I was chopping carrots for our dinner when my wife asked me a very difficult question:
"What are you thinking about?"
I struggled for a few seconds trying to collapse all the topics that my mind was jumping to and from. On one level, I was thinking about the carrots, but I was also pondering the formation of the solar system and remembering a book I had read when I was a kid, while many other nascent thoughts were forming in the background. These concurrent thoughts happened in the space of a few seconds but to explain them in words would take at least two minutes. Sometimes having all of these thoughts in my head at once makes it hard to communicate.
“Uhh…ummm... uhhh, ” I replied as I tried to visually scan my thoughts. Seeing my struggle, she smiled sweetly and said, “Never mind. It’s OK.” I took a deep breath and relaxed.
Throughout my life, I've met people who wanted to pathologize the way my mind works. Teachers, friends and family have wanted me to accept the ADHD label. Doctors wanted to prescribe medication, but I don’t like labels or unnecessary pharmaceuticals.
These are the two modes of my mind and I prefer my own term for it: Attention distribution/attention magnets, or A.D/A.M. It’s not a disorder, it’s just the way some peoples’ minds work. There are times when my thoughts feel like a thousand metal marbles dropped on the floor, scattered in all directions. On the other hand, when I become fascinated by something it's like I've placed a huge magnet in the middle of the room and all of my thoughts run in one direction, to the exclusion of everything else. There is no middle ground between the two.
People come in many shapes, genders, colors and sizes, and we also come with many different kinds of minds. When you accept, love, and work with your natural state, it becomes a gift rather than a curse.
If you can relate to what I’ve described above, but you haven’t cracked the nut of turning your weakness into a strength, you might want to try some of the methods that have worked for me:
You are like a sprinter who has never learned how to walk at a normal pace. When you meditate you’ll learn how to slow down your mind. In the early stages, you’ll learn to observe your thoughts without being dominated by them.
As you get more experienced you’ll find yourself slipping into a state where your mind gets very quiet and the thoughts might even stop. If you want some pointers on how to meditate you can check out my course.
Advertisers, television stations, websites and political candidates all have one thing in common: They are all trying to magnetize your attention to their product. Most people have mental armor against this, but I don’t and maybe you don’t, either. If a TV is on in the room, I can’t ignore it.
At various times, I've been a Facebook junkie, an email junkie and a politics junkie. I could recall the minutiae of all my friends’ lives, I was glued to whatever screen gave me my precious messages, and I knew every arcane policy decision made by US congressmen.
You have to look at the "attention magnets" in your life and decide if they're worthwhile. I have decided to not own a television and to delete my Facebook account. I closely monitor my use of other sites and media.
Creativity is the capacity to draw useful and beautiful connections between disparate concepts. One of the great gifts we have is the capacity to allow our minds to be vast and expansive and think of many things at once. Maybe there’s a relationship between the spine of an eagle and a suspension bridge? Maybe there’s an analogy between the way love works and the arc of a helicopter flight? Maybe your business can mimic an ant farm ... or maybe not?
The only way we’ll find out is from people whose attention can distribute to many things at once. Allow yourself to explore these connections and then actually make something.
Our minds work differently to a lot of the mainstream conceptions around education and employment. If you’ve found that the methods you’ve been taught and have used in the past don’t work and you’re stuck in a rut, give yourself permission to try something new. Maybe you find it difficult to remember verbal instructions, so try using the voice recorder on your smartphone or carrying a small notepad and pen. You’ll probably need to experiment a few times before you find out how to make your mind useful in this world. Try things out. If it doesn’t work, try something else out tomorrow.
You have to learn to say no. One of the hardest things for people with AD/AM minds is to impose any limits on themselves, but you’ll be better off if you focus on a maximum of two to four things every day. Let all of your thoughts, dreams, meanderings and ramblings gravitate around those four things. For example, today I decided to focus on moving my body, writing and planning a trip. If I find myself spending more than 15 minutes on anything else, I write it down and put it onto my list for tomorrow.
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