Hyperfocus without adhd

'In the zone': Hyperfocus and ADHD

Interviewer: Lucy Vernall (Interviewer, Ideas Lab)
Guest: Brandon Ashinoff
Broadcast: 19/05/2014

Intro VO: Welcome to the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast from the University of Birmingham. In each edition we hear from an expert in a different field, who gives us insider information on key trends, upcoming events, and what they think the near future holds.

Sam: So we’re here today with Brandon Ashinoff who’s a Doctoral Researcher in the School of Psychology, here at the University of Birmingham. Hello Brandon? 

Brandon: Hi.  

Sam: So Brandon, your research looks at hyperfocus of the brain, with a specific interest of hyperfocus within people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. First off, can you just explain about what ADHD is? 

Brandon: ADHD is a disorder which presents with a series of different types of symptoms. They tend to fall into three categories: the first category would be inattentive symptoms which are things along the lines of not listening when spoken to, having difficulty maintaining focus on a task and becoming bored with a task after only a few minutes. The second category would be hyperactive symptoms which would be things like being constantly in motion, having difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities, and the third one would be impulsive tasks, which would be being very impatient, interrupting conversations and having difficulty waiting for things that you want to do. People with ADHD have a variety of combinations of these different types of symptoms, so there’s no one set type of ADHD. In fact they tend to group them in two or three different categories; one being ADHD inattentive type, which is mostly symptoms that fall into the inattentive category; ADHD hyperactive type, which are people who have symptoms that mostly fall into the hyperactive category and the impulsive category; and ADHD combined type which are people who have symptoms that fall into all of those categories in a large mix of them.

Sam: Right, so it’s quite a confusing condition initially to diagnose.

Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of subjectivity also that goes into a diagnosis. Just to give you an example, you can imagine something like having difficulty maintaining focus on a task but how do you decide when someone’s having difficulty doing that? So let’s say you’re a teacher in a school and you have to decide if Billy can’t focus on a particular task, how do you measure that? Is it how many times he looks up from his desk over the course of five minutes, and if that’s the case, is looking up five times over the course of five minutes enough to say he’s having trouble? Would it be twenty times? Are there other ways that you can figure that out? It’s hard to actually diagnose and so a lot of it comes down to the subjective decision of either the teacher or the parent or the doctor who’s kind of determining the, doing the assessment. 

Sam: So if there was one defining rule of identifying someone with ADHD, what would you say?

Brandon: I would say that generally, to say that someone has a particular symptom of ADHD, their behaviour that’s related to that symptom would have to actually interfere with their life in some way. It would have to make it so that they don’t do their homework or aren’t paying attention during the work day or things along those lines. Something that would actually cause a real problem in their life.

Sam: So your research looks at hyperfocus. Surely you’re talking about something here which is a lack of focus. How does hyperfocus come into ADHD?

Brandon: Well this is an interesting paradox that you find with people with ADHD. So something that you might often hear people say – doctors, teachers and parents – would be something along the lines of ‘I was trying to get my son’s attention and I said their name fifteen times and they didn’t hear me, they didn’t respond, they were too busy playing a video game or watching television'. Now this seems strange because if you’re very distractible, if you can’t focus, anything should grab your attention. You say their name, they should turn and pay attention, even for a moment, and yet these kids don’t seem to respond at all. This is sort of what hyperfocus is. Hyperfocus is a state of intense concentration where you lose track of time, you really enjoy what you’re doing and you seem to be better at that than whatever it is you’re doing. Now if you’re playing a video game, you’re really good at playing that video game. If you’re playing a sport you get really good at playing that sport, that sort of thing. This is weird in the context of ADHD because it’s actually too much attention. You’re focused so intently on something, no other information gets into your brain essentially.

Sam: And can people without ADHD have this hyperfocus?

Brandon: Absolutely. You see this in normal populations all the time, you know, anybody has had this experience where they just get so focused in on something that they’re just not paying attention to anything else. So you might have an experience where you say that you’re really in the zone on something. That’s essentially hyperfocus.

Sam: Is it that people with ADHD have this more commonly? How does one distinguish whether it’s ADHD or whether someone’s just really in the zone all the time?

Brandon: Well, if it’s a symptom of ADHD, it usually presents with a host of other symptoms that are also related to ADHD. So it wouldn’t be seen just in isolation, which is what would make you think that this is actually related to ADHD rather than something else. However, one of the problems we have right now is that we don’t know what makes hyperfocus different in people with ADHD and people who don’t have ADHD.

Sam: So hyperfocus seems like quite a desirable state. Are there any sort of known ways to induce it?

Brandon: The short answer is we don’t know. There seems to be some evidence that there may be ways of inducing hyperfocus. Right now what seems to be the case is that you need to be in a situation in which you’re being given unambiguous feedback, you really need to know if you’re doing well or poorly at the thing that you’re doing, you need to have some level of interest in it or possibly get some level of enjoyment out of it. If you’re bored and completely unhappy with what you’re doing, you’re probably not going to go into a hyperfocus state. And finally you need to be doing a task that’s both not too hard and not too easy. It has to be challenging but it still has to be something that you can actually do. And this might sound familiar to you, thinking about playing sports and playing video games and things along those lines. These are the types of situations in which people generally enter a hyperfocus state. Unfortunately, the reason I can’t say this for sure is because the research really hasn’t been done yet. That’s actually what my research right now is trying to focus on, is trying to figure out can you actually experimentally manipulate going into a hyperfocus state or not? It’s really hard to do, it’s really hard to test and that’s probably one of the reasons there’s not very much research on hyperfocus in the first place, just because it’s hard to do.

Sam: So it sounds like there’s space for a recipe that you can identify with the right circumstances in which you might go into hyperfocus but there’s not a specific way that you can just click into it I guess.

Brandon: Exactly, yeah. And I mean hyperfocus in itself is not a guaranteed thing to happen, right? I’m sure there are times where you’re really interested in something or you’re doing something that’s a little bit challenging, you maybe have other things on your mind and you won’t go into a hyperfocus state, it’s just something that’s very difficult to predict and we’re just now starting to learn what we need to know to actually start figuring out when someone would go into a hyperfocus state and knowing that will give us the ability to actually start doing research on it so we can look and see, well they’re in a hyperfocus state now, how do they perform on certain tasks versus when they’re not in hyperfocus?

Sam: So how does hyperfocus actually affect the brain? Is there any danger to it?

Brandon: Well, to be honest we don’t know. There’s only one published paper that has even tried to experimentally look at hyperfocus and that was by Ronny Sklar and it came out last year and it was a Master’s thesis. You know, we really have very little information about it and that’s one of the things I want to start to figure out. As I mentioned before, the reason that this is difficult is because figuring out if somebody’s in a hyperfocus state is hard. You can’t get a person to break out of hyperfocus to tell you they’re in hyperfocus because if they do, they’re not in hyperfocus anymore and that breaks your whole experiment. So it’s a tough thing to figure out and that’s what we’re trying to do at the moment. One possibility is that while you’re in hyperfocus you have more efficient processing of different types of information. So for example you could imagine that if you’re playing soccer you might have faster, more efficient processing of information related to hand/eye coordination. The same thing with a video game. If you’re playing a video game you might have faster processing or more efficient processing of information that’s related to visual perception. Things that are important to the task that you’re doing. Another possibility is that you don’t actually have faster processing. You’re not actually necessarily better at the task that you’re doing, you’re not faster, you don’t actually do any better, you just think that you’re better, you just have this experience that makes you feel like you’ve done really really well, that maybe the good experiences are sort of magnified and the bad experience are minimised and you come out of it going ‘I did great’ when in reality you did exactly the same. And that’s going to be something that’s really really important for us to figure out, if for no other reason than knowing how beneficial hyperfocus states really can be. 

Sam: Fantastic. Well I look forward to hearing the results of that one when you finally reach the conclusion. So, Brandon Ashinoff, thank you very much for joining us today.

Brandon: Thank you.

Outro VO: This podcast and others in the series are available on the Ideas Lab website: www. ideaslabuk.com. There's also information on the free support Ideas Lab has to offer to TV and radio producers, new media producers and journalists. The interviewer and producer for the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast was Sam Walter.

Hyperfixation vs. Hyperfocus: ADHD, Autism, and Mental Illness

Hyperfixation vs Hyperfocus: Difference Between Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation

Have you ever seen someone glued to any activity that they lose track of time and sense of the things happening around them? Or think of this scenario: a 12- year old child, putting overt focus or becoming fixated on a video game for the past six months, forgetting all the necessary tasks like doing homework, playing with other children, or worse, losing sleep. Is that typical behaviour?  If not, Hyperfixation vs hyperfocus could be signs of one of the underlying mental illnesses, specifically attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A. D.H.D.) [14]and autism spectrum disorders (A.S.D.)[18]. How can these two conditions subsequently affect the quality of life of an individual? Read further to know more in detail.

Difference between A.D.H.D. and ASD

However, ADHD[15] and A.S.D.[16] are both neurodevelopmental disorders of the brain that begin in early childhood and continue till adulthood. Hence, the signs of both conditions overlap quite a bit, making diagnosis very difficult, often misdiagnosing one state as the other.

Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual D.S.M. 5 now states that A.D.H.D. and A.S.D. can exist together[13]. Hence both these conditions impair social interactions and regular life activities and sabotage relationships. 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.)

Hence, A.D.H.D. [1] is associated with a lack of attention in routine activities, excessive physical movements, and emotional restlessness like ceaseless thinking or talking. Because on the flip side, people with A.D.H.D. also show too much interest and concentration in doing the activities they like or which provide instant gratification[12]. Therefore, these activities can be anything from playing a particular game to chatting on social media.

Hence the critical point is that while they get too engrossed in doing these activities, they miss out on performing essential tasks required for day-to-day life. So it has detrimental effects on their lives due to failure in schools or colleges, unemployment, and failed relationships. 

Types of A.D.H.D.

Now types of A.D.H.D. are: 

  • Inattentive type[9]
  • Hyperactive-impulsive type[10]
  • Combined type[11]

Risk factors of A.D.H.D.

However, these can be any of the following:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental risk factors during pregnancy, such as smoking cigarettes, alcohol, or drug use 
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress during pregnancy
  • Preterm birth 

So, brain scans of A. D.H.D. children show abnormalities in the brain’s frontal part, which controls the movements of hands, feet, eyes, and speech. Since they need the help of ADHD counsellors and therapists for ADHD issues to help patients control their obsessions and compulsions. Mindful Parenting can help kids with ADHD to battle the symptoms of Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation


Mindfulness can bring in a Calm that all of us crave for in these Chaotic Times.

Experience the Calm, Take our Mindfulness Course for free today!


Autism spectrum disorders (A.S.D.)

However, autism[17] starts appearing very early in childhood in the form of a lack of verbal and social skills, erratic movements of hands or head, and maintaining eye contact.

How A.S.D. Affects Children and Teens

However, the WHO estimate, that one in 160 children suffers from A.S.D.[2] worldwide. Therefore, these children become very reclusive and do not like socializing too much. So they have repetitive behaviour and become fixated on specific activities like continuously washing hands and cleaning without realizing when to stop themselves from doing it. So, their fixation can also sometimes make them excel in the subject of their interest, but their interests are fewer.

Risk factors of A.S.D.
  • Infection during pregnancy[8]
  • Drug abuse
  • Exposure to pesticides and air pollution

Difference between hyperfixation vs hyperfocus

Hence, Hyperfocus and hyper fixation are two signs of one of the most misdiagnosed and undertreated mental health disorders [7]known as A.D.H.D. Because, these signs are also present in patients with autism and other mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorders (O.C.D.), schizophrenia, depression, etc.

However, hyper fixation and hyperfocus are often used synonymously. So, there is a thin differentiation between these two terms.  


Hence it is a sense of deep and overt concentration on a specific subject or thought that could be positive but detrimental simultaneously. Though, it is a common symptom of A.D.H.D. and may not be present in A.S.D. patients.

Although the name suggests, the attention deficit does not necessarily mean they lack complete awareness. Instead, they have difficulty managing the mind to perform the tasks at hand.

Because, on a positive note, children with hyperfocus have been deemed unique and gifted, as their focus keeps them excessively engaged in creating something exceptional. However, excessive stress on pointless things or activities can harm one’s quality of life.


However, it is a kind of extreme fixation on a particular show, person, or thought. So, it is a coping mechanism for people suffering from anxiety disorders, depression, and autism. According to, hyper fixation can last for years, unlike hyperfocus, where a person shifts their focus after completing a specific task.

So hyperfixation is more like binge-watching a show and following it even after it ends by reading the associated novels, talking to people about it incessantly, or in extreme cases, relating themselves with some character in real life.

Now, binge-eating, obsession over an ex-partner, using a particular cloth, etc., also come under the paradigm of hyper fixation. Then it releases a dopamine rush into the brain. Therefore, the person will always enjoy what they are doing, whether it is good or not.

Main causes of  hyperfixation vs hyperfocus

Now, several medical conditions can cause  hyper fixation and hyperfocus, such as:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.)[1]
  • Autism spectrum disorders (A.S.D.)[2]
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)[3]
  • Schizophrenia[4]
  • Depression[5]
  • Anxiety disorders[6]

Treatment of hyperfixation and hyperfocus

However, both are co-related signs of A. D.H.D. and A.S.D. and can be treated together. Since the signs appear early in childhood, treatment should start as soon as the early symptoms are identified.

As a result, such measures include:

  • Firstly, creating a disciplined environment for watching T.V. or video games
  • Making a timetable to track activities so that one doesn’t miss out on performing important tasks
  • Mindfulness techniques like meditation have been proven to keep thoughts in check, especially with hyper fixation. Because mindfulness meditation is helpful
  • Accordingly, cognitive-behavioural therapy or C.B.T. is beneficial for hyper fixation and hyperfocus –cognitive-behavioural therapy (C.B.T.). 
  • Additionally, Psychotherapy and medication are also necessary in cases of extreme signs
  •  At last, it is important to need an A.D.H.D. therapist.

Living with A.D.H.D., Autism and Hyperactivity Disorders

Hence, mental health is a very delicate zone. Therefore one should always seek an expert opinion before starting any therapy. For that reason, people contact the online mental health portal, United We Care. Because we have a pool of experts in the mental health domain to help people with mental health illnesses. At last, you can lead a less stressful, happier life with the correct diagnosis and timely treatment. Afterwards download our app, Stella, or contact us to open the doorway to healing.


[1] “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.),” NHS.uk. [Online]. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[2] “Autism,” N.H.S. U.K. [Online]. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[3] “What is O.C.D.?” International O.C.D. Foundation, 28-Apr-2014. [Online]. Available: https://iocdf. org/about-ocd/. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[4] “Schizophrenia,” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). [Online]. Available: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[5] Psychiatry.org. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[6] “Anxiety disorders,” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). [Online]. Available: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[7] “Mental disorders,” Who. int. [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[8] “Autistic women, pregnancy and motherhood,” Org. UK. [Online]. Available: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/professional-practice/pregnancy. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[9] S. Watson, “A.D.H.D. inattentive type: Symptoms, Causes, and treatment,” WebMD. [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/adhd-inattentive-type. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[10] S. Watson, “A.D.H.D. hyperactive-impulsive type: Symptoms, Causes, and treatment,” WebMD. [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/adhd-hyperactive-impulsive-type. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[11] K. Holland, “What is A.D.H.D. combined type?” Healthline, 21-Jun-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.healthline.com/health/what-adhd-combined-type. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[12] Jstor.org. [Online]. Available: https://daily.jstor.org/whats-bad-instant-gratification/. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[13] D. A. Regier, E. A. Kuhl, and D. J. Kupfer, “The DSM-5: Classification and criteria changes,” World Psychiatry, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 92–98, 2013.
[14] “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and teens: What you need to know,” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). [Online]. Available: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-in-children-and-teens-what-you-need-to-know. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022].
[15] Wikipedia contributors, “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17-Jul-2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Attention_deficit_hyperactivity_disorder&oldid=1098783484.
[16] Wikipedia contributors, “Autism spectrum,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18-Jul-2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autism_spectrum&oldid=1098943567.





Wikipedia contributors, “Causes of autism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13-Jul-2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Causes_of_autism&oldid=1097964020

Psychiatry.org. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/autism/what-is-autism-spectrum-disorder. [Accessed: 24-Jul-2022

“Getting started with mindfulness,” Mindful, 21-Jul-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/. [Accessed: 25-Jul-2022].

What is hyperfocus? | RBC Trends

The ability to concentrate on one task without being constantly distracted by notifications and social networks is a valuable skill in the modern world. Understanding how to enter a state of hyperfocus and why it is more effective than multitasking

What is hyperfocus?

To go into business with your head, devote yourself to it, plunge into thoughts - if you know the state of total detachment from the world for the sake of performing any task that requires concentration, then you have experience of immersion in hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus is the opposite of multitasking. Since the state of extraordinary concentration when immersed in any activity cannot last long, hyperfocus is measured in periods. This is one of the phases of brain activity when focusing on a particular topic allows us to ignore all other stimuli. If you want to feel the effect of hyperfocus on yourself right now, watch a video with basketball players and count the passes of the team in white:

Mindfulness test

Gestalt psychology gives attention to two key functions: to distinguish a figure from the background and to keep concentration on it. Imagine that you are looking out the window at the landscape, and then, noticing a drop on the glass, you focus on it, while the landscape in the background becomes blurred.

Is hyperfocus just attention?

Rather, hyperattention. According to a Microsoft study, in 2000, the attention span was only 12 seconds, but by 2015 it had dropped to 8 — even goldfish can hold attention longer (9seconds). The fact that it is harder for people to concentrate is already reflected in labor laws - in 2016, Sweden switched to a 6-hour work day to increase productivity (this idea was later abandoned for economic reasons, despite the positive results of the experiment). Modern educators are already talking about introducing new techniques to keep the attention of the “goldfish” generation in order to teach children more effectively.

That is why, against the background of "clip thinking", which is characterized by lightning-fast switching from one object of attention to another, hyperfocus stands out - the ability to deeply concentrate on a deed, subject, thought. The ideal embodiment of hyperfocus can be called a game of chess, during which the player scrolls through several options for the game in his head, unable to tear himself away from the board.

Hyperfocus and a brilliant memory allow talented chess players to accurately reproduce games played in the past on the board, or play so-called "blind chess". Grandmaster Alexander Alekhine, who remained the reigning world champion until his death, once played a set on 32 boards blindly - while he himself was in a dark room, without chess, and the moves of his opponents were told to him orally. The result is 19 victories, 9 draws, and only 4 defeats.

Why do we want to be distracted?

Dopamine is the 'hormone of joy' to blame. It is his surge that is observed when we try a delicious dish, hug a loved one or laugh at memes. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is produced in the human brain and serves as an element of the reward system, responsible for motivation.

The “Generation of Consumption” got such a name for a reason — we really consume much more than all the people living before us. Food, things, information - these triggers make us addicted to the emotions we experience when we consume them. Concentration on any business seems to be a kind of asceticism, a conscious rejection of pleasures, for which not everyone is ready.

Silicon Valley residents, realizing the severity of dopamine addiction, began using behavioral therapies known as "stimulus control." This is a kind of detox, during which you need to stop having uncontrolled pleasure - adhere to a strict diet, do not talk, do not use gadgets. According to those who have tried dopamine fasting, after it the consciousness clears up, concentration increases, inspiration appears - although experts emphasize that this is hardly connected with dopamine.

Does this mean that we are dumber than our ancestors, who were more independent of dopamine? Everything is not so clear. Dana Boyd, a research partner at Microsoft Research, believes that people have simply begun to think differently: "We are seeing a rewiring of the human brain." In today's world with its powerful flows of information, we need to constantly switch in order to be relevant and multitask.

Multitasking or hyperfocus?

Today, almost any company - whether it's an IT giant or a convenience store - is looking for multitasking employees. The ability to quickly switch between work tasks in HR circles is tacitly considered super-value, although some scientists are already beginning to doubt the harmlessness of this quality.

Multitasking is one of the cognitive distortions. The human brain is capable of switching between topics so quickly that it can feel like writing up an annual report, signing up for a massage, and making tea at the same time, when in reality it is a sequence of actions, just very fast.

Even so, it's better not to overdo it with the number of tasks. This is evidenced by a study by the Paris National Institute INSERM, which proved that a person is comfortable doing a maximum of two tasks at the same time: the more tasks, the more mistakes.

The quality of the tasks performed, not their quantity, is what increases the level of efficiency. Single-tasking, or hyperfocus, is best for discipline and allows you to "enter the flow."

Is hyperfocus a sign of ADHD?

Hyperfocus also has a medical interpretation. It is often used when referring to symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders. The trend towards a reduction in the attention span of a modern person revealed another pattern - the prevalence of ADHD increased from 7% in 2003 to 11% in 2011.

Before the official recognition of ADHD, people with this syndrome in everyday life could be called "slobs", "lazy", "sluts" - all because of the difficulties with attention control. ADHD is an innate sensitivity of the brain's nervous system that affects how a person acts in certain situations. The signs of the syndrome are variable, but hyperfocus is one of the most frequent manifestations of the disease.

However, hyperfocus in ADHD has a special depth: until the goal is achieved or there is a loss of interest, the person will not switch attention to something else. People with ADHD call this phenomenon both a blessing and a curse. The fact is that during a period of a bright flash of interest in something, they are more productive than ever. Parents of “fidgets” (this is how children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often called) give this example: “A child who always sat down to do homework with a creak and “floated away” after 5 minutes begins to sit for hours and carefully read books on a subject that For some reason, he was interested." During the period of hyperfocus, "fidgets" are extremely productive. If a person with ADHD learns to manage his condition and understands what kind of occupation he should associate his life with, he will have professional success.

The problem is that hyperfocus can work on both useful and absolutely unnecessary and meaningless stimuli. But even in them, a person with ADHD will plunge headlong, sometimes reaching compulsive behavior. In addition, it is extremely difficult to "call" hyperfocus on your own, which is why productivity will not come at the snap of your fingers when it is really needed to solve daily tasks.

How to train hyperfocus?

Canadian writer, blogger and productivity consultant Chris Bailey has explored the phenomenon of hyperfocus and even dedicated a book to it, Hyperfocus. How I learned to do more with less time. “Trying to do many things at the same time, we do not give ourselves the opportunity to complete any important task. And I began to understand that by focusing deeply on just one important thing at a time - entering into hyperfocus - we become the most productive versions of ourselves, ”Bailey shares his observations. In the book, he describes various techniques that will help you get closer to the state of hyperfocus and start working more productively, and also pays attention to the other side of mega-focus - the art of defocusing.

Attention development experts recommend a variety of formal and informal practices for becoming a productive version of yourself. Cognitive simulators, games and special programs will allow you to build up new mental skills, like muscles in a gym, however, as soon as the brain reveals a pattern in solving such problems, the addiction stage will begin. This method is recommended to be combined with practices based on the Eastern approach to understanding concentration. Yoga, dzogchen, qigong, meditation are all effective ways to develop attention, will and self-control.

A joint study by scientists Gloria Mark and Mary Chervinsky showed that we switch between applications on the computer 566 times during a typical working day. A positive result in terms of increasing your productivity can bring not only a digital detox, but also the competent use of gadgets. App developers have created many online assistants ready to fight for your concentration with a myriad of alerts and other distractions. With pomodoro timer , you can individually adjust the time intervals of work and the number of approaches per day - this way you will increase your chances of achieving a state of hyperfocus. The Forest app encourages work without dopamine recharging: while you are not distracted by the phone, it grows a tree. It is worth giving up slack and being distracted by social networks, and the plant dies. For a detailed immersion in any task, it is convenient to use mind mapping - drawing up mental maps that will help visualize thoughts and put all the information on the shelves.

Hyperfocus is an indicator of the transformation of human consciousness and its evolution, it is a tool that, if used correctly, can open up even greater cognitive possibilities for humanity. It can and should be trained not only to improve working discipline, but also to explore your capabilities.

Hyperfocus, hyperactivity and useful noise. What is ADHD and why correcting it can improve quality of life - Knife

The editors of the Knife magazine argue that this article is not propaganda of any advantages in the use of certain narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their analogues or precursors, new potentially dangerous psychoactive substances, drug-containing plants, including propaganda of the use of narcotic drugs for medical purposes. drugs, psychotropic substances, new potentially dangerous psychoactive substances, narcotic plants that suppress the will of a person or adversely affect his mental or physical health.
The article has exclusively historical and cultural value, is intended for use in scientific or medical purposes or in educational activities. Lead a healthy lifestyle. Use your brain productively and for its intended purpose!

The curse of the name and hyperfocus

In the very designation of the syndrome lies a distortion of its essence. The problem for people with ADHD is not attention deficit, as the name suggests, but difficulty managing it. It is believed that it can be torture for people with ADHD to patiently listen to a lecture at a university or participate in zoom calls. Surprisingly, those same people can then spend hours coding, writing poetry, or cleaning the house.

That is, people with ADHD are not only able to maintain a good level of concentration, but also achieve such a degree of immersion in any activity that both time and the world around them seem to cease to exist. This special state of attention is called hyperfocus .
See also

Anti-Psychiatry: as a protest against punitive psychiatry led to a revision of the norm

Although the state of hyperfocus is still not included in the official diagnostic criteria for ADHD, it is often mentioned when visiting a doctor or in discussions on thematic forums. So, recently in one of the Reddit threads on the topic of ADHD, features were discussed that are difficult to understand for people who do not suffer from ADHD. Hyperfocus turned out to be one of them. At the same time, users with ADHD noted that their ability to concentrate sometimes causes misunderstanding on the part of others: “If you are able to concentrate so much, then what prevents you from doing it arbitrarily in those situations that require it?” Such rhetoric can lead not only to unfounded criticism, but also to the denial of the existence of a symptom as such, to accusing a person of laziness and lack of willpower.

But an important feature of hyperfocus in people with ADHD is that it usually occurs involuntarily. People with ADHD compare hyperfocus to being under hypnosis or being under the influence of "siren singing". An important factor in causing hyperfocus is the person's interest in what they are doing, even if it is something as simple as growing flowers. Such an activity can make a person with ADHD leave reality for some time.

Thus, on the one hand, hyperfocus can be perceived as a "superpower" of people with ADHD, because being in the flow creates the ground for enjoying the activity and, accordingly, for improving its quality. On the other hand, there is a component 9 in the hyperfocus of people with ADHD0101 perseveration - debilitating "stuck" in this state and the inability to switch attention to something else.

Passive Brain Network

Let's go back to the attention deficit in people with ADHD, more precisely to the difficulties of voluntarily switching and maintaining attention, to sensitivity to distractions (if this is not a state of hyperfocus). It is important to mention here the so-called default mode network (DMN) . This system of brain regions includes part of the prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, and the angular gyrus (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Default mode network (DMN). Source

Although the functions of the DMN are not fully understood, it is known that it is more active when a person is not focused on a specific task and allows attention and thoughts to wander.

A recent meta-analysis based on 20 studies of 944 ADHD patients and 1121 normotypical individuals found systematic changes in functional associations in DMN in people with ADHD. In this syndrome, certain regions of the DMN become overactive during information processing, leading to distraction and difficulty concentrating. Also, in patients with ADHD, an increased connection between the DMN and the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for multitasking was found, which may reflect the tendency of people with ADHD to rush between several things at once.

Fortunately, with age, the dormant mode network of the brain develops, and in some cases, if ADHD symptoms are accompanied by impaired DMN functional connectivity in childhood, these disorders can be neutralized.

Importance of hyperactivity

The second component of ADHD is hyperactivity. It is not a mandatory sign of ADHD. Back in the fourth version of the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, from 1994, three subtypes of ADHD were introduced: attention deficit-predominant, hyperactivity-predominant, and combined. It has been found that if the manifestations of childhood ADHD fall into the category with a predominance of hyperactivity, with age they move into the combined category.

But even in the absence of obvious symptoms of hyperactivity (inability to sit still, tendency to move and talk a lot, impatience, etc.), less noticeable signs of it can be found in people with ADHD: a tendency to fidget, swing a leg or touch something with their hands .

For a long time, such manifestations were considered as a negative symptom and were blocked in every possible way within the framework of the general direction of raising children. Surely many of the readers will remember how at school they were taught to sit still at their desks, not to swing in a chair, not to shake their legs, etc. However, recent research shows that manifestations of hyperactivity in people with ADHD may be not only a sign of impaired control of impulsivity , but also an important compensatory mechanism!

Since people with ADHD are often prone to boredom and lack motivation, which makes it difficult to concentrate, even small physical activity in the form of limb movement can spur the nervous system, provide it with the missing stimulation and resource for focus and involvement in activities. For example, when children aged 8–12 years were asked to complete tasks to assess working memory, participants with ADHD performed better the more motor activity they allowed themselves (rocking a chair, moving their legs, etc. ). This pattern was not observed in the group of normotypical children, since the level of physical activity that plays the role of auxiliary self-stimulation for children with ADHD, in the absence of the syndrome, may be excessive and distracting.

Useful noise

How else can you explain why "disturbing" and "unnecessary" physical activity helps people with ADHD? Let us turn to the principle of stochastic resonance , which assumes that if any stimulus is presented with an intensity below the detection threshold, then it is possible to detect it in the presence of a small amount of noise, because the noise superimposed on the signal helps the latter to overcome the threshold (see Fig. 2) . If the noise is too strong, the ability to detect the signal decreases again.

Figure 2. Demonstration of stochastic resonance. The red line indicates the signal intensity threshold above which it can be detected. In the graph (d), the signal hardly exceeds this threshold, and the patterns are barely distinguishable in the image (a). With the addition of low power Gaussian noise (b, e), the rectangular patterns begin to differentiate. But if the noise power is increased (c, f), the patterns in it are lost. Source

The principle of stochastic resonance is observed in any physical systems, including human and animal perception systems. And in the context of ADHD research, stochastic resonance formed the basis of the so-called moderate brain arousal model (moderate brain arousal model). Its authors rely on evidence of an imbalance in the dopamine system of people with ADHD. To put it simply, this imbalance suggests that in people with ADHD, decreased levels of dopamine in the extracellular space leads to increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli. This complicates attention management and other important processes. Insufficient extracellular dopamine activity is associated with a low internal noise level of the nervous system. Therefore, the authors suggest, in order to perform well on cognitive tasks, people with ADHD require additional noise coming from the external environment as compensation. Third-party sounds, physical activity, etc. can act as noise with different efficiency. It is this noise that should improve the transmission of neuronal signals according to the principle of stochastic resonance.

It would seem that people with ADHD should be more distracted in the presence of noise, but it can help them achieve optimal levels of cognitive performance .

And there are a number of confirmations of this. For example, in one of the experiments, background music not only did not distract children with ADHD, but also helped them to cope better with arithmetic tasks, which was not observed among normotypical children. And if background white noise was created while solving tasks for memory, then children with ADHD coped better, and the accuracy of solving normotypical children fell.

Bad upbringing or genetics?

Adults with ADHD may face reproaches from others (employers, families) for laziness, lack of willpower, slovenliness and other negative qualities, the manifestation of which normotypical people can control arbitrarily and with ease. This creates a vicious cycle, as a result of which ADHD sufferers experience additional stress, anxiety, guilt, which is bad for their psychological well-being. There is also a misconception that such manifestations of ADHD as inattention, impatience, lack of motivation, procrastination are entirely the result of poor parenting in childhood.

But genetic studies partly suggest otherwise: the heritability of ADHD is as high as 74%. This means that 74% of the variations in the manifestations of ADHD are due to variations in genes, and not to environmental influences. Approximately the same high level of heritability is observed in autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The functions of the identified candidate genes, the variations of which are associated with ADHD, are associated with the transport and receptors of serotonin and dopamine.

Dopamine is affected by methylphenidate, which is the primary drug in the pharmacological correction of ADHD in most countries of the world (however, in Russia and a number of other countries this substance is legally prohibited for use and circulation).

Interestingly, the symptoms of ADHD turned out to be associated with patterns and in the inherited functional connections of the previously mentioned default mode network (DMN) and the ventral attention network (see Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Brain networks whose functional connectivity is highly heritable. (A) DMN network. (B) Ventral attention network. Source

Although much has been discovered in the field of ADHD genetics, some aspects require more research. Among them, in particular, are cases when, of two monozygotic twins that are identical in genotype, one suffers from ADHD, and the other does not. Why is this happening? It's not just about genes, is it?

A study of pairs of identical twins in which only one had ADHD showed that, given equal total cortical volume, the thalamus and striatum of twins with ADHD are smaller than those of their normotypical siblings. Further study of the genetic manifestations of ADHD is possible in relation to these anatomical structures.

In the absence of other genetic differences, the following observation turned out to be important: it was in the genes of those brain structures in which differences were found between identical twins (striatum and thalamus) that a different level of methylation, the process of adding methyl groups to the DNA molecule, was found . And these differences no longer relate so much to genetic factors as to epigenetic factors, that is, to external influences on current genetic processes (gene expression, etc.) that do not change the nucleotide sequence in DNA.

However, despite the contribution of genetics and epigenetics to the study of ADHD, there are some aspects of lifestyle that can affect the manifestation of this syndrome.

In particular, a study of children with ADHD at the age of four showed that the less they slept and the less time they spent on cognitively useful activities, such as reading, etc., the more pronounced the symptoms of ADHD became already by seven years old.

Also, possible factors that may influence the occurrence of ADHD in a child include the mother's exposure to stress during pregnancy, her smoking, alcohol consumption, low birth weight of the child. However, there is still no clear evidence that the correlation between these factors and the occurrence of ADHD suggests a causal relationship.

The culture of inattention and the spread of ADHD

With the development of digital technologies, our ability to pay attention faces more and more obstacles. Endless notifications in instant messengers, the cult of multitasking, the clip format of information consumption do not allow attention to linger on one thing, unless a conscious effort is made to limit digital impact. The question arises: could excessive exposure to the digital environment provoke the development of ADHD symptoms and explain the observed increase in its prevalence?

This question was tentatively answered in a recent study. It was attended by schoolchildren aged 15–16 who did not have symptoms of ADHD at the time of the start of the study. Over the course of two years, the frequency with which adolescents interacted with digital technologies was assessed. Two years later, it turned out that a high frequency of interaction with them was associated with an increased risk of ADHD symptoms. At a statistically significant level, the frequency of checking social networks, viewing images and videos, listening to music, reading blogs, etc. was found to be associated with ADHD symptoms.

It is important to emphasize that the causation of this effect could be reversed: the initial presence of ADHD, not yet manifested at the start of the study, but manifested after two years, could increase the susceptibility of participants to intense stimulation through digital technologies. In this regard, it is important to conduct additional research.

ADHD, social skills and relationships

When discussing ADHD, the focus is often on how a person with this syndrome copes with cognitive tasks, school or work. However, it must be remembered that social skills also suffer with ADHD.

To interact effectively with other people, you must be attentive, responsible, and control your impulsiveness. With ADHD, all three points are put under attack. Manifested in inattention to details, in forgetfulness, in disorganization and lack of punctuality, in a tendency to interrupt and not listen to the end, ADHD can be perceived by others as a sign of intentional rudeness and selfishness. This, in turn, can lead to rejection of the person with ADHD and their social isolation. Since the assimilation of social cues, rules of politeness and other socially relevant principles occurs in childhood, a child with ADHD can be helped by role-playing games in which typical social situations are reproduced and his attention is drawn to the necessary details.

The impulsiveness of people with ADHD can have a special effect on how they build romantic relationships. Since there is a novelty effect at the beginning of a relationship, at the stage of falling in love, in a person with ADHD this can lead to hyperfixation and excessive absorption in a partner. Then, as emotional adjustment inevitably sets in and the ADHD person begins to have difficulty focusing on relationships, they may feel like they are moving away from their partner, and this can be interpreted as cooling off. Moreover, a person with ADHD may involuntarily try to regain the previous level of positive emotional stimulation through certain strategies: he seeks to move to the next level of relationships, ignoring the natural dynamics of their development, switches to new relationships, tries to correct his partner, etc.

Undoubtedly, similar patterns of behavior also occur in social interactions and relationships of normotypical people - perhaps to a lesser extent. Therefore, when it comes to ADHD, a universal principle applies: the first step to balance in social or romantic interactions is an open discussion of the problems that arise, as well as the capabilities of a person, his desires or lack thereof.

ADHD in Russia

It is worth paying attention to the features of diagnosing and correcting ADHD in Russia. As mentioned above, substances - stimulants of the central nervous system, traditionally used to correct ADHD (including methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, etc.), are included in the List of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the circulation of which is prohibited in Russia. However, there are conditions under which the import of these substances into the territory of the Russian Federation is allowed for personal use for medical purposes. The reasons why these drugs are not recognized, and some of them are even called "children's cocaine", may be based on unsubstantiated claims that such stimulants in any case either themselves cause addiction or provoke addictive behavior. Undoubtedly, with pharmacological treatment, there are risks of developing dependence on many drugs, including painkillers or sedatives.

Use of methylphenidate and its analogues in high doses without a doctor's prescription may lead to dependence (as well as the abuse of other drugs that affect the nervous system). However, based on a meta-analysis of 15 studies, it was found that patients with ADHD do not increase the risk of subsequent addiction as a result of taking stimulants.

Therefore, for stimulants, the same principle is observed as for other medicines: these drugs should be taken as prescribed by a doctor and in therapeutically justified doses.

The action of drugs used in Russia to correct ADHD is based on an increase in the level of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain (for example, atomoxetine, which has a positive effect on ADHD symptoms, but still to a lesser extent than some stimulants). Alternative drugs used in Russia to correct ADHD are nootropics, supposedly improving cognitive functions.

If we talk about the diagnosis of ADHD, then it is not yet possible to estimate its prevalence in Russia due to the lack of official statistics. But based on the opinions of experts, it can be judged that in Russia people with ADHD are often assigned other diagnoses (for example, minimal brain dysfunction or organic brain disorders).

These facts highlight the importance of raising awareness about ADHD.

Evolutionary and cognitive benefits

Is it possible that ADHD symptoms once played an important adaptive role in terms of evolution?

One of the theories suggests that ADHD traits were beneficial in a hunter-gatherer environment in a rapidly changing environment and in the absence of many resources. In this case, hyperactivity provided exploratory activity to search for food and migrate towards better climate areas.

Impulsiveness, on the other hand, was important for quickly responding to critical situations. Finally, "inattention" can be equated with hypervigilance and monitoring the emergence of threats from different directions in a rapidly changing environment.

However, such theories are still speculative, although they can potentially be tested in experiments on orientation in an unfamiliar environment, so let's turn to those cognitive advantages that are observed in people with ADHD in modern times.

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