The Gift of Hyperfocus
By Scott Wu
For many of us, hyperfocus is one of the benefits of ADHD. When engaging in activities we love, time flies by, and we experience a hyperfixation so intense the world around us disappears. And it feels great!
Of course, the dysregulated attention system that leads to hyperfocus cuts both ways. Just as there are things we may lose ourselves in, there are also projects that are difficult to wade through. We must spend a disproportionate amount of time on these tasks to reach our goals.
For me, it’s always been math. I’ve never been great at long calculations. My mind wanders during problems, distracted by random thoughts and ideas. I’ve often caught myself adjusting my hot cocoa recipe or considering new topics for satire when evaluating integrals or differentiating functions. Regardless, I’ve always pushed myself to take the most rigorous courses possible.
Why? The usual spiel about wanting to challenge myself academically and intellectually aside, I’m not exactly a math lover. If anything, my mathematical capabilities align more with the Little Einsteins, not Albert Einstein.
Einstein determined time was relative. When doing math homework, I confirmed his theory. An hour of calculus stretches far longer than an hour spent on activities I enjoy. One of the things I’ve learned the hard way, by spending ungodly amounts of time on math, is to work the way my brain wants me to work. Math homework is unavoidable, but I can channel my ADHD hyperfocus into math by making it more interesting.
Instead of being a chore, math can be a gateway to things I enjoy. After I finish doing my math homework, I reward myself with something I am passionate about. Cooking or writing satire are two things I enjoy and am good at. That makes them things I can easily focus more energy on. In fact, I can hyperfocus on them. ADHD’ers aren’t known for our ability to tolerate boredom, but this doesn’t need to be a weakness. Instead, we can use our passions to help us work better.
So, cooking and satire. I love both. I used to watch other people and admire their work. But you can only be a backseat driver for so long.
Cooking is a great example. I found cooking demanded persistence and attention to detail, but it also allowed me to channel the chaotic, creative energy that often proved counterproductive to solving mathematical equations. Cleaning the kitchen after I finished is a whole other discussion! But when I’m cooking, I can focus on even the smallest details. That’s the hyperfocus coming into play, and I love it.
Essentially, we can approach tasks that we are less enthusiastic about by using “rewards” to motivate ourselves. These “rewards” can be whatever you want them to be. From a quick snack to time set aside for your passion. You can use anything you love enough to hyperfocus on as fuel to power through the mundane necessities of life.
Hyperfocus is a gift. To take advantage of it, we must identify our passions and strengths and pursue them relentlessly.
Bio: Hi everyone, my name’s Scott Wu, and I’m a high school senior from Honolulu, Hawaii. I’m currently stressing over college apps, first semester grades, and everything else college related. Aside from that, I’m a huge Patriots fan and an avid Calvin and Hobbes reader.
As a writer for the ADDA Insider, I’ll be sharing my own stories and stories from other young adults with ADHD. If you have a story you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. You can submit your story, or request an interview, here.