The Dynamics of Attending
Monday, June 27, 2011 13 Comments
Part 3 in the Intentional Attending Series of Posts — As I said in Part 2, Brain Waves, Scans and ATTENTION — One of the goals of ADD Coaching is to identify areas where our clients can improve on the intentional direction of attentive awareness.
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The ADDCoach.com™ Favorite Model of Attention
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Similar to Sylwester’s three-part model of attention (described in the prior article of the Intentional Intending Series of posts), I, too, favor a three-part portioning of the attentional pie.
I have found it more useful from an ADD Coaching perspective to focus my own study and observation of attention on the tasks involved in three “sub-domains” of a particular area of the Sohlberg/Mateer model: selective attention.
I refer to these three domains or sub-divisions, collectively, as
The Dynamics of Attending:
1. Focusing on the Intended Object
2. Sustaining the Focus
3. Shifting Focus at will
Underlying each of the Dynamics is the same impaired element of cognition common to all of the Executive Functioning Disorders: VOLITION.
The Dynamics of Attending
In the model I embrace, the most important features of “attention” are those that govern your ability to direct your mind’s “spotlight” — shining the spotlight of attention where you aim it, no matter how many “actors” are on your attentional stage — in other words, intentional attending.
1. Focusing on the Intended Object –
The ability to direct attention with volition, without becoming drawn inadvertently to a focus on competing priorities, your own or those of another. In other words, the ability to avoid interruptions and screen out distractions to be able to maintain a specific behavioral or cognitive concentration in the face of competing stimuli.
How well could you stay focused on a lecture, even on a topic of interest, if a woman with bright green spikey hair was sitting a few rows ahead of you?
- Would her green hair momentarily attract your attention every time she moved her head, pulling you away from your “focus on the intended object.”
Can sounds (like a whispered exchange on the back row or someone’s ringing cell phone) pull you “off-task” attentionally?
- Have you ever silenced a noise-maker simply because they were disturbing, not because you weren’t able to hear over their distraction?
Could you maintain your focus on the speaker if you were sitting on a rather uncomfortable bench?
- How about once your back got tired?
- What if it were almost time to break for lunch?
- you still be “paying attention” to the lecture if you had hit the snooze button one too many times, getting out of bed too late stop for breakfast and it was past time to break for lunch?
Do you get distracted cognitively – by a mind rift in response to something the speaker said, perhaps, missing his or her next sentence or next point?
- Would your mind keep wandering back to an earlier argument with your spouse, or would that fade away once you began to listen to the lecture?
Do you sometimes have problems quieting your mind enough to “pay attention?”
- Do extraneous, unrelated thoughts swarm around in your head unbidden, in response to an external cue that links, in your mind, to something unrelated – like, wondering if it’s time to rotate your tires or replace the oil in your car, if you remembered to take the chicken for tonight’s dinner out of the freezer, or whether your annual physical was next week or the week after?
Those are all examples of difficulty focusing on the intended object.
2. Sustaining the Focus –
The ability to avoid attentional lapses over as long a period of time as you choose (or as long as you must) during continuous activity or repetitive tasks.
Do you tend to experience “attentional burnout” after a specific amount of time has passed, even if “the intended object” is one of interest or importance?
- Do you have trouble sitting through particular lengthy events, even if you enjoy them?
- Do you tend to do better on short exams than long ones?
- Do start feeling drowsy or “fuzzy” after a certain point of sustained focus, no matter what’s happening at that point?
Do you have difficulty maintaining your focus on something that is not particularly compelling, but something you need to “attend” to?
- Have you ever taken a road trip and noticed suddenly that you had driven some distance with no attention on your driving?
Does your mind wander during repetitive or mundane tasks, causing you to make errors because you weren’t “paying attention.”
- If you had to hand address and affix postage stamps to 100 invitations would you be likely to “space out” after a while?
- Would there come a time when you would have to double-check because you weren’t sure if you had remembered to put stamps (or your return address) on one or two?
When you are reading, do you ever forget the beginning of a paragraph by the time you get to the end of it?
Those are all examples of difficulty sustaining the focus.
3. Shifting Focus at will –
The ability to re-direct attention with volition – to shift focus back to “the intended object” relatively quickly after a distraction from a competing stimulus.
If the doorbell rings while you are talking to a guest, are you able to return to conclude the conversation once you have greeted the new arrival, or does everything change from that point because your “attention” has shifted?
Has it ever taken the smell of something burning to remind you suddenly that you left tonight’s dinner simmering on the stove when you had to “attend” to a distraction (say, if your mother called from out of state, or your spouse needed your help for a moment?)
- What about when the distraction is “tiered” – say, if the paperboy came to collect and you had a difficult time finding your wallet?
- Would you be more apt to “forget” what you were doing before the interruption if the paperboy came while you were on the phone with your mother?
- Might you “forget” that your mother was “holding” on the phone amid the rush to to turn off the stove, turn on the exhaust fan, dump tonight’s blackened dinner into the garbage, and fill the pans with hot soapy water, after clearing out the sink full of dishes to have a place to leave the pans to soak?
- By the way, in your rush to the stove to handle whatever was burning, do you recall what you did with that wallet after you paid the paperboy? Will you remember that you need to return it to your purse before or after you leave the house to go pick up fast-food fried chicken to replace tonight’s ruined dinner?
Those are classic examples of difficulty shifting focus at will
People who have a great deal of trouble with this third Dynamic of Attending experience days when they “shift” from one unfinished task to the next as if they were rushing from clue to clue in a race to win a scavenger hunt.
- Because shifting focus at will is one of my personal bugaboos, I had to develop the habit of setting a countdown timer to remind me to go BACK to what I started, and to make an entry in my Interruption Log to remind me what in the world that was.
Now that’s trouble shifting focus at will!
You know the kids’ activity where they place a series of carefully spaced dominoes on end, and then lightly touch the first to begin a cascade, watching all the dominoes fall down one at a time, one right after the other, as the falling domino before it knocks it over?
Life can be just like that particular game for many of us: one area goes down, takes the next one down with it, which causes another to fall apart as well. And so it goes, day after frustrating day.
ADDers typically have impairments in at least one of the Dynamics of Attending, often all three in combination, causing “domino problems” with the registration, linking and retrieval stages of the memory process.
We’ve ALL had “one of those days”
Domino problems aren’t confined to the ADD population. Every single person living has problems with each of the Dynamics of Attending in some situations at some times.
A few of the ways those occasional “mind blips” show up in our behavior provide very funny stories – afterwards.
Unfortunately, some of them (or too many of them) frequently lead others to conclude that we are not reliable and can’t be trusted.
What Kind of Problems, specifically?
Difficulties with any of the Dynamics of Attending can show up in a variety of ways. The fourth post in this series will provide a composite list of only some of the ways “impaired attention” shows up frequently in bona fide ADDers (and, in the lives of non-ADDers, more often than anyone would like.
Other Articles in the Attention series:
The above text is excerpted from Intentional Attending,™ the fourth of the twelve eBooks
in the upcoming Optimal Functioning eBook Series™
©2000, 2006, 2011 Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, ALL rights reserved
The E-books in the Optimal Functioning Series™
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