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How to make hyper-focus work for autistic and ADHD individuals.

Hyper-focus is getting so absorbed in something that nothing else exists, it’s like being in a dream state and the only thing that matters is the task in front of you, how easy is it to wake from a dream? How easy is it to wake another from a dream? Welcome to hyper-focus, a laser like ability to concentrate on a task until it’s complete. Isn’t it ironic that ADHD is an attention deficit disorder, yet when we are hyper-focused we are able to block everything else out. One lady didn’t realise that her house was on fire, until the firemen came into her home to check if everyone was out.


The diverse brain doesn’t get as much dopamine as a typical brain, this means that it can be harder to get motivated, but once motivated we can become so engrossed in a task, that we ignore and tune out from everything else around us, this intense fixation means we can lose sense of time, missing important meetings, or commitments, which leads to more frustration from others as well as ourselves, why can’t I just be normal and get some balance, is a thought I’ve often had about myself over the years and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

On the flip side, it can be incredibly challenging to get motivated at times, not wanting to do certain tasks as they are boring or tedious, this isn’t helped by our lower dopamine levels, we simply don’t get a ‘hit’ from mopping the floors or doing the accounts, this is where changes to our mind-set and implementing structure can come in handy. It’s the difference between going food shopping after planning the meals for the week, with a list of the ingredients you need, and going food shopping on an empty stomach not knowing what you need just after being paid, we all know which one of those scenarios is going to work out better.


Benefits of controlling hyper-focus


Looking back over the years I can see how much strain has been placed on relationships due to hyper-focus, this isn’t just romantic relationships, this effects all relationships romantic and platonic, a lack of focus on others can lead to feelings of resentment, missed commitments, a lack of interest in others, by controlling this aspect of yourself you are enabling stronger relationships with the people who matter and you’re not leaving yourself open to feelings of rejection or overwhelm, because by managing hyper-focus you are taking steps to becoming a more balanced and rounded individual.


Tips to manage hyper-focus


~ Get everything you need together for the task at hand, this allows you to maintain focus whilst you’re there. For example, whilst writing this blog I set a timer and followed my hour rule (see next step) when the first 25 minutes was up, I checked my phone saw that I had missed a call and made a call back, then I went down to make a cup of tea, got distracted the cat and spent ages cuddling and prancing around with him, then I caught up on messages, played a silly game and lost half an hour of my life instead of 5… It did however give me a great example of what not to do which I am sharing with you now. If I’d chosen to sit quietly and stretch my legs rather than check my phone, I wouldn’t have been distracted so much and I could have done a little more. Have everything you need before you start, you’ll thank yourself for it.


~ The human brain works best in short focused bursts, I have found and research backs this up that working for an hour produces the most effective results. Set a timer for 25 minutes, have a 5 minute break and then get back to your task for another 25 minutes. The aim here is to remove all distractions, mobile phone on silent, maybe leave your phone in another room if you are too tempted to look at it, don’t open or look at any other browsers on your computer, so no Facebook, twitter or e-mails etc... It’s quite incredible what you can achieve in such a short amount of time, when you remove distraction and allow yourself to be fully absorbed into your chosen challenge.


~ When are you most focused / energised? Does this vary from activity to activity? I know that it’s worth my time to get up early, getting up between 5.30 and 6 am gives me a chance to get writing, nobody is awake, so I can’t be distracted and as long as I know what I’m writing about I can get a ridiculous amount of work done. When do you work best and how can you utilise this time to your greatest advantage?


~ Work towards a goal, have you ever wondered what the point in doing something is? If you have your goals mapped out you can see what you’re working towards, all of the mundane tasks become stepping stones towards what you actually want to achieve, and when you know that what you’re working towards is in your best overall interests it can become easier to manage. For example I am writing this blog as part of a series of blogs on neurodiversity, I plan to have a large database which will help others to grow their toolbox and understanding of the neurodiverse brain, one blog won’t be much use, so I need to set goals to remind myself that over time I can create a really valuable library for others to utilise, in the meantime I get to understand myself even better, because I draw inspiration from the lessons I learn through life.


~ Train yourself to avoid the things you know will trigger you, for me that could be not starting a piece of work at 3 pm as my son comes home at 3.15 and talks to me before going out, I enjoy the interaction with him, so I make sure to shut down the computer and make myself available for this particular interaction, it happens every day, by recognising this I am able to build this into my daily routine and it becomes pleasurable as I’m not focused on something else, before I built this into my routine I would be snappy with him because he had interrupted me and that wasn’t fair. Working out what your triggers are is a really important step to practise and master.


~ Adding structure to your day, some people like to work on an hour to hour basis, I find that a little tough but it works for many, I like to have my morning mapped out and ready the night before, this gives me a good start to the day. If it’s a particularly busy day I will work out the order of my activities, how long they will take and what could be dropped if my plans need to change, I’ll make a note of what dinners we are having throughout the week, this way I know if I have time to make that particular meal with the other commitments from that given day. Knowing what is happening and having structure can make all the difference to you day, and by factoring in the time needed for focused work, you are giving yourself a really great chance at maintaining your balance.


Hyper-focus allows you to get through a huge amount of work in a short amount of time, in order to keep our focus that work needs to be entertaining to us, if it’s not entertaining we need to make it rewarding, I think of it as bribing your brain, much the same as bribing a child, what is it that you really want? I will have my long hot shower, or my cup of really nice coffee once I have done xyz task, language changes can also help in moving you through procrastination and to a point of just getting on with it, I’ll cover this in depth in another blog post.


“Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally. It comes from what you do consistently” Marie Forleo.

Imagine what successes you could wrack up when you apply your focus to the right areas and give yourself permission to rest in between. If you’d like more tips why not sign up to my newsletter by clicking the link and entering your details into the box.


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