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We usually have trouble with certain types of transitions. Switching from a challenging, complex, or dull task to something more stimulating is not only easy, it’s just about automatic. We usually don’t even know it happened. It’s transitioning BACK to the intended object of our attention that’s tough, but it’s made easier by learning how.
- Shifting from the long-term goals to the immediate tasks at hand, and vice versa
- Transitioning from out-of-the norm experiences (vacations, long holiday breaks, business trips…) back to our day-to-day tasks
- Returning to the tasks at hand after being distracted (phone call, video game, crisis at work, kid escapade…)
- Getting out of that state where ADHD is holding us back or freezing us up (negative self-talk, some form of denial, procrastination, or your current favorite coping mechanism ;-), and getting back to a place where your executive functioning is operational
The skills needed- bringing your mind to a clearer awareness of your attention, noting it occurred, and transitioning your attention skillfully to what’s next for you to do. Here’s how to develop and improve these skills:
- Check in regularly on what you’re paying attention to. The goal is to bring awareness to what you’re attending to, regardless of what it is, on a regular basis throughout the day. For this you’ll need reminders, like visual (whiteboards, notes, pop-ups on your computer screen, texts to yourself (there are apps for this, of course), etc.), audio (alarms, audio signals, etc.)- anything that you are unlikely to miss. Use the reminders in combination- whatever works.
- When you have brought yourself to an awareness to what you’re paying attention to, remember it’s just info! If we realize we’ve been playing video games instead of working for an hour, it’s best not to beat ourselves up about it, as we’re prone to do. All we’d be doing is making one challenge and making it into 2 challenges. It’s data- note it and move on. If we realize we’re already in a state of emotional hijack, we do what works for us to enhance our calm.
- Now that we’re more or less back, what’s the next thing to do? Do we need to check our calendars to see where we are in the day, and do some revision? Can we just pick up where we believe we left off? We need to make a skillful choice here that moves us forward.
OK, now we get right down to the real nitty gritty (thanks, Shirley Ellis). You ought to listen to the tune while you're reading so click here Nitty Gritty. This is a highly effective skill, and like any skill, we learn it by doing it- again and again and again. We may get frustrated at a certain point, but that’s to be expected. We stay with it through the frustration. The payoff is worth it. We’ll get incrementally better at the attentional skill- not only that, the time between when our attention gets off target and when we become aware of it decreases incrementally as well.