Living with ADHD: Hyperfocus

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Living with ADHD | No Comments
Living with ADHD: Hyperfocus


Before I go any further, I need to introduce the term “hyperfocus.”

Kathleen Nadeau explains this phenomenon in her book, Adventures in Fast Forward. “In actuality, ADD is not a ‘deficit’ of attention, but a disorder in which individuals have much less control over their responses to stimuli,” writes Nadeau. They are unable to regulate their attention. Though they may have extreme difficulty focusing, organizing, and completing certain mundane tasks, they are often able to focus intently on other activities that interest them. This tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding is called hyperfocus.

It is not unusual for these individuals to become so immersed in a task that they are oblivious to everything else going on around them.

hyperfocus2Hyperfocus is both a blessing and a curse.  Although I’ve seen claims that it can be “tamed” and that the ADHD person can learn to turn it on and off, I am skeptical that this is true.  For me, it has never been something under my control.

Now I know some of you are thinking, “well, if you can focus that intently on things that interest you, then you can focus on the things that don’t; you just don’t want to.”

All I can do is ask you to trust me when I tell you that this is not a matter of determination or self-control or laziness.  I cannot make myself hyperfocus on a task when that would be a beneficial thing, and I cannot stop hyperfocusing on another task just because I need to be doing something else.  It happens or it doesn’t happen.  In 61 years I have not found the on/off switch.

Scenario 1

Rewind about 25 years.  My in-laws are coming for a visit.  The house is in it’s usual state of chaos, but I have learned how to make things look presentable on the surface (the old shove things in the closet trick still works). Clean the bathroom, change the sheets, throw all the dirty laundry in the laundry room and close the door, make the kids pick up their mess, clean up the kitchen… and we’re good to go. So I start my in-law prep in the kitchen. Dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away. Ok.  I open a drawer to put away an odd, little used utensil, and all of the sudden, I am compelled to take everything out of that drawer and reorganize it.  An hour and a half later, that drawer is awesome. But the dishes still need to be put away.  And this is the first room.

Scenario 2

My friend is coming over for an very informal lunch.  It’s 9:30.  I’m up.  I’ve even straightened up a little.  My friend knows me.  I don’t stress too much about the clutter.  I check to see if everything is good to go in the kitchen.  Lunch is simple.  All is good.  All I need to do is take a shower and get dressed.  I have over two hours before she gets here.  So I sit down and pull out my iPad.  In a few minutes, I look up at the clock to see what time it is.  It’s 11:50.  She’ll be here in 10 minutes.  I manage to get dressed, but there will be no shower.

Scenario 3

I want to find a recipe for dinner tonight.  Nothing special; I just want to do something different.  So I google “chicken recipes”.  Two hours later, I still don’t have a chicken recipe that I want to try, but I know pretty much everything there is to know about fried green tomatoes.  And I don’t have any tomatoes in the house.

Bonus scenario

I’m writing a blog on hyperfocusing.  I google “hyperfocusing” hoping to find a good photo or image I can use to insert in it.  A page of all text is boring, right?  30 minutes later, I remember I’m supposed to be writing this blog.  But I did find this!


So, bottom-line, hyperfocusing is not what needs to happen when trying to accomplish domestic tasks (or writing blogs… unless it’s hyperfocusing on writing the blog).  And yet, it does happen.

Coming up next…

Back to Order, Chaos and the Space Between




Leave a Reply