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ep.14: Does Your ADHD Make You a Pinball?


Do you feel like a pinball? If you're an adult with ADHD, you will automatically know what I mean. It's when you go to do something and you get sidetracked 15 times from the original thing, usually because something new catches your attention all along the way.


This podcast is going to be about why it happens and what we can do about it. From recognizing triggers to strategizing to stay on track.


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What you'll learn:

  • Why environmental hyper-focus happens and how to identify its triggers

  • Practical methods to manage distractions

  • The benefits of having an accountability partner to stay on track

  • How to control your attention and thrive in your environment

"Our attention is drawn to everything; we notice every detail in a restaurant or in a theme park. We really do possess an abundance of attention."

Useful links mentioned:


Listen to the Episode:


Click here to read the transcript:

Welcome to Learn to Thrive with ADHD. This is the podcast for adults with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms. I'm your host, Coach Mande John. I'm here to make your life with ADHD easier. Let's get started.

Okay, episode 14. I'm excited about this one today because it's a concept that I felt like I made up and we're going to talk about what it actually is. So, my question to you is, do you feel like a pinball? If you're an adult with ADHD, you will either automatically know what I mean, or you'll know after I explain.


I actually went onto Instagram with a post showing a pinball machine and with the question, are you a pinball? And I explained the scenario in the caption, and I was shocked by how many people resonated with this. For those of you in the dark about what I'm describing, it's when you go to do something and you get sidetracked 15 times from the original thing, usually because something new catches your attention all along the way.


I'll give you a specific example later, but what you end up feeling like is a pinball and a pinball machine bouncing off the rubber bumpers. This was a term I made up just from my experience of how I felt and what my clients described to me. Do you know, this has a specific term it's called environmental hyper focus not to be confused with hyper focus alone, because it works differently since you end up focusing on many things rather than one.


This podcast is going to be about why it happens and what we can do about it. There's a lot of hope. I know for myself; this has greatly improved for several reasons. We will explore them all. So, what is environmental hyper focus? Let's describe a scenario. I know you will all relate to picture yourself at home.


Trying to work on a project. You start at your desk. Within minutes, you notice a stack of papers on a nearby shelf. These papers have nothing to do with the task you're working on, but your attention is drawn to them. You pick up one paper and start reading it. As you read, you might become absorbed in it, forgetting entirely about the project you were supposed to be working on.


You might even start organizing the papers, creating a new distraction within the distraction. While you're involved in the paper activity, you notice a colorful brochure on a shelf, unrelated to anything you're doing. Now your focus shifts to that brochure and you start examining the design, the text, the images, completely forgetting about the papers and the original project.


This cycle can continue as you move from object to object, getting lost in each one and struggling to focus on your initial task. Hours might pass and you haven't made. Progress on your original projects, and you've been constantly distracted by your environment and this scenario is just in 1 room.


Oftentimes, we end up in every room in the house while in environmental hyper focus. Why does this happen? My thoughts immediately go to a quote. I often hear from Ned Hallowell. We who have the condition so misleadingly called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, I say misleadingly because the last thing we do is suffer from a deficit of attention to the contrary, we possess an abundance of attention.


Our challenge is always to control it. That is what we're seeing here as an abundance of attention. My husband laughs at me because there is nothing I don't notice. Except maybe when he gets a haircut, but when we're at a restaurant, I see, and hear everything around me while I'm carrying on a conversation with him, we really do possess an abundance of attention.


Where do you find this in your life? Besides the restaurant example, I can be at a theme park. Lego land comes to mind because I'm a total Lego nerd and I notice every plant and tree in the park. I notice every detail of architecture and buildings. Those are just some fun examples, but this can also be a burden when we notice everything that's wrong with our house, when our family might argue that it's actually pretty clean or, or like in the example, when it takes us away from something we intended to do.


Another personal example is I used to plan to get ready first thing in the morning. Then after bouncing all around the house to get this and put that away and do this other thing, it would be 2 PM. I'm exhausted and still in my pajamas. Can you relate? So, let's talk about the steps. Step one is to identify the triggers.


What do I mean by a trigger in this instance, in the example I just gave you, what kept me from getting dressed was not having everything I needed to do. So making sure I had the clothes I needed. And frankly, in this case, having enough clothes completely solves the problem. Another way to identify a trigger is noticing what distracts you in each environment.


If you're trying to work in your office, look around and see what pulls your attention. If you're trying to study, are there notifications distracting you? Is your space cluttered and distracting? Step two is prevention. Create a distraction free environment, keep it clutter free and only allow the essentials that are related to the task at hand.


Time for focus. What we're talking about here is one of my favorite tools for focus, which is timers. Many people like the Pomodoro technique, working intensely for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. You repeat this cycle to maintain focus and prevent distractions from hijacking your attention.


I personally love a visual timer. Awareness, when you feel the urge to go after a distraction, notice it, let yourself know it can wait and return to your task. Oftentimes we don't realize we are being led from distraction to distraction by urges, by urges that we don't have to follow. Once we're aware we're even having them know your goal, define your task clearly and prioritize them.


It's much easier to stay on track when you have the clearest understanding of the task at hand. Embrace technology in this digital age, various apps and browser extensions are designed to shield you from distractions. Explore these tools to create a productive digital environment for yourself. Step three strategies to stay on track.


The two-minute rule. If you encounter a distraction that can be addressed quickly, apply the two-minute rule. If the task takes two minutes or less to complete, tackle it immediately. This prevents small distractions from piling up and stealing your attention. Physical movement breaks, incorporate short physical movement breaks into your work routine.


Set a timer for a brief stretch, a walk around your workspace, or a few jumping jacks. This movement will help you focus and be less distractible. Task based playlists. Create a playlist or an ambient soundscape tailored to your specific tasks. I can give you a personal example of this when I am writing anything.


I have a playlist that I have on my phone, and it just seems to make me type faster. It keeps me focused. Instrumental music or nature sounds can help you drown out environmental distractions sounds around you while enhancing your focus on the task at hand. There are also light bulbs that you can get that change color.


Habitual workspace reset, make it a habit to reset your workspace at the end of each work session. I have a course in the ADHD Academy called organize anything with ease. And in that course, I suggest you listen to your inner kindergarten teacher. By putting away everything that you worked with when you were working.


So, putting our toys away, have an accountability partner, partner with a friend, family member or colleague who can gently remind you to stay on track when they notice you veering off into environmental hyper focus. Having someone to provide friendly nudges can be really effective. Mindful transitioning.


When shifting from one task to another, take a moment for mindful transitioning. Acknowledge the completion of the last task and then make a plan for the one coming next. This can reduce the likelihood of environmental distractions pulling you away. Scheduled environmental exploration time. That is a big word to say.


Just go crazy. That is a really fancy way to say, just go crazy. Create specific periods in your day for environmental exploration. During these designated times, allow yourself to freely explore your surroundings without judgment. Because you have time set aside for this, when it's work time, you can easily say I'll handle that distraction during my set time.


Post it priorities, use sticky notes or a whiteboard to write down the key priorities for your day. Place them in your line of sight to serve as a constant reminder of your primary focus. You can try some or all of these tools out for yourself and see what works for you. I always tell my clients. We're building them a toolbox that they can draw from no two toolboxes are the same.


Step five, self-awareness and compassion. Managing your environmental hyper focus is a journey, not a destination. Some days distractions may seem irresistible and that's perfectly fine. The key is awareness along with learning to gently guide yourself back to your priority tasks. Be your own biggest supporter and celebrate the small wins.


I have a couple examples of clients that have made progress in this area before we even knew what it was called. Jessica, a graphic designer transformed her messy workspace that created so many distractions for her. She hated to work in it, and this made her miss deadlines. She created a clean space that she says calms her brain.


The best part is she feels creative more often and doesn't miss deadlines anymore. Mark, a writer, found it hard to stay focused when he sat down for his goal of writing daily. A timer helped him to stay focused and calm and reminded him it was time for writing and nothing else. And he knew if the timer didn't go off, he wasn't missing anything important.


Not only was he feeling good when he was writing, his word count tripled each week. Sharon, a homeschool mom, struggled to stay focused teaching and helping her kids with their work. The kids also found themselves constantly distracted. She is the physical movement tool throughout the day. When the alarm went off on her phone, she and her kids would dance, do jumping jacks, or play a quick game of tag.


She says that they get through their school day so much faster because they are all so much more focused. You may have never heard of environmental hyper focus before, but I bet you've experienced it. Environmental hyper focus or pinballing, as I like to call it, is just another piece of the ADHD puzzle.


Now you have awareness tools and strategies to make your life easier. I'll see you next week.



Thank you for your time, and especially for your attention today. If you haven't looked into the ADHD Academy, you'll want to do that. This is my membership, with binge-able courses, weekly life coaching, new courses every month, a community of like-minded people and more.

Be sure to head over to www.learntothrivewithadhd.com/membership to get the details. See you next week.



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