Scattered Attention? Not a Problem

Scattered Attention? Not a Problem

Everyone does attention differently. This is what makes working with ADD/ADHD challenging. There is no one size fits all solution, so it can take a while to find something that helps someone struggling with attention.

ADHD didn't hit my conscious awareness until my middle son started elementary school. Until then, we knew him as a highly imaginative, expressive, and hyper kid. He was either super cuddly and gentle or overly grumpy and hard to calm down. Long days at school overwhelmed him so much that sometimes he'd cry for hours once we got home.

Back then, this would have been the early 2000's, I was told he'd outgrow his temper tantrums and distractedness. But calls from frustrated teachers didn't stop. Each grade became more not less challenging for us all up until we finally understood where his distraction was coming from. He had ADHD.

Not the best news, but at least we had a direction to pursue. We really wanted him to succeed academically. That's when I started actively working with him, becoming an amateur attention skill trainer.

My engineering mind wanted answers so I did a lot of research. I found a few helpful methodologies rooted in CBT and mindfulness and in his second year of middle school, I enrolled my son in a 12-week brain training course that gave him some good results.

Once my son was more stable in school, I was ready to branch out into helping others. Heck, I had gained a lot of new skills and training certifications. And I was tired of being so stressed at my job all the time. That's when I left my engineering career and started a coaching practice.  

Though my focus was on helping business owners identify the thinking blocks preventing them from taking action, I often came across clients who self-identified with attention deficit issues so our work became about addressing their distraction factors.

It was an interesting shift of attention for me, pun intended. And, in working with them I found their unique, personal struggles familiar. Some of my favorite distractions included situations with others I didn't understand and/or chronic pain.

I was intrigued to learn that being unable to get out of one's thinking process was a human experience. And this inability to stop a spinning mind causes anxiety for a lot of people.

Another important insight I've learned over the years, and this isn't a scientific fact, is there seems to be two ends of what I'll call "attention use" or how we do attention.

In listening to others' struggle with focus, I noticed a pattern. Attention seems to be terribly scattered, making the thinking process difficult to reign in. This type of attention use leaves one feeling ungrounded and, in some cases, unable to find the most relevant thought to focus on. This is extremely frustrating when you need to make a decision.

This scattered type of attention leads to overwhelm and confusion and nothing getting done. And with so many thoughts and ideas running through one's mind, even a 5 minute mindfulness sit feels painfully hard to finish.

Okay, that's the scattered experience. On the other end of the continuum, there is a hyper, hyper-focused state. Here, real time sensory experience goes unnoticed outside of the task one's highly interested in. Here one seems swept away in an activity with little regard for time.

Time flies by, which isn't always a bad thing, unless it is 1 am and you are still gripped by the new thing you're interested in which means you haven't spent time with your kids even though you got home from work many hours ago, (I speak from experience).

So finding where we lie on this continuum of attention use is really helpful, especially when we pursue mindfulness practice. But understanding your attention use type doesn't mean instant success. Over the years, I've seen a lot of shoulder shrugging, people report not having enough focus to do mindfulness.

I understand and use this sentiment to encourage small starts. Just brief moments of noticing where one's attention is goes a long way. And that's what's inspired me to write this post today. To say, hey, if you are jazzed about mindfulness and strengthening your focus, let's use what you already have access to.

If your attention is scattered, great, we'll start with noticing your scattered attention.

Hyper focused on your problem to the point of rumination? No problem, let's apply some mindfulness to it!

We can even start with confusion or overwhelm. It's all good material for mindfulness practice, especially if you are using the highly adaptive UM system that makes attention skill building not only interesting but easy to apply in everyday life.

If you'd like to know more, feel free to reach out, especially if you'd like to get to know how you do attention. :)