First posted to this site on 17th October 2017
So while a lot of my blog posts have talked about the struggles us ADHD types face with focus, we also have an amazing superpower called ‘Hyperfocus’ that I want to tell you more about today.
Not everyone with ADHD experiences Hyperfocus, I do, and while it is often a blessing for me it can also be a curse for many others.
What is Hyperfocus?
Hyperfocus is the ability to focus intensely on a project or activity for hours on end, often leaving the person in their own world and oblivious to everything else around them. Usually this will be on a subject or activity that interests them, but it does not always mean subjects that they know about already, it could be something new that they discover and enjoy.
This could mean a video game, reading a book, painting, writing or a whole host of activities and varies between individuals- all that matters is that the person becomes interested in the subject intensely and devotes a great deal of focus and attention to it.
This is why I said in a previous blog post that many believe the ‘Deficit’ part in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is slightly misleading, rather than a deficit it is more of a problem with regulating attention.
There has not been a great deal of scientific research carried out into the causes of Hyperfocus but it is thought that the same problem with low levels of dopamine that cause so many of the issues in other symptoms of ADHD can also be the cause of our Hyperfocus.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is active in the brain’s frontal lobes and the low dopamine levels, typical of those with ADHD, could make it difficult for people with ADHD to switch tasks from something they find stimulating to a task they find boring or unnecessary, where others are more able to move onto something else.
Other medical professionals have argued that Hyperfocus is a coping mechanism and people with ADHD use it as a way of dealing with distraction as it can help them to accomplish tasks like completing an assignment (or writing a blog about ADHD).
When I Hyperfocus, I tend to focus on my creative pursuits and interests or things connected to them.
For a period of time a few years ago, a friend and I used to enjoy making beaded jewellery and I loved buying bags of beads in all shapes and sizes and colours from bead shops and the internet. I made bracelets, necklaces and even tiaras in every shape, size and colour imaginable- even though I do not wear jewellery- and eventually I lost interest in this hobby (as is common with ADHD). I now have a huge plastic box full of beads in boxes and bags and last year I decided I needed to organise things in my bedroom so out came the bead box for me to put into order. As I will explain in a later blog about organisation, I need to order the items in my house in certain ways so that I can feel organised and so that my life is less chaotic and this bead box is no different. So I took out that box and for four hours I sat separating any of the bags of beads that had gotten mixed together into separate bags of colour and size and making sure the box was in order. I did not eat during that time, I did not go to the bathroom or check my phone, I just sat sorting the beads.
Similarly, I enjoy painting and drawing and if I decide I want to paint or draw something I will focus on it for hours on end, completely oblivious to the world until something or someone breaks my concentration or until I decide I’m finished.
I also display this same behaviour with reading and writing. If I decide to read a book then I must finish the book in one sitting and it does not matter how long the book is. This was one of the first areas of Hyperfocus that I identified in myself as I am an avid reader but the need to finish a book every time I started it would impact on my sleep- which is already poor- as I wanted to sit up and read it. The same issue exists in writing, if I start writing a piece for my publisher or something for one of my blogs (this one included) I can be lost for hours until I have finished it or I am interrupted by something more pressing.
I have my own theory about my Hyperfocus- that is probably not scientific but I do reflect on my behaviours very regularly. I am a creative person but do not always get to enjoy my creative pursuits as much as I would like to with a full-time job, motherhood and a house to run so when I do get the chance to pursue them, I go all out. I have dealt with this by limiting my reading of books until I am on school holidays so that it doesn’t interfere with other tasks that I’m supposed to do.
Some adults with ADHD have reported that they have missed important deadlines or meetings because they have been so focused on a task that they have lost track of time.
Coping with Hyperfocus
If Hyperfocus is a problem, there are some strategies to help channel that focus more efficiently.
- Schedule in Hyperfocus activities so that they do not take over from tasks that need to be completed.
- Use markers to end the activity e.g end of a level on a game, end of a show or finishing a certain part of a painting.
- Prioritize tasks so that common Hyperfocus tasks are left to the end.
- Use a timer to help keep track of time.
- Use family members or friends to call you or help you end a task so that it doesn’t take over.
While Hyperfocus has never been a problem for me, it can add to the difficulties that children and adults with ADHD have when fitting into this world, so teachers and parents should be aware of how it manifests in children and use strategies to help them use it to their advantage.