A while back I was diagnosed with ADHD.
The biggest take-away was hardly an “a-ha!” moment: basically, I can’t multi-task effectively. Now, yes, the research shows that no one can, really, but turns out I struggle with it even more than most.
This is especially true with things that are mentally taxing and need a lot of focus, like writing, designing programs, or even thinking through a complex problem. If I add a second stimulus like a podcast, then I become like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, typing “all work and no play makes Bryan watch bulldog videos on YouTube.”
(Relax, I’m not putting an axe through the bathroom door anytime soon. The last thing I have time for is a trip to fucking Home Depot.)
While it helped to have a trendy title for my problem (do I get a support group too? how’s the free coffee?) it also left me a little down, as though I’m not fit for this new world: an old knuckle-dragger trying to get by with a dial-up internet brain in a high-speed WiFi world.
But a therapist assured me that attention deficit isn’t really — or at least not always — a disorder. He also told me something else I kinda already knew: “focus can be trained.”
A very deliberate word choice for him to use with me, and it worked.
Trained as in: like a muscle. Meaning with repetition, frequency, and progression.
I won’t bore you with details of the mindfulness steps I do every day, but doing them daily before I start working has already greatly improved my focus—and that’s helped with productivity and, as a result, my overall mood.
I like training things. I like progressing. These are things I get.
ADHD meds helped, too, but not nearly as much as when combined with the behavioral work: minimizing incoming noise, maintaining a narrow-focus work structure, and spending way less time on social media. That’s been a home run.
While none of this is groundbreaking, I did come away with renewed appreciation for discipline, something I thought I had (I mean, we all like to think this, don’t we?), but it’s something I guess I let slide over the years.
In fact, more than just giving me a renewed appreciation for discipline, I’d say the experience redefined what discipline means for me.
That is, for me, discipline isn’t avoiding junk food or never missing a workout. For me, that stuff is easy. Automatic.
Because that stuff is both fun and habitual for me. And doing stuff you enjoy that you’ve done for years and years doesn’t really require discipline in the sense I’m talking about it.
On the other hand, pushing my brain to focus on stuff I don’t necessarily like while ignoring the many things I do like DOES take discipline.
It’s like a workout where you don’t like any of the exercises because you suck at all of them. Obviously, the solution isn’t just endless avoidance of the exercises you don’t like.
The solution is a bit of discipline.
No, not discipline for its own sake or to punish yourself or anything like that. Rather, the point here is to use a bit of discipline in order to address the one thing you know that’s holding you back.
When you do this, eventually those exercises you suck at so much start to become a little easier, and when that happens — surprise, surprise — they start to require less and less discipline on your part.
Because, as we all know from our time in the weight room, that’s just what happens when you finally get down to it and start training.