New Year, new me?

Birthday resolution: Submit at least one blog post monthly

It’s my new year, as in, I recently celebrated a birthday. Truth be told, I’ve been working on this post for weeks now.

But honestly, birthdays aren’t nearly as exciting as they used to be when I was a kid.

In fact, I’d much rather forget time is passing. “Time,” as such, has never been one of my strong points.

I won’t blame ADHD. However, it is a convenient excuse for, say, losing track of time when intensely focused on a task.

That’s not to say I’m always late. In fact, I’m probably late less than half the time – much less. But I do have a tendency to neglect the clock particularly when I’m writing, painting or doing anything using my right brain (ie.: being creative).

Daily newspaper editors hate that about me.

So anyway, I started my birthday writing about what I’d like to accomplish this year.

I share it here in the hopes that you, kind reader, will hold me to it. I suppose just by making it public makes it harder to ignore. Perhaps this is a good exercise for anyone who has trouble finishing projects (another lovely trait of those with this so-called disorder)?

You see, many of us with ADDled brains are also quite creative — constantly coming up with new projects, but rarely completing them. ADDers talk about ideas — a lot. Other people are often charmed by these creative people, but soon grow weary from the incessant jabber leading nowhere.

You see, sometimes we take action. But more often another idea pops into our overburdened brains and attention for the former one wanes.

So, we end up with bolts of fabric intended for quilts; piles of stories, poems, memoirs and unfinished novels; half-decorated or refurbished rooms; lush gardens choked with weeds – you get the idea.

Ahem, I dare say, this blog is case in point.

But attention is a complicated concept, particularly these days when the pace of the so-called “Information Age” is trending us all toward ADD. We are constantly connected to social media, TV, email, texts, video games, news feeds … Does anyone even know how to make a cell phone call anymore?

According to Lucy Jo Palladino, a psychologist who studies the brain and focus in this digital age, we have two types of attention: voluntary and involuntary.

Staying focused on activities such as reading, listening intently to someone speaking or writing requires focus and effort, or voluntary attention.

Conversely, involuntary attention is relatively effortless. It’s what happens when one plays video games or watches TV, for example. It just isn’t difficult and often redirects voluntary attention. Think email notifications or texts popping up while you’re working.

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by the constant roar of media traffic. It dulls my wit and turns me inward and that’s when my attention gets diverted.

So what do I do? I’m ashamed to say I spend entirely too much time playing brain games on my computer. Or I watch a movie or TV. In other words, I resort to using involuntary attention – it seems to soothe my agitated brain.

Eventually, I find my way back to focusing, but I always feel guilty for wasting time and my brain’s powerful neuropathways.

People’s thoughts and behaviors are not hard-wired, Palladino says. Brains (and, therefore, behaviors) are elastic and can change.

On her blog, Palladino explains: “For voluntary attention to get stronger, you need to exercise it. Much like weight resistance strengthens muscles, distraction resistance strengthens voluntary attention.”

Using voluntary attention builds important circuits that originate in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, Palladino asserts. The prefrontal cortex controls conscious decision-making, mood and time management. Interestingly, it is also an area of the brain affected by ADHD.

“Brain scientists have a saying: ‘As the neuron fires, the brain rewires,” Palladino continues. “Your brain rewires itself, following the blueprint of your choices every day.”

In the case of attention, the more one resists distractions (involuntary attention) and stays focused on more difficult tasks (voluntary attention), the more effectively the brain works.

It follows then that the more one accomplishes, the better one becomes at accomplishing more (um, like finishing blog posts).

So I haven’t yet gotten to my list. But stay tuned. I promise I’ll get back to you. Sometime. Soon. I hope.

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