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  • The ADHD Trifecta: Procrastination, Forgetfulness and Fighting

    One of my primary jobs as a therapist is to help people understand behavior. Why? Because without understanding, we often jump to our own conclusions as to why things are happening. 

    – You don’t want to get out of bed this morning? You’re lazy.
    – You forgot to pay that bill last month? You’re irresponsible.
    – You didn’t do the dishes last night? You’re inconsiderate. 

    Beyond leaving us angry, this kind of approach often prevents us from solving the actual problem, which is why people find themselves in the same argument over and over again. 

     “I can’t believe you did it again!!!”

    We’re too busy assuming why it’s happening, and never get around to understanding the truth. 

    There’s no better example of this than when it comes to behaviors that are driven by an underlying dysregulation of attention. I use that term purposefully, in that not everyone who struggles with a dysregulation of attention meets the diagnostic criteria of an ADHD diagnosis; but the problematic behaviors can still cause problems. And without a sense for why, we’re usually left with the impression that people (whether it be yourself, partner, friend, child, colleague) aren’t trying hard enough. 

    “If you wanted to do better, you would.”   

    The most important thing to understand about dysregulated attention/ADHD is that despite what the diagnosis implies, it is NOT a deficit of attention. It is an inability to CONTROL your attention. Things that are more interesting to you will have an almost magnetic appeal, while things that are less interesting to you will be quickly dropped and forgotten. The idea of magnetic attraction and repulsion is a framework that often helps people understand the intensity of what the experience can feel like. 

    To make things worse, the thing you’re attracted to doesn’t have to be interesting interesting, it just has to be more interesting. 

    What does that mean? If the song on the radio is more interesting than remembering to pick up the milk, you’ll forget the milk. If the bird outside of the classroom is more interesting than the quiz, you’ll stop taking the quiz. If your phone is more interesting than…well…anything, you will stay on that for hours, before realizing that it’s now 2AM, you haven’t prepared for the …presentation, test, vacation, meeting, assignment, taxes….and it’s freak out time. 

    What becomes clear, is that the “procrastination” and “forgetfulness” is not due to a lack of caring. When you can’t control your attention in the moment, your ability to stay focused on your longer term goals becomes severely compromised. Everyone suffers, and in the absence of understanding, you have the fighting.  

    When we finally accept that attention dysregulation is all about neurochemistry, and not fatal personality flaws, we can stop placing the blame on the individual and find ways to address the environmental changes that can help alleviate the problem.

    Grace Y. Lin is a mom, wife and Licensed Behavioral Therapist living and practicing in New York.