Finding Your Focus
By Michael Gerrish, MS, Experience Life
Have you repeatedly made a commitment to do something and continue to put it off? Or have you thrown yourself into it for a while and then suddenly lost steam? During workouts or other tasks, do you often get impatient, fidgety or easily bored? If these descriptions ring true for you, there may be a hidden cause that could be derailing your efforts: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
ADD is a disorder that is characterized by a problem with concentration and staying focused. People with ADD tend to be easily distracted and have trouble following instruction. Moreover, they’re often forgetful and not well organized. Experts often refer to the following subtypes of ADD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some combination thereof.
The exact cause of ADD is unknown, though experts suspect there is a relationship between ADD symptoms and an imbalance of certain brain chemicals that help regulate attention and activity (the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine). Another possible cause is abnormal function of the prefrontal cortical lobe, which causes problems with attention and impulse control.
When it comes to fitness, ADD can sabotage your efforts by causing you to procrastinate. You may also skip workouts, fail to complete full sets or get bored easily and quit your workouts early. In fact, ADD can keep you from even beginning a fitness program.
Over the years, as a conditioning consultant, I’ve had many clients who’ve suffered from ADD, most of whom couldn’t lose weight or get fit until their ADD was addressed. One such client, Robert, had a classic case of ADD, but he wasn’t aware of how much it held him back until he began to work out. When I spoke to him for the first time at the gym, he had no clear sense of his goals, he talked in circles and often seemed lost in his thoughts. Moreover, he always appeared restless and couldn’t stay focused on any one thing. Over time, as it became clear he wasn’t achieving his goals, I referred Robert to a physician who was familiar with ADD. Once Robert was diagnosed with ADD and began getting treatment, his demeanor completely changed. Before, whenever I offered Rob advice, he would instantly tune me out. Now he became considerably more attentive, less on edge and more relaxed. In the first month after his diagnosis, he lost 8 pounds and greatly increased his strength. Within six months, he surpassed all of his initial goals.
Next: Do You Have ADD? Self-test
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
There are general tests and symptom checklists that can help determine if you suffer from ADD (see “Do You Have ADD?” page 3). If you suspect that ADD affects you, consult your doctor for a diagnosis. Then investigate your treatment alternatives.
Medication is one option: Wellbutrin (an antidepressant drug) and stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Cylert (which Rob effectively used) can have remarkable results. Yet you may also want to investigate natural treatment options. For instance, many experts believe that food and chemical allergies, food intolerances (especially to sugar) and nutritional deficiencies (of omega-3 fatty acids, for example) can all contribute to ADD, so you may wish to consider seeing an integrative practitioner familiar with the disorder.
What about exercise? Well, it’s a Catch-22: Regular, intense exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on neurotransmitters related to ADD, but, as noted, ADD can make it tough to stick to a regular routine.
Some experts recommend that people with ADD alter their workout regimens to make them as structured as possible. The idea is that, in addition to building in more accountability and minimizing opportunities for distraction, making exercise a formal ritual can help you solidify your commitment: It can help prevent you from “forgetting” that you’re resolved to get and stay fit.
You might join a group activity, such as a spinning or strength-training class, that meets at a certain time and location and always on the same day. You may also want to consider hiring a personal trainer and setting up a firm schedule of appointments. Even participating in a team sport like basketball can help because the element of competition generates greater concentration and focus.
Don’t allow ADD to keep you from reaching your full potential. Explore it, address it, and see what happens when your focus is strong and clear.
Michael Gerrish, MS, is the author of The Mind-Body Makeover Project: A 12-Week Plan for Transforming Your Body and Your Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and When Working Out Isn’t Working Out: A Mind-Body Guide to Conquering Unidentified Fitness Obstacles (St. Martin’s Press, 1999). Formerly a conditioning consultant for the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, he is an exercise physiologist, psychotherapist and certified thought-field therapist. Visit his Web site at www.exerciseplus.com.
SIDEBAR: Do You Have ADD?
Here’s a simple test. Use the rating scale below to evaluate how well each of the following statements best describes you.
1 Strongly Disagree
2 Somewhat Disagree
3 Neither Agree nor Disagree
4 Somewhat Agree
5 Strongly Agree
Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell, MD, and John Ratey, MD (Touchstone Books, 1995)
www.addresources.org — includes links to medical articles, adult symptom checklists and other related resources.www.add.org — Web site of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
www.add.about.com — links to general ADD information, FAQs, common treatments and more.
www.coachfederation.org — lists a database for finding a coach who is experienced in working with people who have ADD.