ADHD expert Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., has written two books that suggest that you don’t need a diagnosis of ADHD to suffer from ADHD symptoms. In a recent book, Driven to Distraction at Work, Hallowell examines a term he first coined in 1994, Attention Deficit Trait, or ADT, which he also called “a severe case of modern life.” He used the term to describe what he observed to be an increasingly common problem in the workplace:
“ADT differs from ADD or ADHD in that it is caused by the context in which it occurs, while true ADD and ADHD are genetic in origin. That means ADT comes and goes: you may have it during the week, but not on weekends or on vacation.”
In an earlier book, Crazy Busy, Dr. Hallowell points out that life today (both at work and elsewhere) tends to create an “external environment” that makes it difficult for almost anyone to focus and set priorities.
The subtitle of Crazy Busy is “Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!” That pretty much sums up why many crazy busy people feel like they have ADHD – but, most of the time, they don’t.
Attention Deficit Trait Leading to Bad Habits
Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) is not caused by the neurochemistry in a person’s brain. However, people develop ADT to cope with the stresses in their lives. So ADT symptoms actually help them in the short term!
But here’s the problem – ADT symptoms tend to sneak up on us. Gradually, over time, they may solidify into some bad habits.
If you have ADT symptoms, you may find that you don’t focus on things either on or off the job. You don’t get things done on time. You may develop such poor habits that you’re this way even when life slows down and becomes less stressful.
Without even knowing it, you find yourself in what Hallowell refers to as a non-stop mental traffic jam in which it’s always rush hour.
Attention Deficit Trait Symptoms
By now, you may be wondering if you have Attention Deficit Traits. Since modern life induces ADT, most of us have at least some symptoms! Here is a partial list of symptoms:
- Heightened distractibility and a persistent feeling of being rushed or in a hurry.
- A mounting feeling of how superficial your life has become – that you have lots to do, but no depth of thought or feeling.
- An inability to sustain lengthy and full attention to a thought, a conversation, even a sunset – almost anything, even when you try.
- A tendency to hop from task to task, idea to idea, even place to place.
- A tendency to feel overwhelmed, even when, in reality, you’re not.
- Difficulty in fully enjoying pleasant moments and genuine achievements.
- A feeling of loss of control over your own life and a nagging feeling of “What am I missing?”
- A growing, compulsive need for frequent electronic “hits,” for example, checking emails, sending and receiving texts, Googling random topics, etc.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t think of them as trivial or normal. Take action to get ADT under control!
Getting Attention Deficit Trait Under Control
The first step in getting ADT under control and becoming more focused and productive is to recognize and acknowledge that you have ADT symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to seek professional help from a coach, a therapist, or another specialist. Your focus should be on regaining control over your thinking, emotions, and actions.
Your ADT symptoms may be mild, moderate, severe, or even addictive. For example, you may just feel a little more anxious than you used to feel. But if your anxiety is severe, you might not be able to enjoy a holiday meal with family members. You may find yourself thinking about that assignment that’s due tomorrow or the text messages you didn’t respond to while dinner was being served.
Internet Addiction – A Serious ADT Habit
If your internet usage is a little excessive, you may feel only slightly less focused and productive at work. However, when internet usage is very excessive, it can severely affect your focus and productivity. In fact, it can result in actual internet addiction.
One of my college freshman coaching clients watched YouTube, read fan fiction, played occasional video games, and did other “non-productive” internet activities for 30 – 50 hours per week during his first semester in college. Due to his Advanced Placement (AP) credits and high test scores, he was enrolled in second-year classes in his major. However, he withdrew from two college courses midway through the first semester due to internet addiction. He simply couldn’t keep up with assignments and was in danger of failing both subjects.
Excessive use of electronics used to be a joke. But it’s now a fast-growing, major disorder that adversely affects focus and productivity. In other words, it’s one of the most serious ADT symptoms. For individuals with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and/or a genetic predisposition to addictions, excessive internet usage is even more risky.
If internet usage is destructive to a person’s personal, educational, or professional life and they feel unable to control the problem, it controls their thinking and emotions. That’s the point at which they have a severe, or possibly even an addictive, internet usage problem. They will need professional help from a mental health specialist and other resources to get their internet behaviors under control.
Developing a Plan for Managing Your Attention
If you’re having issues with managing your attention, even if you don’t have ADHD, we can help you develop a plan to be more focused, efficient, and productive. We can help you break your ADT habits and achieve at your highest level. Just contact us today for a free consultation to see how coaching can help!