The Curiosity Prescription for ADHD


It may have killed the cat, but for your ADD – curiosity might just be your biggest asset.

ADDers are highly distractible and we consider this a bad thing. It’s not. Not totally, anyway. Ned Hallowell illuminates the positive side of distractibility: it’s just a manifestation of “turbocharged curiosity”.

“Turbocharged curiosity” is the thing that makes us creative. It fuels innovation. It’s a pre-cursor to effective problem-solving. Improvements in products, services or systems only come about because somebody got curious about how things could be better. Curiosity, in many ways, makes the world a better place.

At the same time, it lends to distractions. We get distracted because we are curious – about more things than we can possibly pay attention to at one time. So we vacillate from one thing to another, satiating inquisitiveness but sabotaging productivity and efficiency in the process.

We can’t filter or shut off our curiosity just because it’s not productive. But curiosity can actually be productive, if you use it to your advantage. ADD is unlike most other disorders in this respect. Its traits can actually help you when you employ them deliberately, with awareness and intention.

Think about it. Much of our dysfunction exists only because we were not aware ADD in action until it was too late. We didn’t see ourselves getting distracted when we were supposed to be working. We failed to notice we were talking too much when we should have been listening. We didn’t see ourselves get sucked into the maelstrom of doing “just-one-more-thing”, when we should have been heading out the door – like, ten minutes ago!

How do these things happen right beneath our noses? How is it that we are always off-task, inattentive or late? And more importantly, how do we change these patterns? Curiosity discovers solutions, and not always the obvious ones.

Reverse-engineering the problem, it asks:

  • What made me do x, y, or z?
  • What was going through my mind when I said/did/felt that?
  • What was my intention? What got in between my intention and my actions?

The best thing you can do for your ADD mind is to get curious about how your ADD mind works. You experience the world, in fact – your entire life – through your mind. That makes your mind the most fascinating place in this universe.

The more you ask yourself curious questions, the more apparent solutions will become.

Olivia was someone who, despite her best intentions, could not get her workspace organized. Every once in a while she would blitz it, doing a massive clear-out of the collected debris and carefully organizing the rest into piles categorized by urgency and priority.

It never lasted more than a week. Truth be told, there was nothing wrong with the systems she developed to get herself organized, except for one thing: she never used them.

Then, she got curious. She asked herself some pretty investigative questions. Like – why did she think she needed to get organized in the first place? What were her magical beliefs about organization and what it might do for her? What was her pursuit of getting organized “costing” her, compared the costs of things staying just as they were? And if organization really was so important, why didn’t she use the systems she created?

In the end, it turned out that organization wasn’t as big of a priority as she initially thought. Olivia was good at what she did (graphic design) and the state of her workspace, while inconvenient and sometimes inefficient, did not stop her from doing her job well. She thought she should be better-organized because it was an obscure ideal she held, rather than an integral part of her job. Curiosity helped her let it go.

Adam had the exact same problem. However, when Adam got curious, he noticed something completely different. Adam had the ability to keep his workspace organized and efficient at times, apart from when he was interrupted in the middle of a task. Being the Managing Director of a small organization – these interruptions tended to happen a lot, which meant his desktop would frequently be in a disarray of half-completed tasks. If he had not got curious about this dilemma, he would have continued to assert new strategies for “filing and filtering” his workspace, rather than dealing with the real issue at hand – the constant interruptions.

Same problem, but different people with different solutions. Common sense says “This is the best way to do it”. Curiosity asks “What’s my best way of doing it?”

Distractibility may be caused by insatiable curiosity, but if you use that insatiable curiosity to manage your distractions, you have effectively turned your ADD inside out and used its strengths against its own deficits.

And while it may have killed the cat, curiosity just might have saved it too.

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5 comments on “The Curiosity Prescription for ADHD

  1. This one is an issue for me, for sure. I have realized that when I take on a task, I work better with a clean desk. So, my “solution” is having a file box on my side desk. File folders here are created for active and/or soon to be active. Works somewhat; occasionally needing to be examined for files who’s priority have change and thus taken out and filed in main file drawer.

    1. Nice solution Donald. I’m “curious” as to how you came to it. Did you try many other tactics before you figured that one to be the best?

  2. This is a great perception, Andrea, because having “neatness” as some ethereal and nearly impossible goal day after day and year after year tends to create a huge pile of “should” on our head and that is very non-productive and is the opposite of “practicing extreme self-care.” Most of us do better accepting ourselves without shaming and blaming: there is usually no shortage of that in our lives. Instead, by U sing your points of view allows us to move toward true self acceptance: warts and all. Thank you for standing up for those who are trapped by a prison they’ve built stone by stone over decades.

    1. Thanks Glen and very good points you make there. Just yesterday someone said to me “since when does neatness = “right-ness”?”. This was on the back of a discussion between two people arguing over whether an office space should be minimalist and barren vs having a “lived in” look. Tidiness is not righteousness, its just one out of many ways to be!

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