Here is a “small” list of natural ways to increase focus, concentration, and motivation, and decrease hyperactivity, panic, and overwhelm. It’s a lot longer than I planned (I MAY have hyperfocused a teensie bit…) so please don’t feel like you have to read the whole article at once…but if you DO skip around, at least read the section near the end on what to do if you are struggling to consistently use one of these strategies.
FOR THE GREATEST CHANCE OF SUCCESS:
- Select 1-3 strategies to try and no more.
- SCHEDULE EVERYTHING involved with the habit you are trying to create. (For example, if you are planning to create a playlist for yourself, schedule time to find new songs each week, schedule time to start playlist, and schedule time to evaluate how the list helped or didn’t help with given tasks.)
- Don’t quit until you have CONSISTENTLY used a strategy for 30 days. I define consistency here as “completed a minimum of 5 days per week.” Less than this, and you may not have had time to even notice the trend of improvement in your life. More is often better, but if you haven’t seen some improvement in 30 consistent days, it may not be worth the focus right now.
- GET HELP IF YOU KEEP STRUGGLING.
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: EASY
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Your body might handle it well and it is still somewhat similar to using medication, though much milder. Also, you can become dependent upon it and/or need increasing doses to get the same effect if you are not careful.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Try lower doses or tea instead of coffee.
WHY IT WORKS: I’ll be honest, I’m not sure why it works. But I have self-medicated with coffee for nearly ten years and know many other ADHDers who do the same. For me, moderated use calms me down, helps me feel more naturally positive, and aids in focus and concentration.
1. Start small with a cup or two of tea or coffee in the morning.
2. Don’t consume caffeine past 2:00 as it could disrupt your sleep.
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: EASY
COST: Free – $$
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Consistency, boredom.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Apps, habit trackers, routines.
WHY IT WORKS: Meditation allows you to notice what you are thinking about, and noticing what you are thinking about is step one in taking control of your emotions and actions (more on this in the section titles “THOUGHTWORK.” It can aid in concentration, decision-making, emotional management, and sleep, as well as many other areas of life. For ADHDers, it can be especially useful in helping us build the skill of pausing before doing, giving us time to make choices based on what we really want, not just what we want RIGHT NOW.
- Start with guided meditations. Apps like Calm and Headspace are awesome for helping with this. If you are a Christian, the app “Abide” is my all-time favorite way to meditate on scripture. It also helps a lot with emotions.
- Prayer IS a form of meditation and also connects you to your true purpose in life. Make this part of your routine.
- Practice “breathwork,” where you focus on breathing in a certain pattern or cadence to bring you back to the present moment, decrease impulsivity, and calm emotions.
- Utilize “body scans” to help you go to sleep at night.
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: EASY TO MODERATE
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Not setting aside to find and set up appropriate music, lack of technology, struggling to evaluate effectiveness.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Improve scheduling skills with coach, borrow or save for tech, get evaluation checklist from ETC.
WHY IT WORKS: Our brains have an optimal level of stimulation that helps us focus. For each interest level that we have, there are corresponding levels of stimulation from your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and body movement that will help you focus best. Music is easy to add in various ways to your day, and can help with many different types of tasks to even out your stimulation and help you focus.
- For language and math tasks, consider trying white noise or instrumental music (not necessarily classical – just no words.
- For routine tasks, try music that gets you excited or really interested.
- Try making a “chores” playlist so that each time the song changes, you know it’s time for the next task on your list.
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Easy
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Forgetting to order them, forgetting to take them, lack of absorption due to poor diet or damaged gut.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Buy using automatic subscription, add to morning routine or set alarms, heal gut with clean diet, removal of problem foods, and probiotics.
WHY IT WORKS: Research suggests that ADHDers may benefit from taking certain supplements to aid in production of neurotransmitters and other substances necessary for brain functions like mood stabilization, concentration, and planning/organization. Since adding supplements to your diet takes fairly little effort and time, this can be an easy way to get started improving your symptoms. A fairly typical list is included below. Please note that quality of supplements varies widely and you should seek assistance from a doctor or holistic practitioner before randomly adding these to your routine. Also note that everything on the list is possible to get through your diet (and doing so is more effective, though it takes more planning).
- Vitamin B6 and Magnesium
- Vitamin C
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Easy to Moderate (dependent on location and weather)
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Forgetting, Boredom, Not noticing slow improvement
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Alarms, Routines, Body Doubles, Mood/Focus Charts
WHY IT WORKS: Different suggestions (below) will have different reasons for being beneficial, but, personally, I think that we were designed to interact with nature in a much more intimate way than we typically do. Getting outside into the sun, fresh air, dirt, etc, is beneficial to our sleep, digestion, mood, oxygen intake (and thus concentration) and more that we probably don’t understand at this point. It is also easy to be contemplative or prayerful in the outdoors.
- Immediately after waking up, go outside for 5-10 minutes of bright sunlight and fresh air. The sunlight aids in setting your wake/sleep cycle so that you are more quickly awake and also have an easier time getting sleep at night. The air (paired with deep breathing) can help prepare your mind and muscles for the day.
- Spend 10-15 minutes with direct sunlight on your skin to get natural vitamin D, which aids in absorpsion of many nutrients.
- Spend 10 or more minutes barefoot on the ground. There are claims that doing so will have positive effects on your mood and physiology (possibly even sleep) due to the movement of electrons. Given that there are no drawbacks I can think of, I recommend actively trying this.
- Spend contemplative time weekly in a natural location that creates a sense of awe and/or gratitude in your body. You can pray, meditate, do breathing exercises, do thoughtwork, or simply experience the feelings that the setting creates. IF THIS SOUNDS WORTHLESS to you, then my guess is that you have never experienced the gift and benefits that “white space” or undistracted, undedicated time can offer you and I highly recommend giving yourself this gift.
REMEDY: BODY MOVEMENT (not necessarily exercise!)
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Moderate
COST: Free to $$$
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Depends on the level of movement. Forgetting to move, boredom with type of movement, disliking particular activity, lack of confidence, limited space, cost, injury.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Alarms, Group challenges, Body Doubles, Rotating activity checklist, utilizing free videos on YouTube.
WHY IT WORKS: As I said, I’m not necessarily talking about exercise here. Any movement of the body is useful for multiple reasons. First, physical movement helps us connect to our bodies (ADHDer’s are particularly bad about this) which is the first step in MULTIPLE therapies and ADHD strategies. Second, it increases the flow of blood and oxygen to our brains and muscles, aiding in concentration, alertness, focus, and drive. Third, it improves our ability to sleep. Fourth, it is a NATURAL WAY TO BOOST DOPAMINE, which will help us manage and finish tasks all throughout the day (the dopamine boost also means that, with intention, we can make some forms of physical movement our method of stress release, which is much healthier and more beneficial than stress release habits like eating, drinking, and facebooking.)
- In between cycles of concentration (consider Pomodoro style workdays!) Do 1-10 minutes of intense activity. This could be leg lifts while sitting, walking up and down a flight of stairs several times, or doing jumping jacks. This is a quick fix to help you get your mind in a good place to get back to work.
- Work your way up to 30 minutes of movement that makes your heart beat every day. THIS INCREASES YOUR DOPAMINE and makes it easier to make decisions, follow through, and go to sleep every night. You may or may not notice improvements immediately, so stick with this.
- If you get bored with the same activities, research fitness classes and workouts in your area. There are so many different styles and energy levels that you should be able to create a workout schedule for yourself that should be able to create a schedule for yourself that keeps things constantly changing (This may involve joining a gym or signing up for class packages).
- Create a YouTube playlist of workout videos you want to do at home. You can use this to plan out your entire week, increase your strength, increase your variety, or get good enough at the basics that you feel comfortable joining a class elsewhere.
- Ask around to see if one of your friends has a good home gym they would let you use for free or a small charge (some people have a lot of equipment and a nice tv. I don’t. But some do lol.)
- Suggest physical activities instead of stationary ones like watching movies when socializing with friends.
- Create “ALWAYS” rules for yourself which add activity to your day. For example: “I ALWAYS park at the back of the parking lot and walk the whole way up.” Or: “If it’s less than stories to the room I need to get to, I’m taking the stairs. PERIOD.” Remove the decision. Just make it a rule. Create exceptions if necessary, but make them rare.
REMEDY: PRIORITIZE SLEEP
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Easy to Moderate
COST: Free to $$$
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Trouble getting to bed, trouble falling asleep, consistency.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Routines, supplements, white noise/meditation, making bedtime more special, diet and exercise changes.
WHY IT WORKS: Your body and mind repair themselves when you sleep. Everyone, no matter what brain type, will experience poor concentration, slower reflexes, and more volatile emotions when sleep deprived. ADHDers often get too little sleep due sometimes to biology (sleep/wake chemicals do not operate normally,) and frequently to poor management of nighttime schedules and racing minds. Making sleep a priority consistently will do wonders for focus and productivity.
- Create a bedtime routine. List everything you need to do before you actually hit the pillow, and estimate the time it takes to finish this list. Set an alarm at the time you want to be IN BED, and another at the time you want to START THE NIGHTLY ROUTINE.
- Consider taking melatonin to help prepare your body for sleep.
- Purchase (or borrow) a weighted blanket, which can calm restlessness.
- Make a “no electronics after X time” rule, and make it at MINIMUM an hour before you go to bed. At minimum, make sure all your electronics have blue-light filters, but really, the bigger problem is the way they keep your system jazzed up and excited. Do only calming or even boring activities in your final hour.
- Charge your phone in another room and refuse to get up at night to check it. You may get LESS sleep at night initially if you have been giving yourself little dopamine boost by checking it throughout the night, but when your brain accepts that this is non-negotiable, it will stop asking so loudly and you’ll likely notice better sleep.
- Make your bed/bedroom an oasis that you look forward to going to for sleep. Embrace all your senses – pleasing colors, soft, soothing textures, perfect temperature (adjust with fan or space heater), music that calms YOU, desirable scents, and appropriate lighting.
- If you need a reward for going to bed, consider reading a book you love but have already read before. Or, give yourself points/checkmarks.
- LEARN TO MEDITATE. I cannot emphasize the usefulness of this skill enough. The goal is not to clear your mind of thoughts. It is to gain awareness of your thoughts and build your focus…including your ability to focus in a way that helps you sleep. Use an app like Calm or Headspace to get you started.
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Moderate to Hard
COST: Free to $$$
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Trouble planning, trouble tracking, trial and error can go on for a while, craving, problems dealing with emotions, cost of healthy food.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Meal delivery, hire nutritionist or coach, cut/add one thing at a time, join support group, learn “thoughtwork” (below), turn to other activities/people for stress relief and fun.
WHY IT WORKS: Nutrition is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than our culture traditionally teaches. I could talk about this for days, but here’s the really short version: Our intestines (gut) are responsible for absorbing nutrients, including the building blocks for neurotransmitters like dopamine and seratonin. A typical American diet wreaks HAVOC on the gut, making it difficult to take IN the nutrients we need, as well as keep OUT the toxins that a healthy gut could discard easily. ADHDers are often highly reactive to certain foods and notice considerable improvements when they change their diets. Doing so can involve serious effort since consistency is of the utmost importance. But, let me tell you – it’s usually worth it.
- Drink more water (helps with concentration and ALL THE OTHER THINGS as well.)
- Increase protein in all meals and/or snacks.
- Increase healthy fats in diet, such as olive or coconut oil, salmon, ghee, nuts/nut butters.
- Carry healthy snacks at all times to avoid impulsive eating when hungry/bored.
- Cut/decrease sugar (which leads to rising and falling insulin levels, unstable energy, and therefore unstable willpower)
- Cut dairy (which can lead to brain fog and lethargy)
- Cut processed foods and dyes (which increase hyperactivity and decrease focus)
- Cut gluten (which can irritate intestinal lining and cause problems absorbing nutrients necessary to make neurotransmitters and hormones.
- Consider hiring a nutritionist or getting an app like 8fit.
REMEDY: THOUGHTWORK (OR MINDSET WORK)
IMPLEMENTATION LEVEL: Moderate to HardCost: Free to $$$
POSSIBLE OBSTACLES: Frustration with concepts, consistency, planning time to complete work.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Hire coach, invest money in program, make homework part of early morning routine.
WHY IT WORKS: Every action we take is because of a feeling we are experiencing. Every feeling we have is because of a thought or belief that crosses our minds. When we begin to take control of our THOUGHTS, we also take control of our feelings and actions in a way that is beautifully free from self-hatred or using force/willpower. Common thoughts that slow ADHDers down are things like “I have too much to do,” “I don’t know where to start,” “I’ll do it later,” and “I don’t want to.” Thoughtwork can teach you how to questions those thoughts, change them to something more useful, and very quickly action toward your goals.
- My favorite thoughtwork teacher is Brooke Castillo. You can get INSANE value by listening to her podcast, called “The Life Coach School Podcast,” (it is not just for life coaches!). I recommend starting at the very beginning, as she is teaching some pretty elevated concepts in her current episodes.
- Check out YouTube to find a mindset teacher you resonate with. Tony Robbins is exciting infectiously joyful (and has been doing his thing for decades). Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle will appeal to the introspective ADHDer (though, be warned, their ideas about God, morality, and the purpose of human beings are very different from those discussed in the Bible.) Dr. Joe Dispenza may be interesting to scientific minds. And there are many more. But again…I’m strongly biased toward Brooke🙂
- Keep an eye on my instagram page (Every Thought Captive Coaching) and free trainings! I also coach from a thought-oriented position with my one-on-one clients.
IF YOU ARE TRYING TO PUT THESE INTO PRACTICE, BUT STRUGGLING, TRY:
- Coaching. Word on the street is that coaching is an expensive luxury. But the truth is that if you have been unable to build the skills necessary to plan, follow through, and evaluate things that might help you, it is unlikely that you will suddenly be able to build those skills without some kind of intervention. Coaching (or a therapist who coaches) can help you figure out exactly what is keeping you from making these changes, and train you to become capable of building your own skills.
- Simplifying your life. Cut out every activity that you cannot live without. Focus on making improvements first, then add back in as you start to create the improvements you desire.
- Maintain a rigid planning and evaluation period EVERY SINGLE DAY. Use it to set alarms and reminders, as well as to record how you are thinking and feeling. Review to notice trends and make adjustments.
- *If you are Christian or questioning Christianity, consider that God is the source of all goodness, truth, and power. Ask yourself if you are aligned with his will and seeking him out. If not, begin to dedicate time to repairing that relationship and putting him first, beginning with prayer, reading his word, and seeking like-minded companions.
QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, CONCERNS? Hit me up. I would love to hear from you on any topic, and I’m curious about what remedies I left out! Also, if you are interested in working with me in a coaching relationship, I currently have 3 open spots. Sending hugs!