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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

ADHD: Bored of Boredom - Five Ways to Bear It. One Way to Beat It.

(cc) Douglas CooteyLast week's column didn't strike a chord in as many people as others I've written. I can only think that is a good thing. There is hope for the survival of the species. We can't all live like maniacs at the far edge, dangling off cliffs, betting the house on a football game, juggling machetes, etc...but would you be surprised to learn that all that high stimulation activity is a subset of something you probably CAN relate to?

The seventh symptom in Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults is:

7. An intolerance of boredom.
A corollary of number 6. Actually, the person with ADD seldom feels bored. This is because the millisecond he senses boredom, he swings into action and finds something new; he changes the channel.

If there is one aspect of AD/HD I wish people who don't have it could fully understand it is the intolerance of boredom. One of the loudest complaints I have heard from people who don't have AD/HD is that everybody gets bored. "Everybody has a hard time focusing when it's noisy or boring," they say. "Everybody has a hard time finishing boring tasks. AD/HD people aren't special. Get over it you mewling, mealy mouthed, misfit!" OK, maybe they're not that bad, but dang, they're close.

Where was I again? Oh, intolerance.

Certainly people who don't have attention deficit disorder cannot relate with this intolerance for boredom. They wonder why we can't do what they do all day long: grin and bear it. After all, isn't that part of growing up? Well, here's the secret even the hallowed Hallowell and Ratey didn't quite express. When they stated that the millisecond we sense boredom we change the channel, they forgot to mention that it isn't actually a choice we make. This is what makes us different. The millisecond we encounter boredom our brain races, leaps, bounds, or flies in a totally new direction. Sometimes it tries to do all of them at once. It pursues any event it can seize upon that sparks interest and staves off boredom.

We want to focus. We need to focus. But our brain is constantly trying to stay entertained. It's as if our brain is coated with boredom repellant teflon. I disagree with Hallowell and Ratey. I am constantly bored, even when surrounded by things that I love to do, but it is worst in public. For me, trying to pay attention when I am bored is physically uncomfortable. My brain feels like it's trying to escape out my ear.

What can we do about it?

There are two aspects to this problem that have two different solutions: 1) Paying attention when you're supposed to and 2) avoiding boredom in a constructive way.

From what I've been told, paying attention has some serious benefits. No, really! Like when you're driving you can avoid accidents. Or when your girl is expressing her heartfelt feelings you don't suddenly ask, "Hey, wanna catch a movie?" I also hear paying attention is great for on the job performance. I think I may try that sometime.

Usually medications are prescribed to aid people with ADHD to deal with this problem. I'll leave that for you to discuss with your therapist, doctor, or aromatherapy practitioner. The medication solution has a few detriments that aren't always obvious: They're expensive. Your body acclimates to the medications resulting in increased dosages or cycling regimens. Medications can have varied and diverse side-effects which are adverse to your health and mental well-being. And lastly, you may simply forget to take them.

Here are five suggestions you can try to keep yourself on track when you feel boredom mugging your attention span.


  1. Get comfortable, or, if boredom is lulling you to sleep, get uncomfortable.
  2. Make sure you've eaten, visited the rest room, adjusted your clothes, etc. Minimizing distractions will help you stay the distance.
  3. Mentally prepare yourself. Even a little positive attitude can empower you. I'll say things to myself like "You can do this!" and "It's just for 30 minutes." Without the pep talk I just suffer.
  4. Take notes. Keeps you physically and mentally engaged. At worst, you could always doodle.
  5. Develop your will power. You have it. Use it. It won't be easy at first because your mind has ideas of its own about curing boredom.


Of course, all this assumes that absolute attention is mandatory. Sometimes, you just don't want to be bored or waste time. I used to find myself staying home because I knew I would be bored and dreaded that happening. I was becoming a hermit. Fortunately for my social life I created my Boredom Emergency Kit.

Over the years I have filled a satchel with every possible activity I could imagine to stave off episodes of crippling boredom. Now there is no last minute hesitation about leaving or even scurrying about finding something to bring along just in case I get bored.I just grab my satchel and go. It is filled with notebooks, sketchbooks, art supplies, and even musical instruments from time to time. I have an iBook to throw in there as well. I never have an excuse to feel bored. Even knowing it is at hand helps me tolerate boring activities. Now I never have to just grin and bear it.


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