Let’s be honest. We suck at focus.
We live in a time of constant distractions. Ping. Ping. Ping. Emails, social media notifications, meeting reminders… It’s nearly impossible to have even 30 minutes free of interruption.
Is it surprising then that the number of people diagnosed with ADHD is also rising? Doctors and psychologists today hear their patients complaining about distractibility, low focus, trouble relaxing, chronic lateness, restlessness, too much stress, inability to prioritize… sound familiar?
But does everyone who demonstrates these traits actually have ADHD? Is ADHD even real? Or is it simply a sign of the times that gives big pharmaceutical companies an excuse to sell us (and our kids) a legal amphetamine – like Adderall?
I believe ADHD is real. Why? Because I’ve dealt with attention issues for my entire life. My son as well. So naturally, I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I sat down with ADHD expert James Ochoa to find answers.
If you wish to hear my conversation in full, listen to my podcast interview with James. But if you want the cliff notes, here it goes in the form of 3 basic questions…
Is ADHD real?
Yes. BUT. There is a significant disparity between the percentage of people diagnosed with ADHD and the percentage of people who actually have ADHD. Today, about 11% of children are diagnosed with it. But according to James, only 3% to 5% actually show signs of the bonafide neurological disorder.
I asked James: “Does that mean 6% to 8% of the U.S. population is prescribed medicine for a condition that they don’t even have?” His response: “That’s exactly what it means.”
James claims that ADHD is a genetic neurological disorder. In other words, it’s not a function of our environment or a sign of the times. It’s a part of our biology. And just like hair color, height, or weight, it’s inheritable from generation to generation.
So at the end of the day, yes – ADHD is very real. But nobody seems to be looking in the right places for it.
What’s the difference between ADHD and distractibility?
ADHD is neurological. Meaning: the major distinction between having it – or not – comes down to science. True ADHD is a chronic underactivity in the prefrontal cortex in the brain – the part of our brain in charge of planning, prioritization, evaluation, focus, concentration and motivation.
Since ADHD is neurological, it has nothing to do with character or willpower!
In his book, James says those with ADHD can usually be described as being “Consistently Inconsistent.” If you’ve ever been labeled as such – or if you notice an incongruence between your mental performance and your personal character – it might be neurological.
Keep in mind that ADHD wreaks havoc for many. But for others, it barely affects them. There are technically millions of people living with the genetic pattern of ADHD very successfully because they’ve figured out how to manage it. It only becomes a disorder when you don’t know how to manage this distractibility or navigate your life with it.
How do you manage ADHD?
If you have the neurological limitation of ADHD, it’s important to know how to deal with it. James covers 4 extraordinarily useful tools in his book, Focused Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD. The first relates more to those with ADHD or those looking to learn more. But the other 3 could benefit anybody looking to limit distractions and increase focus…
Seek Out Good Information
If distractibility is a huge issue for you, it’s worth seeking a diagnosis to see if you have ADHD. James suggests researching the counselors, psychologists, and support systems who devote their lives to this sort of guidance. The key is to find a specialist who will test the brain, not just look at the laundry list of ADHD-like symptoms.
Tool of Acceptance
Start by being honest. Until you can admit that you may have a problem, nothing will change. If you can honestly describe yourself as being “consistently inconsistent” – and you can admit that this pattern causes you strife – you will have the power to turn this neurological limitation into a powerful characteristic.
Meditation & Mindfulness
With any brain irregularity, it’s all the more important to train the brain. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation. It enables the brain to settle down. And it teaches the brain that we have control over it. It’s truly one of the best tools to help one’s brain learn how to focus. Find a guided meditation practice, or just set aside some personal time for contemplation and relaxation.
Tool of Imagination
It may sound silly, but for those with ADHD, your imagination can be your most powerful tool. Here’s your permission to daydream! Brains with ADHD usually have a great capacity to imagine and to create internal worlds. Without control over this, disappearing into your own world can create problems (daydreaming in class, anyone?). But when you realize how to be intentional with your imagination, you can effectively use it to solve problems, invent profitable ideas, and visualize desirable futures.