by Iban Goicoechea
semester is over, and once again is proven the timeless fact; humans adapt… quickly.
I still apply "work-arounds" I’ve developed to turn my
attention into focus, then my focus into concentration, but I never have a dull
moment trying to keep up with my ability to distract myself.
new people and started new projects and conversations with them (more details
in my last article, plus new ones), tackled new subjects (if I had told myself
in December that I would absolutely love Quantum Mechanics, I wouldn't have
believed me), came to new understandings and picked up new tricks.
phone users, tell me if this rings a bell: You download an app, and when you find
it a few weeks later, you still haven't used it (you forgot you even had it!)
Yeah, me too.
about this: You decide you're going to the library to read and take notes on
the reading. Determined to do so, you pack everything you need, but
realize that on the way to the library you have to check what additional pages
were assigned in an email. After a necessary recon of places to sit, you
settle for the most conducive study spot for your mood. You know that
it's a slippery slope to check your email for the supplementary readings, but you
just have to know everything you need to read before you start. It never occurs to you to just read what you already
know you must. You could, after all,
finish that reading first and check your email for the rest afterwards. No, you sit down and open your laptop.
searching for the email with the assigned reading, you catch yourself opening
other emails with subject lines or senders that catch your attention. Extolling yourself to focus, you eventually
find the email you need. Then, for no reason whatsoever, you check
Facebook, stop yourself, copy down the info you need, close your laptop, open
your book to the right page, open your notebook to a clean page, take a swig of
coffee… then take out and check your phone. Why?
There’s no reason whatsoever. What makes this attention trap even
more frustrating is that I'm physically doing these things that distract me
from my original goal; it's not like I'm looking at a book and can't focus, I'm
actually doing things, I’m taking action, I feel like I’m "making” it happen.
I’m sure many of you share my pain.
the thing… this particular "ADHD symptom " isn't actually driven by
the inability to focus. It’s a compulsion. It's a psychological
addiction to the pixelated media interface through which we read emails,
newspapers, books, and recipes; type documents, store files, look at pictures,
watch movies and video clips; play video games and Google stuff… just to name a
few of the things we do with computers to both work AND relax. It's not
too much of a stretch to say that, for many of us, our eyes are exposed to
pixelated screens for more hours per day than our feet are exposed to the shoes we
put on in the morning.
did I solve the compulsion that prevents me from sitting down and studying?
Rewind two weeks from my day at the library. I had installed a "lite" version of
an app that's supposed to help me study by allowing me to make notecards with
the moment I pull out my phone… I told myself "I'm not going to check Facebook,”
and scrolled across the pages when I stumbled across, you guessed it, the
studying app I completely forgot about, StudyBlu. Curiosity and the
inescapable desire to tinker set in, so I opened it and gave it a shot.
I made a few note cards from the first section I had to review, and then grew
frustrated because of some inconvenient glitches with the app, and the lite
version didn't allow me to access all of the super-useful looking features.
This episode of distraction with my phone and tinker-studying with the
app lasted over an hour. Yeah. I studied effectively for over an
hour because I had a glitchy tool that facilitated studying to distract me (or
to draw me in). Then, despite the fact that I was actually studying with
this thing, the glitches got to me. Defiantly, I opened my laptop to
check if the iPhone app had a laptop version.
something cool happened. I thought, "Even if a full version exists,
I'll just have to buy it, and I already know it has annoying glitches.
I'll just open up "Notes" and do my homework "old school.” So I did. I answered the Section & Chapter Review
questions, typing out the answer in a complete sentence – not just the correct
words – checked my answers when I was done and corrected the answers I got
put another 6 hours with only one distracting incident. I had a conversation that lasted for about an
hour, but it was absolutely worth the time… how could I pass up on the
opportunity to hear a former-Amish person tell me the story of his trip around
the world without the use of airplanes, then segue into the research he's doing
on DNA scaffolding? Okay, maybe a bit more than an hour, but I finished
there’s one thing you must you take away from this article, it is this:
Distraction is its own form of attention. Rather than using your energy
to fight it until you're exhausted (because whether your energy is feeding your
distraction, or it’s feeding your desire to fight that distraction, they're
both pulling from the same tank of gas), do your best to prepare for it in
advance, and at the very least, make the effort to work with it. I'm sure
that from your own wrestling matches with distraction, you'll agree that,
"Distraction doesn't like distractions."
one incoming text can easily trigger an entire conversation if I'm forcing
myself to look at my books and take notes, or write a report or (insert pretty
much any activity I’d rather not be doing here.) But once I’m already distracted by my phone,
incoming texts are as unwelcome an interruption as someone asking, "What're
you doing?" when I'm deeply concentrated and finding a solution any
to getting focused is not to give up too soon.
Just because you were distracted doesn’t mean the day is a
write-off. Once you realize you were
distracted, bring your attention back to what you want to do. Do this enough times to engage your brain and
suddenly, you’re focused. Once that
happens, it’s the distractions that become annoying and therefore less
interesting, so you’ll work to avoid them instead. And you know how good we can be at avoiding
things we’re not interested in!
Iban Goicoechea is the ADDA eNews "Vetran’s Affairs”
Editor. Many military veterans with ADHD are facing life, not only with
ADHD and PTSD, but with other comorbid cognitive disorders as well.
ADDA’s eNews is giving a voice to the veterans through Iban’s articles.
If you wish to add your voice to the discussion, you may contact Iban directly