Is Attention Blindness an Obstacle to Managing ADHD?

Attention BlindnessI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. What is Obvious Depends On What We Attend To (what I call a WODOW-WAT). It is hard for most people to “get,” but hundreds of times a day, our own attention obstructs what is obvious. Examples of it are everywhere. The reason you don’t realize it is because you are not looking for evidence that you are attending to the wrong thing; rather, you miss it because you are more focused on looking for evidence, proof that you are attending to the right thing.

Years ago I interviewed Dan Simons, who is the coauthor of a brilliant book called The Invisible Gorilla. Dan’s focus is on visual perception, but I like his stuff in the context of attention. Surprised? Dan and his partner have created an attention test that has become famous. The video directs you to use your narrow attention.

Narrow attention is like typing a text. The opposite of narrow attention is scanning attention, which is what you use when driving. The thing is you can’t use your narrow attention and scanning attention at the same time. That is why texting is so dangerous when you drive. For grins and giggles, take the test, which was reproduced by others, by clicking this link

Coaching ADHD, isn’t so much about knowing what a person should pay attention to but is more about helping them realize their narrow attention is getting in the way of observing the obvious. I’ll share two examples.

I once coached a couple around how to keep their dining room table clutter free. I quizzed them for a while about what was on the table and where the table was in relation to the door where they entered the house.

I asked them where they would put a sorting table. They said they didn’t need a sorting table. I shared my observation that the table, being the closest flat surface near the door, was like all flat surfaces near such doors. They tend to be places to put things when entering the house. In this case their dining room table had mail that needed to be sorted before it went to his office or her office. Household products like cleaners or toiletries had to be sorted before being sent to their respectful places. While the called it the dining room table, functionally, it was being used as a sorting table. About 75 seconds later, they had renamed it to the sorting table an it had been working perfectly ever since.

Often I’ve coached those with ADHD around the fact they never finish projects. On more than one occasion the aha! was the realization that the project was more about learning the basics of something and not finishing it. If you’re not getting what I’m saying, chances are your attention is blinding you. If you think about it, I can guarantee you have started something and not finished it. The goal wasn’t to finish it, per se, but rather to learn the basics. But once you learned the basics, you stopped because the project defined as learning the basics was the actual project. Roll your eyes and “but” me all you want. I guarantee you it is all around you.

I myself wanted to learn to play the guitar. Once I learned the basics, cords and how to strum, the project was over. I keep playing the guitar but I know only about 2% of the project if the project was to learn to play the guitar.

Ahas are the outcome when attention blinders are removed. I love ’em. It is why I love coaching so much and why my favorite people to coach are those who have seen therapists or other counselors for years. Prescribing the obvious solution over and over and over in the face of it not working is being blind to the facts. It goes back to what I started with. People are looking for evidence that they are attending to the right thing, not for the evidence that proves them wrong. This is why the just-try-harder mantra comes into play. It proves they are attending to the right thing.

But I see it differently and often say, if the obvious solution isn’t working, chances are you are attending to the wrong thing. Maybe it is a sorting table and works perfectly or maybe the project was actually finished when you learned the basics. Think I’m wrong? How many times are you going to prove that focusing on what you think you “should” do has never really worked for you! Take your blinders off. Stop shoulding all over yourself.

Jeff Copper, Attention and ADHD Coach

2 thoughts on “Is Attention Blindness an Obstacle to Managing ADHD?

  1. When I was younger,in school,I’d try so hard to consintrat, to block out all the back ground noise.It was so frustrating, now that I’m an adult & medicated I have no problems consintrating.Its great,I can even read.which I could never do before,my first book was Tuesdays with Morey second book was Attention deficit & the Adictive Brain,it was very helpful, I learned a lot about myself.I’d refer this book to people that has ADD.

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