The ADHD trait of hyper-focus is one that’s difficult to convey to someone who has never experienced it. Essentially it is a type of focus that is intense and narrow. Picture someone engrossed in a movie or video game so intently that everything else, from meaningless distractions to urgent attempts to gain the person’s attention because of an emergency, fade into a background hum. Rick Green has a whole, and excellent, video on the topic.
A lot of us with ADHD are very familiar with the sensation of having one project or subject engross our entire attention for a long period of time, and the discomfort of forcing that attention away. I’ve begun to identify a slightly different type of hyper-focus, in myself. This could be called the mothership from whence all of my other hyper-focus came. This is the multi-day or multi-week hyper-focus.
It begins the same as the first kind, where a single thing has my attention, to the exclusion of all else. The difference is when I run out of time to be focused on that thing. Eventually, we all fall asleep (the world record being 11 days) and that usually breaks my hyper-focus. Not with “type 2”. I find that with this second kind, the object of my focus remains until the project is complete. Luckily this has never happened around a topic of interest, or I might have difficulty with daily functioning.
So I eat breakfast, shower, do grocery shopping, and all those other mundane things, but the second I have a second to spare, my brain is right back to the project. It is a hyper-focus so single-minded that it waits, impatiently, but still waits, for other necessities to be dealt with, before urgently tugging at my mental sleeve.
Very occasionally I’ve had this kind of focus fade before the project is complete, but this is typically rare, and thank goodness, because those are projects that I find it nearly impossible to return to afterward. They lie abandoned in the unofficial project graveyard: old notebooks.
I visualize my brain, super-charged on excitement for this project, leaping hurdles, swerving around barrels, and feverishly getting the day-to-day living out of the way so it can return to that magical land: The Project.
I have no idea what causes my brain to engage in this longer form of hyper-focus or what criteria there is for the projects selected for this honor. A lot of the time they are urgent things with a couple weeks’ work needed to complete them. But the funny thing is they are never urgent in an externally accountable kind of way. They are always projects I personally have decided are important and urgent, no one else.
So there you have it, the grown-up sibling of hyper-focus, in all it’s weird incomprehensibility.
Have you ever experienced hyper-focus, or it’s longer-lasting cousin?