do at any cost. (Perfectionism often causes negative hyperfocus.)

In this state, you keep telling yourself, "Just two more minutes. I've got to get this." But it's never just two more minutes. Your thoughts and actions are stuck. You don't feel good about making progress. You feel compelled to finish what you set out to do at all costs--including losing sleep, skipping meals, and compromising your mental health.

In short, positive hyperfocus feels good and makes you happy. Negative hyperfocus feels bad and makes you stressed.

Negative hyperfocus is very difficult to break out of. It takes a lot of awareness and a healthy dose of rationalizing self-talk. Forcing yourself (yes, forcing yourself) to get unstuck by stopping and de-stressing is essential to breaking the pattern.

It helps to remember that in that stressed out and frantic state, the things you actually accomplish are often inferior to what you would accomplish in a relaxed state. Operating from a calm and centered place is sure to produce better results than operating from a stressed and frantic place.

So the next time you find yourself hyperfocusing, stop and check in with yourself to determine if you're fantastically flowing, or stressfully sticking.

Ask yourself: Do I feel good about what I'm accomplishing, or am I just stressed out? If the answer is "I'm just stressed," then take a step to break the pattern. Walk away.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jennifer Koretsky

Jennifer Koretsky is the Founder of the ADD Management Group, Inc. and the author of the new book Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD. Jennifer and her team work with ADD adults who are overwhelmed with everyday life in order to help them simplify, focus, and succeed. For free resources and information on adult ADD, visit http://www.ADDmanagement.com .
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