You don’t have to have ADHD to feel like you have ADHD. The world has become so distracting that everyone is working much harder to stay focused on what’s most important while trying to ignore what’s most stimulating or interesting. We also have many more belongings that need to be dealt with, shuffled about, and worked around. We also have far more opportunities in easy access to tempt our impulsivity.
Many of the developments of the last decades are positive, but there are also aspects that stretch our brains’ information-processing abilities to their limits. Some people in particular will feel more easily and frequently overwhelmed by the information overload, especially those with ADHD.
For all of us, the challenge is to do the right thing, at the right time, most of the time. Not sometimes, but most of the time. In order to do this, we need to filter out extraneous stimuli and thoughts (a.k.a. distractions) and figure out what is most important in that moment. This requires us to consider:
- Lessons from the past (e.g., How did this work out last time? What worked before?)
- The present circumstances and what our available options are
- Future goals and the balance between short- and long-term gains
Unfortunately, the most important thoughts, tasks, and items aren’t always the stickiest. They don’t necessarily grab our attention the hardest. Often it’s quite the contrary—the distractions are distracting because they pull our attention harder than the more important items, which is kind of the definition of a distraction.
Part of what makes it so hard to figure out and then do the most important tasks is that we usually need to decide among several competing tasks, all of which have merit. In addition, life keeps evolving as the minutes tick by, so what was a great plan at one moment may change very quickly when something else comes up. Life is interruptions.
Knowing Is Easier than Doing
I sometimes say that ADHD is a disorder of actualizing good intentions. People with ADHD usually know what the right thing to do is but don’t do it as consistently as they or anyone else would want. This is where the executive functions come in. They are some of humans’ highest level cognitive processes that help us sort through this distracting, tempting world we live in so that we can decide what is the best thing to do next and then actually do it. In other words, they help us do what we know.
People with ADHD tend to be less consistent about using their executive functions, so they struggle with resisting distractions, getting going before the last minute, time management, staying organized, and other challenges. Understanding how people with ADHD process information enables them to use better strategies that will enable them to be more consistent and effective.
As I often say, ADHD is at its worst before you know what you’re wrestling with. The good news is that educating yourself about ADHD—and not just the obvious stuff—puts you in a much better position to make those desired changes in your life. So keep learning!
Adapted from Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA.
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