Many years ago the diagnosis of ADD and ADHD was not well known or treated. Then it seemed like everyone was diagnosed with it and started on medication. I, myself, was put on Ritalin at the age of 7. For me, at least, it was helpful. My teacher told my mom I grew up 3 years over night and my grades went from Ds and Fs in 2nd grade to As and Bs in 3rd. I stopped taking Ritalin when I was 18 and headed off to college. My mom was very upset at this. She thought the medication was working well for me; why stop now that I’m going into college?! I told her at this point I need to figure out how to concentrate and focus on my own.
The question I pose is how much of our inability to focus as adults is based on a medical illness versus what’s going on in our world? What’s going on in our world affects us and affects our abilities to be present. We are either expected to – or expect ourselves to – work at 200% capacity, including on our time off. Be honest, how many of you check your work emails outside of work hours? We know what’s happening on the other side of the globe 5 minutes after it happens. We are constantly inundated with information, and are in a culture that expects us to “multitask” at work; getting 15 hours of work done in 8 hours. We are also told how useful being present is; that we can actually do better work by not multitasking and being present in everything we do. Seriously?! That seems like an impossibility. Stay present and don’t multitask, but get 15 hours of work done in 8 hours.
Mindfulness, or staying present, seems like a pipe dream. Not to mention, I’m sure you’ve all tried it once or twice. How well did it work for you? Have you heard of neuroplasticity? It is a pivotal point in trauma recovery. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways throughout life. When there’s a boulder in our path, we will go around it. When information gets stuck somewhere in the brain, the brain will find a new pathway allowing you to continue what you need to do, despite the block. This means we are able to learn new things and react differently to changes in our environment. However, we will do what works until something else becomes “better.” The brain works the same. We will continue the same behavioral and emotional patterns until something becomes “better. It will take a VERY long time to make being mindful “better” than chaos if you only practice it a few minutes a week in your therapist’s office. Can you practice baseball for 15 minutes a week when you’ve been doing soccer for years and expect to get good at it overnight? What if you practice baseball an hour every day? You’ll become better much quicker, right? The brain will reorganize to changes in its environment. If you introduce mindfulness to your routine and practice it 200 times per day, you will notice a difference. This I promise. And yes, I said 200 times per day.
How do you practice something 200 times per day? Mindfulness is nothing more than staying present non-judgmentally. When you’re washing dishes, for example, focus on all aspects of the dishes – what the soap feels like, what it smells like, how hot or cold the water is, the food you see on the plate, the color of the plate, the sound of the water as it is coming out of the faucet, etc. When your mind wanders, as it absolutely will, bring it back by saying to yourself: “I’m not thinking about that right now. The soap is an orange color and has a citrus-y scent.” Don’t beat yourself up: “Geez, I can’t stay focused. I’m not good at this; my mind keeps wandering.” You are learning something new. Learning something new takes time and patience. It is a large effort at first which will give a huge return on investment with time. Do whatever you need in order to make sure you practice it 200 times per day. It does not take a lot of time to tell your mind “hey, we’re not focused on what’s for dinner right now, we’re focused on xxxx.”
I believe I spoke in a previous blog about our culture wanting things now. We don’t want to wait to feel better. However, nothing in life is that simple. It takes practice, time, and patience to learn anything in life. Are you ready to make this change? Do you have other options? (Not changing IS an option, so is it one of YOUR options)? As long as you have other options, it will make this difficult. Once change and success become your only option, you will put 100% effort into it giving it the time, effort, and patience it needs to become your new reality. What will it take to make this your only option? Do you need to hear other people’s stories of how well it works? Do you need to spiral out of control? Do you need someone to do this with (buddy system?) Everyone is at a different place in their readiness to make their lives better. This is not a race, but if it were, remember the story of the tortoise and the hare…slow and steady wins the race. How can I help you? Do you need help figuring out how to make this your only option? Or identifying how to remember to do it 200 times per day? Leave me a note or send me an email (email@example.com). Let’s start this process!