Hyperfocus vs Flow: Seeing a Perceived Weakness as a Strength
As a neurodivergent person and as an occupational therapist who works with neurodivergent patients, I try my best to use a strength based approach. I don’t only use this approach because I was taught it was the “right” way to work with clients, but I use this approach because I wholeheartedly believe it. If I hadn’t been able to capitalize on my own strengths and see strengths in myself where others saw weaknesses, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
If I hadn’t been able to capitalize on my own strengths and see strengths in myself where others saw weaknesses, I wouldn’t be where I am today
I was recently talking with a friend about the term "hyperfocus' in reference to individuals with ADHD and how it very closely resembles the concept of “flow”, the concept identified by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The first is often described as a deficit. The other is described as a positive experience essential to the creative process. Hyperfocus is described as a a clinical phenomenon in individuals with ADHD and refers to an intense fixation on an interest or activity for an extended period of time. People who experience hyperfocus can become so engrossed they block out the world around them and have difficulty shifting their attention from one subject to another, especially if they are interested in what they are doing, Flow is a term used to describe a state of mind where a person becomes fully immersed in an activity, and can lead to increased productivity and creativity.
"something that seems like a negative trait at face value has the potential to be something beautiful."
In both experiences, people are completely immersed in an activity and lose track of time. While I don’t believe these terms describe the exact same thing aI have seen first hand the challenges that can accompany being hyper focused, I can’t ignore the many similarities. As a result, something that seems like a negative trait at face value has the potential to be something beautiful. Two terms with very similar meanings yet one is something people strive to achieve and the other we often try to extinguish.
There are three things that I regularly remind myself about the human nervous system: it is capable of making amazing changes; there are certain things about our nervous systems that are resistant to change; and different does not equal “bad” For as many things about ourselves that we can change, there are equally as many, if not more, that we can’t. For the things that we can’t change, it’s important that we find ways to accept, and if possible, "appreciate them. Finding strengths amongst perceived weaknesses is an important step in accepting these things and changing the negative narrative that is frequently told to neurodivergent people.