ADHD and Transitions: The Concept of Rebooting

Those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty with what we call transitions, that is, starting and stopping projects when they are in the middle of something and get interrupted or they have to look elsewhere for further information. Those are transitions, like having to reboot the computer (or the brain) to get back to the thought process where they were. It’s tough enough for non-ADHD people, but with ADHD, it’s much more effortful. It takes a lot more time to get back in the game and it can be exhausting.

In my video below, I give you some examples of what transitions are like moving from one thing to another, and I offer some strategies to shortcut the process by externalizing things or using visual imagery. Yes, it may seem a bit messy, but it’s a quick way to transition back and it removes the need for that repetitive, boring task of dragging everything out again to pick up where it was left off.  Watch the video and see how the rebooting metaphor may be helpful.

ATV Rebooting Your Brain


Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video, I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach, Jeff Copper, and I’m here on location today, and I’m here to talk to you about ADHD and transitions. About a year ago or so, I did a video talking about ADHD and distractions, and I was using computers as a metaphor to kind of talk about working memory. It was a pretty powerful video, and had a lot of questions on it. And most people didn’t connect it with regard to transitions. And so what I want to illustrate today is, those with ADHD tend to have difficulty transitions, and they also have difficulty sometimes start and stop your projects. Really simply here, I have two computers here. I have my Mac and I have my Windows PC.

When you go to one of these, not an iPad or an iPhone, you push the power button, and the PC’s got to boot up. The operating system’s got to come up, etc. That’s like a metaphor for your brain. When you sit down and you’ve got to take a look at a project, or maybe you go into a meeting, or you’re at work, you kind of boot up your mind, you begin to think about what’s going on. If I boot up my PC and I open up Outlook, and I start typing an email or something like that, I’ve got to really… all my tools are in front of me, I can kind of see that, it’s all in my mind. Imagine though if all of a sudden the power was cut and everything evaporated, I’d actually have to start over. Well, transitions are like that a little bit for those with ADHD, is you got to kind of reboot your computer.

If I were to transition from my PC to the Mac, what I would need to is, I have it up, I’ve got all of this work in my working memory, with regard to whatever it is, and then I would power my computer down, that takes a little bit of time, and then I would have to come over and boot up my Mac. It would take a little time for that to come up, and for me to open all my programs. Metaphorically this would be a different project, or maybe transition from a vacation to back to the office, etc. But there’s this loading that takes place for me to begin to get my head around what’s going on. So transitions, moving from one task to another task, is kind of like rebooting your computer or your mind, or working memory for that matter. Metaphorically when you boot up your computer, everything’s loaded up into random access memory which requires electricity, which is why if it’s unplugged it evaporates.

Same thing with your brain, is you load that stuff up into your head, and if you’re distracted it kind of evaporates, and you got to come back and start over. Imagine too, if you will, this is regard to transitions, maybe from meetings, or from vacation to work, and vice versa. But also think of this as projects during the workday and imagine that you’ve got two things that you’re working on that require a lot of executive functioning, you’ve got to get your head around it. And if you’re working on it and somebody distracts you, it’s like your computer was shut down, and then you’ve got to boot up this computer. It takes you a little while to get your head into the game. Then, let’s say you’re called back, this one’s shut down, and then you’ve got to boot this one back up. That transition going back and forth is effortful, it takes time.

For those with ADHD, if it’s not something that’s terribly exciting, or it’s just cognitively hard, it’s a lot of effort. I mean, it’s very effortful, it’s exhausting. To go back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth is basically very effortful, and understand is that when you from one to another a lot of times what you were working on, when I was on the PC, I’ve got to re read it, and kind of reengage, so when I go back and forth between projects, sometimes it’s kind of like starting over again. The reason I’m bringing this up is, if you begin to think of your mind as like a PC, and when you’re dealing with a thought, or a meeting, or a vacation, you have to boot it up, you can begin to understand why these transitions are difficult, because you’ve got to power down the old thought process, and then load in the new thought process.

What I do a lot in coaching is try to talk to people about the idea of, how can we hibernate the computer so we don’t have to go through the whole booting process again. I coach people every day, and maybe 20-30 people a week, and their stories are very detailed, and they’re very important and they’re very personal to them. What I do is when I’m done I dictate into a service called Copy Talk, what I was thinking during the call, not what I’m supposed to do, but what I was thinking, and it’s transcribed, and I skim through it before the person calls me. That skimming through really quickly brings back what I was talking about last time, and enables me not to have to reboot, in other words, start from the beginning to really understand the history background.

In summary, when we start talking about those with ADHD and transition, I hope this gives you a tangible example to begin to think about what transitions are like moving from one project to another project, from one meeting to another meeting, from work to vacation and back… this going back and forth, and the booting up and the transition process is difficult, it just doesn’t come to you like that. And if you can begin to get some strategies to shortcut that process, it’s very, very helpful. As an aside, I find those with ADHD when they do a project they tend to spread it out and leave it there… it’s kind of messy, and people get on their back about it. To me it serves a very good purpose, because if you come back and everything’s spread out, it’s a visual reminder if you will, a little bit, and helps you reboot your computer a little bit faster to get into it.

Not to mention, the repetitive, boring stuff of dragging everything out for your project and put it all away, is a little bit of a deterrent. So anyway, what I hope you got from this video is a sense of ADHD and transitions are difficult, and you have a little bit of a lens or a metaphor to be able to think in a context that you can begin to manage it. We hope you’ve enjoyed this tip. For more great tips, subscribe to our channel by clicking on the subscribe button just below, we hope you enjoyed it, and catch us for another great edition, take care.


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