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How Do I Get Distracted? Let Me Count the Ways

There are numberless opportunities for people with ADHD to get thrown off track. But think about all the distractions you dodge to get stuff done.

I put away the super-size bag of cute little baby carrots from my latest Costco run. The overstuffed bag takes up too much space in my stylish new stainless steel kitchen fridge, but it fits nicely in the 20-year-old spare refrigerator in the basement. Simple, right? Take bag to basement. Insert into refrigerator. Done. But I get distracted easily, and there were a few complications.

I like to keep a small bag of carrots upstairs for snacks. So it didn’t make sense to take the big bag down until I’d meted out the snack portion (Distraction #1) into smaller plastic bags. I transferred a couple of handfuls of carrots to a smaller bag and stashed them in the kitchen fridge. Time to head to the basement? Not yet.

I also wanted to cook some carrots for my dogs (yes, I’m one of those indulgent Sheltie moms). I needed my favorite steamer pan, and it wasn’t in the cabinet (Distraction #2). I found it in the sink, still dirty from the broccoli I had cooked the day before (the broccoli was for my dogs, too!).

I’d have to wash dishes (Distraction #3). I ran hot water, worked up some suds, and washed the lid (always pick the low hanging fruit first, or, in this case, the least dirty item). I rinsed it and started to stack it in the drainer, but there were Romaine lettuce leaves in the dish drainer (Distraction #4).

I found another bag, tucked the lettuce inside, and put it in the shiny stainless steel refrigerator next to the small bag of carrots. I went back to the dishes. I washed the steamer insert and picked up the main saucepan, which had ugly burn spots in the bottom. Now I needed a scrubber sponge (Distraction #5).

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I hunted the countertop, which was covered with dishes, fruit, and the rest of the Costco haul. There were no scrubber sponges in sight. Even my backup supply under the sink was exhausted. I knew I’d forget to buy them if I didn’t put them on the grocery list right now (Distraction #6).

Back to the sink: I managed to scrub most of the burned spots out of the pan using an abrasive cleanser (I felt guilty because it is so bad for the environment). I dumped some carrots into the steamer, put a lot of water in the main pan (no burned pan today!), and headed for the stove. It needed cleaning before I could cook (Distraction #7). I made a half-hearted attempt at cleaning the stovetop and switched on the burner.

I was mentally exhausted at this point. This “simple” task had evolved into a complex undertaking. Unlike dominos, which neatly lean into each other leading to a precise end point, my path required backing up to go forward. Clean the stove before cooking. Clear the drainer before rinsing. Find the scrubber before washing. Find the pan before scrubbing. This is the stuff of ADHD nightmares.

It’s a minor miracle that the carrots made it to the basement at all (yes, they did make it), given my ADHD brain’s tendency to wander off track. But the effort required to complete this mindless task took me by surprise. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that ADHD folks suffer from constant mental fatigue performing even the most menial everyday duties. Yet we prevail.

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There are many distractions in everyday life that tempt us. I think we do a darned good job of warding them off most of the time. After all, our ADHD brains don’t prioritize tasks easily. Each decision requires conscious thought, even tiny decisions about whether to complete the crooked path to carrot refrigeration or instead to eat a container of Greek yogurt that lurks next to the veggie bin.

I’m proud of us, actually. We fight against the “reverse domino effect” every day. Most of the time we win. Occasionally, we don’t. We focus (yes, focus) on the “don’t” occasions. But for the next few days, I invite you to pay attention (yes, I really said that) to the many steps that make up your day. Then notice the opportunities for distraction. And then notice how many times you are able to push the distractions aside. What works for you to skip past distractions? Do you talk to yourself out loud? Do you close your eyes to remember the end goal? Do you keep your phone handy for audible reminders to stay on your path?

Finally, and most importantly, give yourself a little — no, a lot — of credit for consciously and successfully getting to your personal endpoint, no matter how insignificant. We deserve a pat on the back for heroic efforts. And we need it most from ourselves.

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