ADHD: Reduce Distractibility & Impulsivity With Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to manage ADHD and ADD. Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation, it’s simply an awareness of:

  • our thoughts and what’s going through our minds
  • our feelings and emotions
  • what’s going on in our bodies
  • our actions and behavior
  • what other people are doing and how they’re acting

Learn some simple mindfulness techniques that help increase awareness, and reduce distractibility and impulsivity associated with ADHD and ADD.

Reduce Distractibility & Impulsivity With Mindfulness

Do you ever feel like your brain has a million tabs open all at once and you keep switching between them unable to focus on just one thing for any length of time or have sudden thoughts or urges to do or say something that you feel compelled to act on right away without first thinking it through? These are common experiences for people with ADHD, and mindfulness is a great way to manage them and reduce distractibility and impulsivity.

Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation; it’s simply an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, actions, and surroundings that arises from paying attention in the present moment. And mindfulness isn’t about preventing ourselves from ever becoming distracted or having any impulsive urges because that would be impossible, but about noticing when we’ve become distracted or are having an urge to do something impulsively and then, as best we can, letting the distraction go and redirecting our attention back to where we want it, or recognizing the impulsive urge and not immediately acting on it.

In this video, we’re going to learn practical mindfulness techniques to manage distractability and impulsivity in ADHD. Now, it’s usually hard to just let go of a distraction. To help, we can imagine thoughts or distractions or urges just passing through our minds like clouds passing through the sky or leaves flowing down a stream, acknowledging them as they arise and then allowing them to float away without following them or getting caught up in them.

Or we can imagine ourselves writing down each distraction or urge on a balloon and then releasing that balloon up into the air and letting the distraction or urge float from our minds as the balloon floats away. And we can try labeling our distractions, urges, and impulses. Whenever we notice ourselves starting to get distracted or have an urge to do something impulsive, we just label it as distraction or impulse, which helps us take a step back from the distraction or urge. It makes it less likely that we get pulled into it or feel compelled to act on it.

We can add the qualifier “just.” This is just a distraction, just an urge, which helps take away some of the power of our distractions or urges or impulses, making them easier to let go or resist acting on.

Next is the STOP technique, which stands for Stop whatever you’re doing, Take a breath, Observe, Plan, and Proceed. Instead of functioning on automatic pilot and just letting our distractions carry us away or acting on urges impulsively and immediately, the STOP technique is like hitting the pause button on our brains, giving us the chance to act mindfully and intentionally and choose what we want to do and focus our attention on.

Here’s how we can use it: First, we need to recognize when we’re getting distracted or have the urge to act impulsively. Maybe our minds start to wander while we’re working on something or we’re about to interrupt someone or blurt out something that might be inappropriate or jump to a decision without thinking it through. The moment we notice the distraction or urge, we silently say to ourselves, “Stop,” and hit that mental pause button.

Now we take a slow, deep breath, which calms our nervous systems and helps us focus our attention in the present. Then we observe and take stock of what’s going on: what we’re thinking (“This is such a good idea, I need to share it right away”), any urges we’re having (“I need to share it right away”), and how we’re feeling (“I’m excited and impatient”), what we’re doing or saying (“I’m about to blurt it out”), and what’s going on around us and what other people are saying and doing (“My boss is still talking”).

Then we plan, asking ourselves: What’s the most important thing for me to do right now? Do I need to refocus on my work? Do I need to take a break and do something else for a while? Do I have too much energy right now? I need to do something physical. And what’s the best way for me to act in this situation? I’ll write down my idea for now and share it when he’s done talking.

Instead of impulsively following a distraction or acting on an urge, we proceed mindfully with whatever we’ve consciously and intentionally decided to do. Now, instead of waiting until we’re already distracted or feeling a strong urge to act on an impulse and hoping we notice in time to use STOP effectively, it helps if we can integrate the STOP technique into our daily lives.

We can use external cues to remind us to initiate the STOP practice, like placing sticky notes on our computer, setting timers for regular check-ins, and doing it whenever we reach for our phones or get up from our chairs, for example. And we can use internal cues, paying attention to behavioral changes like difficulty focusing, frequent task switching, or procrastination as signals to initiate STOP, and body cues like fidgeting or restlessness, increased heart rate, or tightness in our jaws or shoulders, as well as emotional shifts like surges of anger, excitement, or anxiety – all of which can be signs of an urge to act impulsively and a good time to use STOP.

As we practice mindfulness more regularly, our self-awareness improves, and we’ll notice these cues earlier. “I’m starting to get distracted. I’m starting to have an impulsive urge. I’m starting to feel angry. I’m starting to switch tasks a lot.” Which is important because the sooner we become aware of a distraction or impulsive urge, the more chance we have of being able to just let it go

In the next few lessons we’ll learn more mindfulness techniques to help manage ADHD and ADD. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.