What Is Hyperfocus?
Hyperfocus is highly focused attention that lasts a long time. You concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you.
Doctors often see hyperfocus in people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it’s not an official symptom.
There’s not a lot of research into hyperfocus. One study looked at brain activity in people who were concentrating very hard. It found differences that could mean hyperfocus comes more naturally to people who have ADHD.
People with ADHD aren’t the only ones who have hyperfocus. Just about anyone can get lost in something that interests them.
A psychologist in the early 1990s came up with a concept called flow. It’s when you become fully engaged in a challenging activity you enjoy. You shut out the rest of the world and even lose track of time. People with ADHD have trouble breaking out of it and switching their attention to something else.
Screen time seems to be a particularly easy way for someone to slip into hyperfocus. Video games, television, or social media can take up hours.
Changes in your frontal lobe, the part of your brain that controls your sense of reward, can lead to hyperfocus. You may find a certain task so rewarding that it’s hard to move on to something else.
Another cause could be related to behavior. You may have trouble controlling how much attention you pay to something.
What Hyperfocus Looks like
Hyperfocus in children
Children who are hyperfocused could be so busy playing a video game or watching TV that they don’t hear someone calling their name repeatedly. Or they could lose themselves in homework for a subject that they really enjoy.
Hyperfocus in adults
In adults, someone who’s hyperfocused might get caught up in work or tasks around the home. You forget to eat or miss an important meeting.
Benefits of Hyperfocus
Hyperfocus can be used for good. It’s clear that if you have a project that needs your all, that you’re really interested in, or both, you can dig in and work until it’s done.
Disadvantages of Hyperfocus
No one’s going to mind if you spend hours solving math problems or painting the house. But hyperfocus can cause conflicts with other people and problems at school or work.
It also can make it harder to diagnose ADHD, especially in kids considered gifted. They do better in school because their high IQs help them get past the issues with learning that usually go along with the disorder, and their ability to hyperfocus can make it even harder to spot.
Tips to Control Hyperfocus in Adults
- Figure out what kinds of things you hyperfocus on.
- Don’t start anything you can get hyperfocused on close to bedtime or before you start something you’re likely to try to put off.
- Stay aware of your mindset. It’s easy to get hyperfocused without realizing it. You can’t stop doing it if you don’t know it’s happening.
- Practice being fully present. Use mindfulness exercises to stay in the here and now.
- Set timers and alarms to so you know how long it’s been since you started an activity.
- Once you realize you’re in hyperfocus, move around. A change in position can help you get out of it.
- Set goals for a project, and take a break when you reach one.
Tips to Control Hyperfocus in Children
- Limit time watching TV or playing video games.
- Keep clear, regular schedules.
- Talk to your child about hyperfocus, and ask how you might work together to change things.