Help with ADHD Hyperfocus
How many times have you found yourself entranced by a good movie or book only to be surprised by how much time has passed when you reach the end? It’s at that moment that you realize the world has gone on without you for that short period of time and it’s not very appealing to get back on the “merry-go-round of life” and start on the next activity. In a similar way, many people with ADHD live out this movie or book scenario day-in and day-out, but as it relates to activities that really capture their interest. Once they’re “in the zone” it’s hard for them to pull away, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on what they’re focused on. In some cases, intense hyperfocus might mean being a very productive worker while in other cases result in neglecting things or people and possible negative consequences.
One adult with ADHD in Muskegon, Michigan – LaTonya – struggled with hyperfocus. It was very easy for her to become engrossed in scrapbooking – a hobby she has engaged in for several years. At first, her partner was amused by how much time she devoted to this activity, but became increasingly resentful because it took away from their time together. LaTonya knew this was becoming an issue, but wasn’t sure what to do.
LaTonya consulted with Dr. Quarto online using a Skype-like video app to discuss her problem. He suggested that she try a technique called “future-self projection.” The idea was for LaTonya to make a switch from her present self – doing scrapbooking – to her future self in which she visualized herself doing some kind of unrelated activity – whether it was doing the weekly grocery shopping, dancing at a night club or watching a movie with her partner. She agreed to give it a try.
When LaTonya and Dr. Quarto met online the following week to discuss her progress she felt frustrated and embarrassed because she was not successful using the technique. “Honestly, Dr. Quarto,” LaTonya said sheepishly, “I forgot to do it.” Dr. Quarto told LaTonya not to worry about it – that this happens from time to time and simply meant that they needed to put their heads together and do some problem solving. Dr. Quarto asked LaTonya if she thought it would help to set a timer whenever she did scrapbooking so that when it rang it would remind her to project herself into the future. “Yeah, that makes sense,” said LaTonya, “but the problem is that I’d forget to set the alarm on my phone.” In situations like this it’s worthwhile to do something novel. Dr. Quarto thought about it and responded, “You know, LaTonya, when I was a kid we had these things called kitchen timers that we used when we baked cookies and stuff. They still make ‘em,” he said, “and there’s a company called Time Timer that makes a special timer that would probably work really well for you.” The particular timer Dr. Quarto was thinking about could be set for a maximum of 60 minutes. A round red disc appears on the face of the clock when set for 60 minutes and the disc gradually disappears (replaced by white) with each passing minute until the designated amount of time has elapsed – as evidenced by a totally white clock face – and the timer rings. “The idea would be to leave the timer on top of your scrapbook stuff as a reminder to set it the next time you do scrapbooking,” said Dr. Quarto. “Hey, I think that might work. I’ll give it a try,” replied LaTonya.
LaTonya ordered the timer and on the day it arrived she put it to the test by setting it for 60 minutes. She had a big scrapbooking project to work on for her niece that day and was excited when she felt the flow of her creative juices. Much to her disappointment, however, those juices were interrupted by the ring of the timer. “What!” thought LaTonya. “I can’t believe an hour has passed already!” She felt a strong urge to “stay in the zone” and keep doing her scrapbooking, but remembered that the whole point of buying the timer was to help her “get out of the zone.” She felt disappointed about her impending decision to stop scrapbooking and project herself into the future. “This really sucks,” she thought to herself. LaTonya remembered some of the things that she and Dr. Quarto pre-planned that she could think about and she opted to think about getting together with her friends at a local bar and pictured herself trying to master some new dance moves she had seen someone use on TV last week. A smile came across LaTonya’s face as she watched the video in her head of she and her friends dancing and messing up her dance moves. She didn’t have to think of this for very long before she felt an internal shift from her “scrapbooking/present-self” mode to her “dancing/future-self” mode. It was just the ticket to prompt her to move away from her scrapbooking table and move on to her next activity. LaTonya was pleased that it worked so well and although it didn’t work this well all the time she felt as though she had direction and was no longer adrift in “Hyperfocus Sea.”
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