Having the tools to listen better, whether at work, in class, or in social situations, helps reduce anxiety and builds confidence.
Do you catch your mind wandering while in conversations with people and suddenly realize you’re no longer listening? Have you felt the stress associated with trying to recover from these situations, praying that no one will notice?
Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) myself, I can certainly relate! Sustaining attention with our unique brains can be challenging. One of the experiences that stands out for me was when I worked in publishing years ago as an art director.
I remember spending time during work meetings lost in my own thoughts, unable to stay focused on the discussions, and fearful that I would be called upon to contribute. Whether our minds drift off at work, in class, or in social situations, the end result is the same. We are left feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and we beat ourselves up about it. But it's not hopeless!
We can learn ways to build this skill and become better listeners. I am going to share the strategies that have helped me strengthen my attention muscle and keep my brain engaged.
Why Do We Zone Out With ADHD?
When thoughts feel uncomfortable to our brains, rather than having to experience them, our brains seek to escape and shift to think about safer topics. This can be interpreted by our brains as a threat and we automatically go into a fight, flight, or freeze response and shut down.
We disengage and search for something easy, something that we would rather be thinking about, like a past conversation or a fantasy. These thought patterns of drifting off often become habits over time and happen without our awareness.
Top 5 Reasons We Stop Paying Attention
ADHD is defined as not only “a challenge of attention”, but also “a deficit, or challenge of interest”. If the topic is not interesting to us, we will lose engagement. Boredom can be so painful that our brains will wander off in search of something more enjoyable to think about instead.
• We think we won't "get it"
Anticipation is an emotion, so when we anticipate that we won’t understand, our anxiety overtakes us and our brains are not open to attending. Often we have experiences where a concept is expressed in a way that does not align with the way we process information, and it throws us off. Also, certain words can trip us up and then we feel lost. We’ll go down rabbit holes trying to piece it all together and recover to ensure that we are not being perceived as being stupid.
Those with ADHD receive more negative feedback than neurotypicals over the course of their lives. Often we fear that our contribution will be perceived as foolish and we worry that we will be criticized. We get so tied up with thoughts of fear that we zone out.
Sometimes we think our contribution to the conversation needs to be so grand that we become preoccupied with thoughts about whether we'll be impressive enough, smart enough, or creative enough, and it keeps us in our heads and takes us out of the present moment.
• Self Judgment
There's a tendency to be overly critical of ourselves with ADHD and our thoughts of how we might come across, overthinking whether our response is going to make us sound smart, funny, or likable enough. When we are consumed by these thoughts, we stop listening.
6 Quick Tips to Pay Better Attention
Tip #1 - Get Curious
Having a mindset of curiosity helps build interest, which helps our brains stay engaged. If you’re in a work meeting or in class, think about the ideas that pique your interest and things you want to learn more about.
Tip #2 - Stay Active
Be as involved as possible, asking questions and making comments. When we are actively participating, it helps us stay more focused on the discussion and be less in our heads.
Tip #3 - Take Notes
Writing things down is not only a powerful way to assist our brains in remembering what we want to say, but because many of us with ADHD are kinesthetic learners, moving our pens helps us process information.
Tip #4 - Flip Your Self Talk
Instead of thinking “I’m not going to get this”, change your self-talk to “I got this!” Even if you don't believe it at first. The more you practice positive self-talk, the more likely it is that you will eventually own it.
Positive thoughts open our minds to taking in information. What can you tell yourself to give yourself encouragement instead of self-condemnation?
Tip #5 - Take The Pressure Off
When you're in a work meeting, try to shift your mindset away from coming up with a perfect idea, and think more in terms of collaborating as a team player. Preliminary thoughts and ideas inspire others and they don't need to be perfectly thought out.
What is "perfect" anyway? Since there is no such thing as "perfect", I often tell my clients to try taking the pressure off by going for the B- Instead!
Tip #6 - Do Something Physical Before
Doing something physical arouses our brains, and helps us focus. You don’t have to go to the gym. Going up and down stairs at a brisk pace or walking a couple of laps around the building can help.
I hope these tips have empowered you with new ways to sustain your attention. Stay tuned for more posts that will help you have more success with ADHD! Feel free to leave a comment below.
What are your thoughts about this topic? I’d love to know. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You got this!
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