Why Regular Mindfulness Practices Don’t Do Much for Folks With ADHD!

by Manijeh Motaghy, Program Designer & UCLA Mindfulness Teacher. March 16, 2023

About ADHD and Mindfulness

Why do you think, regular mindfulness practices don’t do much for folks with ADHD? While regular Mindfulness practices can do wonders to improve focus, attention, sleep, and many other inner qualities for a diversity of nervous systems, the ADHD brain has a difficult time fully reaping those benefits. For one, it’s not just attention improvement that will do the trick, but also behavioral development. Unfortunately, behavioral development also can yield very little result if tips and behavior modifications are based on neurotypical brain wiring.

According to doctor William Dodson, ADHD is a unique nervous system. It has many strengths and several challenges. But by no means it is a disorder or a deficit of attention. There are several unique characteristics and differences between this and the neurotypical nervous systems, which we go into detail in our specialized courses for adults with ADHD. Below is a bit of explanation.

About ADHD Attention:

Dr. Dodson determined that a person with an ADHD nervous system lives in the present moment. Their attention is captured by stimuli that contact their senses. One stimulus after another grabs their attention and takes them away from the task at hand.

For example, they think of making a phone call to sort out some bills. On the way to grab their phone, their eyes catch a tool (a stimulus to the eye’s attention). A thought says, “I should put this back,” (a thought is another stimulus that enters the mind sense). While taking the tool back to the garage, they notice their car is really dirty (the third stimulus that catches their attention). “I could wash my car,” they think. Before they knew it, they were washing their car and completely forgotten all about the phone call they were going to make. While this looks like being distracted, it is not. It’s all the present-moment stimuli that catch their attention and they go with it.

These are some of the topics we work on in classes to help attendees understand what is going on with their brains. To encourage them to refrain from self-judgment. Then teach them how to train their mind to stay with the agenda at hand, not the stimulus.

Some other aspects of attention would be great to look at.

Three Systems of Attention

Neuroscientist, Amishi Jha, talks about the three components of attention, and understanding them could help us strengthen them. These three systems pertain to any brain type.

The first system is the director who orients attention to something specific. It’s like a flashlight that brings something to focus and tunes other things out. It’s that in-the-moment experience. Jha explains how multitasking is not a real thing. That it is really not possible to do two things at the same time unless we are on autopilot. I.e., walking and singing. When we need our attention to compute, make a decision, or perform a task well, we switch tasks and stay with one thing.

So, for the ADHD brain, which is always caught by new stimuli, this task switch happens automatically. This is a strength, but we need to understand and train this brain to keep attention on the intended agenda, not passing stimuli.

The Second Subsystem of Attention:

The second subsystem of attention is alerting. This is a more expansive and responsive system that helps a person account for the bigger view and surrounding conditions and influencers. Unfortunately, when an ADHD brain is in hyperfocus mode, they are unaware of their environment and their impact on the environment. This is not just an issue of attention, but also lacking a sense of self-appraisal, which we cover in more depth in classes.

The third system is the executive functioning, which tells you what needs to be done and to ensure what needs to be done gets done. This is where the ADHD nervous system, which moves from one stimulus to another needs training to strengthen the Executive Function.

Looking at just the three attention systems of the brain and how the ADHD nervous system responds, it requires specific mindfulness practices to help rewire and re-train the person to stay on tasks and finish them while remaining interested and engaged.

To understand more about the brilliant ADHD nervous system and train yourself or a loved one, see our upcoming ADHD course or take a look at specialized courses under our course catalog.