Learn more about one of the most misunderstood and surprising symptoms of ADHD and get tips on how to make the most out of hyperfocusing when it happens.
What Is Hyperfocus?
Hyperfocusing occurs when someone becomes fully engrossed in an activity. This fixation lasts for a significant period of time and can be pretty intense, so the person who is hyperfocusing won’t be distracted or pulled away easily.
Both children and adults with ADHD can experience hyperfocus. They start working on something that interests them, and that activity continues to hold their interest for hours at a time. They become completely absorbed in what they’re doing and often don’t notice what’s going on around them while they’re hyperfocusing.
Why Do People with ADHD Hyperfocus?
A short attention span is closely associated with ADHD. But really, what’s happening in an ADHD brain is a disregulated attention system. Sometimes it’s hard for people with this disorder to focus, but in other cases, their focus may be especially intense.
This likely happens as a result of lower dopamine levels in the brain’s frontal lobe. Having less dopamine makes it difficult to shift gears from one activity to another. If someone with ADHD finds something they enjoy, they’ll experience a boost of dopamine. That instant reward makes them less likely to turn away from the activity, which leads to periods of hyperfocus.
In one study, people who were intensely focused on an activity were monitored. Those with ADHD were found to have more activity in the brain’s parietal lobe compared to people without ADHD, indicating that they may have been in a kind of flow state. So in some ways, you can look at hyperfocus almost as an ADHD superpower.
Only some people with the disorder experience periods of hyperfocusing. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) doesn’t include hyperfocus among the list of official ADHD symptoms. While it’s reported to fairly common among people with ADHD, it is not used as diagnostic criteria when determining whether someone has the disorder.
Ways to Take Advantage of Hyperfocusing
Hyperfocus isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you know how to take advantage of your intense focus, you can become incredibly productive. There are a number of individuals with ADHD, such as writers, athletes, and scientists, who would likely contribute some of their success in their chosen fields to their ability to hyperfocus on the things that interest them.
If you’re someone with ADHD who experiences periods of hyperfocus, there are several strategies you can try to make the most of it when you’re “in the zone.” Here are some of the top tips for harnessing the power of hyperfocus.
Recognize what triggers your hyperfocus
Think about the times when you’ve been hyperfocused in the past. What time of day was it? Where were you? What were you working on? Note the similarities among these situations, and see if you can use those details to create the right setting for future hyperfocus sessions.
For example, if you’ve noticed that you tend to get into a hyperfocused state right after lunchtime, try to schedule some of your most challenging work projects during that period of the day and get all of your meetings out of the way in the mornings. This way, your afternoon post-lunch is wide open for potential hyperfocus, which could help you to be more productive when completing an important task, whether it’s writing marketing copy, coding a computer program, editing film footage, or completing scientific research.
Explore a new hobby or interest
While hyperfocus can be helpful for being productive for work or school, it can also serve as a form of personal enrichment. The things you’re most likely to hyperfocus on are the things you enjoy, so if you find something that interests you, allow yourself to get into a flow state with it — for a reasonable period of time, of course.
Maybe you’ve found that you love gardening and enjoy spending hours tending to your plants. You might take up indoor rock climbing and look forward to practicing the same routes over and over until you perfect them. Perhaps you’re fascinated by a certain historical figure and want to read every book about them you can get your hands on. These types of activities utilize hyperfocus in a positive way to bring joy, inspiration, and fulfillment to your life.
Use timers to avoid getting lost
Even when you’re using hyperfocus to your advantage, you don’t want to get so sucked in to the task that you lose all track of time and forget about other things you need to do. For example, you may need to set a timer to remind yourself to stop in time to go to an appointment, attend a meeting, or eat dinner with your family. If alarms tend to go unnoticed or you often forget to set timers, consider asking a friend or family member to help pull you out of your hyperfocus at the right time.
What Are the Drawbacks of Hyperfocus?
Hyperfocus can also be a disadvantage in certain situations. For example, if you were to become so engrossed in an activity that you forget important work deadlines or fail to show up to a friend’s birthday party, hyperfocusing could negatively impact your professional or personal life.
In addition, people with ADHD may hyperfocus on things that are ultimately detrimental to their lives. Hyperfocusing on online shopping could lead to excessive debt, for instance, or a child could be so hyperfocused on playing video games that they rarely spend time outdoors or play with friends.
If you’re struggling with the drawbacks of hyperfocus, it may indicate that you need a better treatment plan for your ADHD. Contact Done for convenient ADHD telehealth care with online visits, worry-free refills, and 24/7 care with licensed clinicians.