Fidget to Focus

Fidget to Focus – Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADD
Roland Rotz, Ph.D. and Sarah D. Wright, M.S., A.C.T.
IUniverse © 2005
126 pp

Do your kids swear that listening to music while they do homework actually helps them concentrate? Can you sit still OR focus, but not both – simultaneously?

If your answer is “yes,” you might already understand the art of effective fidgeting – using simultaneous sensory-motor activities to increase your ability to pay attention.

Based on the collected stories of hundreds of people, authors Roland Rotz, Ph.D. — a licensed child and adult psychologist — and Sarah D. Wright, M.S., A.C.T. – a professional AD/HD coach – propose sifting the paradigm: Give yourself permission to fidget. “Restlessness is not just an expression of trying to ‘get out of the fidgets’ in order to become calm. It is rather an attempt to self-arouse to become focused.”

The beauty of fidgeting in order to focus is that it works for everyone, not just people with ADD. Moving your body is particularly effective. Running, walking or even plain old recess activities help many people attend even after those activities have stopped. Personally, I find knitting to be a great way to keep myself focused while attending mlong meetings. It actuates the sense of touch, and it’s much better than picking at my nails. Color coded file folders are more plesant to look at so they help make the drudgery of filing a bit more interesting.

Key is to identify socially acceptable forms of fidgeting. Whether it’s doodling in a notebook while listening to a lecture, chewing gum while taking a test, or racing against the clock to finish a tedious task like cleaning the kitchen, what makes it work is using different senses for the fidget and for the focus.

This short book is structured with review points at the end of each chapter. It aims to help you identify your own socially acceptable devices to keep one part of your brain busy while allowing greater focus by another part. The strategies suggested in the text and in the “Fidget Strategies Workbook” included with the appendices will likely lead you to think of other techniques that will work for you. You’ll find suggestions for using your senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as well as movement, time awareness, or a companion.

A couple of big points from the book:

“Effective fidgeting uses a second sensory-motor activity, one other than that needed for our primary activity, to help us stay alert and focus the primary activity.” These secondary activities might include listening to loud music while doing housework, racing against the clock to finish a tedious task like cleaning the kitchen, doodling in a notebook while listening to a lecture, or chewing gum while taking a test.

“Some of the strategies we use to simulate ourselves into interest and thus action, e.g. procrastination or emotional conflict, can have undesirable side effects.” The authors warn that if you don’t actually choose your method of fidgeting, you could wind up doing something harmful: perhaps something as simple as picking your cuticles or more problematic smoking or engaging in some other addictive behavior.