Practical Solutions to Improve Attention in ADHD

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Attention is a process in the in the human brain that allows us to focus on one object or thought at any moment in time. When you have ADHD, you might feel you have no control over your attention. However, attention isn’t a stagnate commodity; it can be trained like a muscle and is influenced by your emotions and lifestyle.

Let's take a look at:

1.     Different types of attention 

2.     Factors that influence your attention

3.     Practical solutions to help you improve attention

There are 4 types of attention:

Sustained Attention

Being able to keep focused on one thing (e.g., reading a book). When you have ADHD, a single distraction (e.g., a door slamming) often means the sustained attention is broken.

Selective Attention

Being able to block out background noise and focus on one thing. For example: In a coffee shop, you block out other peoples’ conversations and read your book.

Alternating Attention

Being able to move your attention from one thing to another; even though the tasks require different parts of the brain. For example: When assembling Ikea furniture, your attention moves from reading the instructions to piecing together the furniture parts.

Divided Attention

Being able to focus on two things at once (e.g., having a conversation and playing a computer game). Most people with ADHD have problems with divided attention.

Throughout your day, start to notice what type of attention you are using. You will probably find some of your attention types are stronger than others. This is normal!

Factors That Influence Attention

Motivation plays a big part in how well you can pay attention to something. Think for a moment about an activity you love to do.

 How would you rate your attention? It’s probably exceptional! Now think about a task you dislike. How would you rate your attention for this? Because your motivation is low for boring tasks (e.g., housework), so is your ability to pay attention.

Emotions are another factor that influences attention. When you feel stressed or anxious, your ability to pay attention reduces. On a day when you are happy and relaxed, your attention will likely be greater than on a stressful day, even though the task is the same.

What can you do to improve your attention?

1) Exercise

Physical exercise helps many ADHD symptoms, including attention and focus. In fact, in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey says that exercise can be as effective as ADHD medication for some people.

2) Mindfulness Meditation

Practice mindfulness meditation. It helps improve attention and focus as well as reducing stress. Many people with ADHD are able to practice mindfulness meditation, even if they've struggled with other types of meditation.

3) Brain Games

There is some conflicting information about whether brain games are helpful for attention. Some studies say they don’t help, while others say they are helpful; but only for the games themselves. The best way to know if brain games help you is to try them.

4) Breaks
When you are focusing on a task, have mini breaks. It is like hitting the refresh button for your brain. There isn’t a magic formula for the ratio of work to break time. Some people like 30 minutes with a five-minute break. Others prefer to work for 45 minutes and have a 15-minute break. Try a few options and decide which works best for you.

5) Manage Stress

Because stress reduces your attention, become a master at managing it. Try practical solutions on how to reduce your stress when you have ADHD.


John Ratey, Spark. The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Little, Brown and Company. 2013.

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