When you were a kid, did you ever walk to the end of a diving board and stop to contemplate whether to jump, flip, or dive, and then ponder how cold the water might be? Did the impatient kids waiting in line behind you yell, “Just jump!” If so, they restored your awareness of them, and you probably took action. You jumped.

One strategy for activating is to jump into a task before your distracting self-talk gets in the way. Like jumping into a pool, you can circumvent superfluous thoughts by leaping into action. Jumping can be a useful strategy, but if you are jumping only to stop the swirling mental activity, you might begin ironing your socks when you should be paying your bills.

Wanting to get out of your head so you can get something done is noble. But leaping indiscriminately just to escape feeling overwhelmed can send you down the wrong trail. The cost of investing your undivided attention in an unimportant task gets you further behind on an important task. Then you are right back to feeling overwhelmed and immobilized.

What would happen if you jumped back before jumping forward? What if you paused to consider all the tasks competing for your attention, identify the ones that must get done today, decide where to start, and consider how much available time you have? Open awareness is a kind of soft and expansive attention that allows the mental space to conceptualize and prioritize, and where you are mindful of the big picture, the calendar, the clock, the task list, other people, and the future.

Adults with ADHD prefer acting over planning, and we’d rather have our attention locked in on something—even a daydream—than sit patiently in an open state of awareness. Working efficiently requires access to both states of awareness, selective attention and open awareness, and for intentionally directing our attention between them. 

Getting mindlessly stuck in selective attention (some call it “hyper-focus”), is why we ask, “Where did the time go?” Estimating how long a task will take, and tracking time as you work, are important for living well with ADHD.

Okay…enough time on this blog…next item…check phone messages before my first client arrives. 

One Response to Look Before You Leap

  • Terry,
    This is a thoughtful and useful short piece. One of my most useful comments on me, came from an old friend in Vermont, who commented on my impatience. Often leaping before I thought things through may at times have been characteristic of me, and still I do explosively leave sometime, before I list, and think through what I will need for the day, or what I will do. Just having the calm to make a list sometimes is an effort, as you mention swirling ideas, and it seems even more so this year given the unexpected and constantly excited, tweeting Presidency. If the context is overly stimulating sometimes we must concentrate on retreating, which is why churches, and other organizations have events called “retreats.” Back in ‘Underground Press Days,’68 on, I don’t remember such, but we were so much younger then, and now with greater burdens it may be time for a little more Zen, calm, hesitation. But it may be worth another short piece to look at the implements which compliment taking careful note, planning, and following through. Today at DollarTree I bought new address book, planners!!

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