There’s No Pill for Open Awareness

You won’t find open awareness in a pill. A pill for ADHD helps most adults activate, sustain attention and effort, comprehend when reading or listening, and have some order in their daily lives. Medicine may help with all of that, but it might not help you maintain awareness of time, other people, and tasks that are not right in front of you. Medication does not prioritize. 

 Once your attention is locked into one task, you might forget other priorities that have dropped off your radar. It is not always a good thing to maintain laser-like focus. Managing attention requires moving fluidly between states of open and focused awareness. Losing awareness of what is not in front of you can create problems in your work and in your relationships.

 Have you ever started working on a task that hooked your attention so fully you forgot that you started boiling eggs thirty minutes ago? I’ve blown up eggs before. The ceiling above my stovetop displayed the evidence for weeks. Have you ever gotten angry when someone interrupted your hyper-focused attention, even when you needed to pull your head out? Individuals with ADHD tend to have trouble making those shifts. Pulling back to open awareness is an understated problem for us, in my opinion, especially when we are focusing on personally stimulating or novel tasks.

You can cultivate open awareness by training your brain and practicing, just as you would train your body for athletic competition. We call it mindfulness training. Adults with ADHD who take medicine and also meditate seem to make more gains than those who only medicate their symptoms. Daniel Siegel, co-founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, says meditation can be as effective as medication for ADHD symptoms. 

 Turning the lights up on your constantly shifting internal state, while observing your external world with clarity, and being mindful of how the two are linked, can help you integrate what is relevant in the moment. 

You can train your brain to 

  • be more aware of awareness…of when you need to redirect your attention.
  • be more attentive to subtleties of nonverbal communication that you may otherwise be overlooking or misreading.
  • be more observant of your emotional reactivity to situations and people, aware of assumptions that are unduly influenced by strong feelings.
  • stop avoiding uncomfortable feelings so successfully that you are disconnected from them, or not attuned to the feelings and experiences of others around you.

This is what mindfulness is; it is the opposite of mindlessness.   

Not all mindfulness practices are the same. Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it makes a difference. I suggest finding an experienced meditation teacher who understands open awareness and how to cultivate it.

  

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