Attention Exercises for a Healthy ADHD Mind

Having dyslexia, I see the world a bit differently. It is exceptionally difficult to articulate, but I am driven to understand things, to get to their essence, to put things in a context that makes logical sense. Mindfulness, meditation, success, or gratitude journals have always been something a bit nebulous to me. Over the years interviewing experts, I now see each item as an attention exercise with emphasis on exercise. An athlete does repetitive exercise to build muscle, stamina, or skills. When exercise or practice stops, those things atrophy.

From my perspective and in simple terms, mindfulness and meditation simply focus on an object (like your breath in the case of meditation). When you notice your thoughts have wandered to an extraneous thought, you simply let the thought go and bring your attention back to the object (i.e., your breath). If you have ADHD, it is common for you to have to bring your attention back as often as every two seconds. The idea is to practice until you can get to every three seconds, then ten seconds, etc. The practice of witnessing that your attention has wandered and you brought it back to the object is a skill to develop like any athlete would. You need to practice bringing your attention back so you can do it in the game of life.

What I didn’t get until about a year ago and the reason for this article is that writing a success journal or a gratitude journal, to me, is an exercise to shift your attitude. Daily we are bombarded with problems. The thing to remember about problems is that they are problems and typically need to be dealt with now. For example, a flat tire needs your attention that minute. Achieving a success or celebrating something that works or goes right or more positive things can be put off until later. The problem is they get crowded out by problems, and over time your attention is conditioned to observe only what’s wrong.

In fact, I’ve asked my clients what went right; not only can’t they respond, but they can’t recognize what went right even if they saw it. Taking time daily to write down what went right or what you are grateful for is a tedious, repetitive exercise, just like running on a treadmill. But if you practice that exercise on a daily basis, you build speed and stamina and become healthier. In the same way, journaling your gratitude each day will shift your attitude over time and will build a more positive attitude, self-awareness, and confidence and relieve stress so you actually feel thankful.

It is easy for me to pontificate on the virtues of attention exercise to build skills of bringing your attention back to your intention and to shift your attitude. The challenge is that exercising, in general, can be a repetitive, boring routine, which can be a challenge for those with ADHD.

So what’s a person to do? Here are my suggestions: First, don’t minimize the difficulty of the task. Telling yourself it’s easy doesn’t allow you to address the task with the respect it deserves.

Second, start small. Just write one thing you are grateful for or that went right or that was successful. It can be as simple as brushing your teeth, someone smiled at you, someone thanked you for something you did. These may be small, but part of the exercise is to learn to recognize and witness what works, goes right, or is special. Trust me, far more goes right in your world than goes awry. You miss it because you are not looking for it.

Finally, use emotions to kick start things. We are entering the holiday season. There is a lot to be grateful for. Start journaling now to establish the habit and enter the new year with momentum!

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