Attention is more than just the first word in ADHD. It has to do with the target of your focus and the intensity of your focus. When you focus really hard, to the exclusion of other things around you, you’re hyperfocusing. Wikipedia describes hyperfocus as “an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a subject, topic, or task.”
In our coaching work with ADHD college students and other adults, it is fully expected that one of the coaching goals will have something to do with learning how to focus better – on the right things! In fact, some of our clients know that people with ADHD often hyperfocus on things that distract them from meeting their goals. They also know that their tendency to hyperfocus on things to which they are attracted can side-track them from meeting their most important goals!
In reality, everyone (with or without ADHD) has at least a few issues with focus! For example, you might have a goal of losing weight, but you’re just not focused enough on your goal to do it! Hey, it’s hard to lose (or sometimes, gain) weight! To meet that weight goal, or any other goal, you have to focus. You have to ask yourself questions like these:
- What should I pay attention to in order to meet my goal?
- How many things can (and should) I pay attention to?
- What should I ignore?
- What do I need to do to stay focused and keep from being distracted?
A Runner’s Story About Hyperfocus
I happen to be a competitive runner (and I don’t have ADHD). I have had the good fortune of being able to complete hundreds of running events over the past 35 years. Here’s something I have learned:
In order to run a successful race, you have to focus on certain things and ignore others.
In Richmond, Virginia, we have a very popular race known as the Monument Avenue 10K. I have run this race several times, watched it as a spectator, and helped at the finish line. Tens of thousands of people run or walk this race. Yet, what they notice or pay attention to varies widely.
I know for sure that award-winning Monument Avenue 10K runners pay little or no attention to the famous monuments to Civil War heroes along the course. They don’t read all the signs that spectators hold up. And they don’t see many people in the crowd.
Serious 10K runners do pay attention to other things. They notice the mile markers. They notice what their “high-tech” watches are telling them about their running pace. Because of the cobblestone road surface and occasional potholes, they notice where they are planting their feet. They pay attention to their own breathing. They notice whether they are approaching another runner who is in the same age group.
Here’s another way of saying what serious runners do: Serious runners hyperfocus.
And what do the non-serious runners or walkers near the back of the Monument Avenue 10K pay attention to? They notice completely different things. They wave at both friends and strangers. They actually see the monuments and the signs! They may even stop completely at water stations. They appreciate the music from a band along the way.
In fact, you might ask: “Who is missing the most during the Monument Avenue 10K? Quite possibly, it is the runners toward the front or any runner trying to run a personal best time! With their narrow focus on time-per-mile, how hard they are breathing, and where the potholes might be, they are clearly missing a big part of the “experience.”
What You Miss Depends Upon Your Goals
Clearly, you will miss some things, perhaps some very fun and enjoyable things, by hyperfocusing on specific goals. Here’s what it all comes down to:
What you are missing on any given day at any given time depends upon your goals.
If your goal is to win your age group in a 10k, it’s important to hyperfocus on every single detail of the race and your body. Yep, you’ll miss a lot of other things, but you will have a much better chance of winning your age group!
If your goal is to graduate from college, but you don’t particularly care to graduate with a high GPA, you may not need to focus on every single detail of your coursework and how you spend all your free time. However, if you want to graduate magna cum laude and get into a highly-ranked graduate school, you will probably need to hyperfocus on virtually every detail of how you manage your time and your coursework.
Is your goal just to enjoy the journey? Or just to get to your destination in the shortest amount of time? If so, there’s nothing right or wrong with your goal. However, if you have harder, more demanding goals, more than likely you will need to hyperfocus over and over to achieve them!
Having trouble with focus and meeting your goals? Contact us at LaMountain & Associates today to see how coaching can help!! And please share your comments with us. We learn from your feedback!