Hyperfocus is highly focused attention that lasts a long time. It happens when you concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you. It isn’t an official symptom of ADHD, but doctors say they often see it in people who have the disorder.
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 who have 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 of time.
What’s the Link Between Hyperfocus and ADHD?
There’s been very little research into hyperfocus, but one study looked at brain activity in people concentrating very hard. It found differences that could mean hyperfocus comes more naturally to people who have ADHD.
Benefits of Hyperfocus
Hyperfocus can be used for good. It’s clear that if you have a project you need to give your all to, or that you’re really interested in (or both), you can dig in and work until it’s done.
When Is Hyperfocus a Problem?
No one’s going to mind if you spend hours solving math problems or painting the house. But hyperfocus can cause trouble if you get so wrapped up in a project at work that you miss a dinner date, or your child can’t break away from a video game to do his homework.
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 Help You Control Hyperfocus
- 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 mind-set. 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 the activity.
- Once you realize you’re in hyperfocus, move. A change in position can help you get out of it.
- Set goals for a project and take a break when you reach one.