I have lost count of the number of conversations I've had wherein someone tells me that they have self-diagnosed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). It would seem that distractions these days are so plentiful that we consistently put something down to do something else or begin to read one thing and then allow our brains to take up something else. Given that we here at Rewire help people understand how their brains work, offering a few tips on how to train your brain to stay focused seems like a good use of this online space.
DISCLAIMER: What I don’t want to do is take up any kind of debate about people who actually have some form of diagnosed ADD and pretend I have the answer. What I want to give in the next couple paragraphs is a general idea and practice that I have seen help a large number of people (myself included).
One of my mentors labels this incessant moving from topic-to-topic phenomenon as “hyperlinking.” Hyperlinks are those easy-to-click-on (often blue) links embedded in almost any document. Wikipedia is famous for these hyperlinks and thus provides a great metaphor to look at how we allow our brains to jump all over the place in real time. Let me illustrate with a story:
The other day, I was doing this cool research on neural regeneration and, as I was into my study, I saw that there was an embedded link to some other cool topics in sociologically-based neurochemistry.
Those seemed interesting, so I followed the links to the sociology studies.
Those sociology studies were based on research tied to animal groupings.
Well, if I'm going to understand the sociology studies, I probably should at least look at those animal grouping studies, right? So I clicked on that link.
And a few clicks later, before I knew it, I was deep into looking at the migratory patterns of moose in Canada.
"What the heck?" How easily I allowed my brain to follow this distraction.
If I am honest, I do this mental hyperlinking a lot! I do it in meetings; I do it in conversations. I do it when I am trying to sit still and meditate. I certainly do it when I am researching, and I even do it when I am trying to write an article.
So today I want to talk about peanut butter. No -- wait, that wasn't it. What were we talking about? Moose? Right, moose. So the thing about the migratory patterns of moose is...
Just kidding. But you see what I'm talking about, right?
My goal today is just to provide a name or label for what's going on in our thinking. If you are one who gets distracted by moose when you are supposed to be thinking about and studying cool brain stuff, then perhaps now you can be more aware of it by calling it “hyperlinking.“ When we can name an experience clearly, it can trigger an awareness that we didn’t have before. And that awareness can function as a powerful tool to recognize our "hyperlinking" and bring us back.
So how about you? Do you hyperlink? Got any stories you'd care to share in the comments section? Some of the stories I hear about people doing this are legendary. Let us begin the cure by naming it and raising our awareness. Moose are cool.