How to Best Hyperfixate: Harnessing the Surprising VAST/ADHD Superpower

Hyperfixation is a powerful force for VAST minds and ADHD brains, if we can control it….

In my last post I described how I have used hyperfixation to my advantage in researching and planning a vacation. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had an unforgettable trip to NYC due to my researching special ‘hidden gems’ for us to experience.

This talent for vacation planning seems to be shared by other women with VAST personalities or adult ADHD. I’ve chatted with more than one VAST (Variable Attention Stimulus Trait) minded woman who felt that this was one of her biggest strengths.

But like me, they had other times where being hyperfocussed on an activity was not as productive. The problems included: paying attention to the wrong thing, focussing too much time on small details, the feeling that they had just generally wasted time.

So how do we harness our VAST Minds, and make the most of the VAST/ADHD superpower of hyperfixation?

Clues to Harnessing the Power of Hyperfixation?

Since vacation planning seems to a strength for the VAST/ADHD mind, what clues to using hyperfixation can we find in the steps to a successful vacation plan? How can we best harness these natural talents in other areas of life?

This is something I’m thinking about a lot.  I want to learn about more about how my VAST/ADHD mind works and how to steer it in the right direction. 

So what can travel planning teach us about planning projects in general? Let’s see.

Don’t Hyperfixate Before Setting a Goal

If hyperfixation is a superpower, then how you use it is important. What is your goal? What is the purpose of this project you are going to focus on?

It is totally fine to relax binging a TV show or playing games at times. We all do this, and we all need to.

But VAST/ADHD minds can very easily get focused on something without really asking ‘Is this a good use of my time and energy?’.

Consider your purpose. How you can you use hyperfixation in a way that will enrich your life or help others?

Putting energy into planning a trip has an obvious goal, a great trip! The planning can lead to a shared experience with someone you care about.

My research was focused on having a great shared vacation with my boyfriend. This was one of our first vacations together, and his first trip to NYC, so I really wanted it to be special.

Start With What You Know, Then Build on That

Having too large a project is overwhelming. Being overwhelmed can lead to a lack of success which is defeating.

VAST minds can often see the end goal, absolutely crystal clear. Figuring out the steps to get there is the challenge. So, start with something small or build on what you already know.

On my first trip to NYC I went with a tour group, letting someone else do the planning. I didn’t love everything about the trip, but I didn’t have the ability to plan everything myself at the time.

I didn’t know the neighbourhoods, how to travel in the city, what to look for in a hotel, or how to get discount tickets to Broadway shows. I needed the foundation of knowledge that the tour group could give me to get the basics.

Then I started to plan my own trips, but focused more on the usual tourist sites. Again, slowly building my up knowledge base.

Find Your VAST/ADHD ‘Right Difficult’

As I got more experience under my belt I learned more about the city and about myself as a traveler. It was only at that point that I started to focus more on finding the ‘hidden gems’ while vacation planning.

If doing the same thing is getting boring, push your self a little outside of your comfort zone! This lets you increase your confidence and stay interested.

Finding the right level of challenge is key for the VAST/ADHD mind. Dr. Hallowell calls this your ‘Right Difficult’.

Your ‘Right Difficult’ will change over time, so adjusting the challenge is key to keeping your brain happy!

Narrow down choices. Which NYC neighborhood?

Focus, Focus, Focus. Narrow Down Your Hyperfocus

If starting a project with lots of choices, narrow them down fast. While I often start off with many possible destinations for a trip, I quickly focus down onto one option – the travel destination.

Once the decision is made it is made, there is no turning back. This is a key point, because VAST/ADHD minds love options. Options are great, but I limit the time I get to consider multiple options.

You are not planning until you focus, you are just considering options. And unless you focus you are not moving towards your goal.

If this is difficult, having a shorter timeframe can help. Planning vacations at the last minute naturally forces you to limit options in a tight timeframe, because you really have to pick a destination fast.

When you have lots of time, you may fill it up with endless research. Setting deadlines on the options at each stage of a project keeps you reigned in. Pick the best option and move on.

Ask for Advice, Borrow a Brain

Do you know an expert? Someone whose advice you trust on the subject? Ask them for their advice! Usually people love being asked for their opinion on a topic they know well.

I spoke to a good friend about my upcoming trip to NYC and she was excited to share her favourite restaurant. We have similar taste so I knew I could trust her opinion. Done!

Why waste your brain power if someone you trust has already done the research? They are flattered you asked their opinion and you get great advice. Win – Win!

Don’t forget to tell them how it went and thank them for the advice!

Use an ‘External Brain’

I am not going to remember all the details of my research. I think I will, but somehow my ADHD brain just does not.

But that’s OK because there are so many options now to externalize the information.

externalize information

While preparing for a trip I put all my research into a notebook. It is a bit of work but it is worth it. It is so great to have the information, in a way I have organized it, when I need it.

For my external travel brain, I love the Moleskin City Notebooks with maps. They are flexible, light to carry and help me keep the information organized.

Another bonus: they look very professional. Referring to one is more discreet than pulling out a large travel guide that screams ‘I am a tourist!’.

I also love that I don’t have to figure out how to use my cell phone in a foreign country or worry about losing access to my map if my cell phone battery runs out. Keep it simple!

Figure out what works for you. Some combination of journal, phone apps, calendars etc. Do you prefer a bright pink journal whose colour makes it harder to lose?

Do you like using stickers so it’s fun for you to use? Great! Go for it!

Hyperfixate Wrap-up: Have an Defined Conclusion

Researching things is where my hyperfixation can go out of hand. Having a defined project with an obvious conclusion always works better.

This might be the biggest factor with the success of vacation planning because there is a very concrete (and fun!) conclusion.

I’m not still researching ‘Hidden gems on the Lower East Side’ once the vacation is over. Well…. at least not until the next trip.

With a bigger project, break things down into steps and define them so you know that you accomplished the step and can move on to the next one.

checklist success

When I am focusing on one step of a project, I like to use Focus@Will’s music timer for the ‘Pomodoro Method’.

Be aware that often the last bit of a project can be the hardest. Knowing this can help you realize if you need to ask for help. Remember: Perfection is the enemy of Done.

You can also set yourself a final firm deadline, and make yourself accountable by sharing the planned deadline with someone else.

And when you reach that deadline…

The Reward! Enjoy your Success!

Reward Your Brain!

With travel planning, the trip in itself is a reward. This doubles the excitement of finishing the project of travel planning.

The pull of the reward is enough to push you through any challenges you encounter in the planning process.

Some aspects of a project will always be less fun than others. So it is key that you find a way to reward yourself for your effort. The right reward can pull you through to the end, and this is particularly true for the VAST/ADHD mind.

Our brains crave the dopamine hit you get with a reward. We love a more immediate rewards. It can make it harder for us to work towards long term goals. But you can hack this system.

What rewards work for you? Be creative! Maybe you get to enjoy a candy bar when you finish each step of a project? You have a rule that you only watch a certain show while you are using your elliptical?

Figure out what rewards can push you to your goals. Hack your brain to achieve your success!

Find Activities That Feed Your VAST/ADHD Mind and Body

It turns out that the vacations I planned and enjoyed were ideal for my VAST/ADHD mind. Reading a book on the beach is just not the vacation for me. I want to move, climb, explore, see new sites….

An activity that gets your body moving and your brain stimulated by novelty is what the VAST/ADHD mind craves.

But we need our brains also crave a certain type of rest. It has also been shown that Non-Sleep Deep Rest practices can help brains switch from linear thinking to more creative thinking.

Non-Sleep Deep Rest protocols like Yoga Nidra or self hypnosis may help those of us prone to hyperfixation be more flexible in our thoughts. I’ve also found NSDR protocols help reduce my racing thoughts at bedtime.

Which is great because sleep is very important to keep my mind working well but… it turns out that ADHD and insomnia are linked! And believe it or not, I have found that stimulant medication actually helps me sleep better!

But back to fun activities! What activities might work for you? What might just be a little bit outside of your comfort zone? (Remember the ‘Right Difficult’?)

Seeking out hidden gems for your next weekend getaway? Exploring a new city on foot?

Hiking a new trail in your town? Trying out a rockclimbing gym? Getting together with friends and geocaching?

You might never know what you love to do unless you try! A fun activity that reenergizes you and feeds your brain may just be around the corner!