Another Look at “Attention Deficiency”
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Attention Deficient Disorder or ADD is a distressful and unpleasant state. What is it like? How would we create it? What things make up the disorder of the mind?
To create and experience the state of mind that we call Attention Deficient Disorder, we have to use some very special strategies. Only then can we structure consciousness in such a way that we experience it with all of the ADD symptoms: highly distracted, jumping all over the place, and unable to focus. And, of course, once we have a distracted state of mind like that, it sends commands to our body to create emotions of impulsiveness and hyperactivity and corresponding behaviors. Then we have an expert system for distracting, reacting, forgetting, procrastinating, and the like.
ADD does have a structure. It does makes sense. It doesn’t come out of the blue from nowhere. A person has to set several higher frames of reference (or meta-states) in order to create this experience that the psychological community has mislabeled a disorder. It’s only a disorder from the perspective of ordering consciousness so that it operates in a highly focused way that effectively encodes information in a way that makes sense (and so elicits the state of “comprehension.”)
- What frames do we need?
- What meta-state structures?
- What meta-level frames of beliefs, values, expectations, etc.?
Higher Frames or States of Mind
In its natural and untrained state, mind attends whatever stimuli catches its attention. That’s why we experience consciousness as so responsive and so reactive to the world when we first enter into it as children. We have no agenda, no intention, no focus, no purpose. We just free-float in such a way that the events, people, words, situations, etc. around us grab our attention. Attention, as what’s “on” our mind, simply responds to anything new, different, vivid, moving, threatening, dangerous, etc.
It is only later that we develop intentions. And yet we do so very early. We develop commitments, passions, motivations, expectations, agendas, etc. We set intentions in our mind at a higher logical level to our attentions when we want something, intend something, establish a purpose. When we do, these higher frames begin to govern and control things. At first, we develop very basic and primary type of intentions:
- We seek to move toward pleasure and away from pain
- We seek for satisfaction of hunger and dryness and
- we seek to move away from the discomfort of the basic biological drives (hunger, thirst, etc.).
Later we develop more layered and complex intentions: to win, to feel powerful, to be important, to show someone up, to be the first, to get the biggest cookie, to not have to exert effort, to find the path of least resistance, to avoid dad’s anger, to resist mom’s shaming, to not be viewed as dumb, to not feel embarrassment, to not stand out, etc.
When that happens, these become our governing frames of reference or meta-states and these higher intentions begin controlling our experiences. Suppose we don’t “get” something the first time dad or mom explains something, and out of their frustration, stress, or anger, they say something like,
“What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid or something? You never use your head. If you’d only think before you act. Why are you so dumb?”
When a child repeatedly hears words of this kind, it becomes seductively easy to buy into them. Then the child will more likely experience the state of “dislike of being scolded.” Eventually this becomes, “dislike and rejection of experiencing any mistake” that could be used as evidence “being dumb.” This then becomes more complex as the child learns to hates the “dumb” state, fear it, and so taboo it for themselves. “Don’t be dumb!” This state-about-a-state structure then means that the person will be operating from a frame of mind that could be summarized in such “belief” statements as:
“Its bad and painful to be reproved for being dumb.”
“Avoid using your brain, then you won’t be thought stupid.”
“I’m no good at learning, intellectual matters. I always do poorly with such.”
Then, with such intentions, no wonder the child would find him or herself turned off about learning and school, distracted, unable to focus, and so fidgeting and constantly moving and procrastinating. Why move toward something so loaded up with pain — psychic pain of embarrassment, inadequacy, and negative self-descriptions? Who would want to? I wouldn’t.
ADD as Driving a Brain in an Out of Control Manner
In actuality, people labeled “ADD” do not have any problem in the production of attentions. There’s no deficiency at that level. In fact, at that level there are too many attentions. Such individuals have a rich and varied world of attentions. Attentions are everywhere, and all at once, and moving very quickly. In fact, it is the out-of-control nature of attentions that causes one to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and defeated. From a structural point of view, the “problem” we have here isn’t one deficient of attentions… The problem lies rather in the way all these attentions “have” the person rather than the person “having” them.
What causes that?
What factors, influences, structures, and frames contribute to that?
The individuals may suffer from negative frames (or dragon states) or from simply a deficiency of intentions. Structurally, the ADD experience arise from having too many negative thoughts and feelings turned against oneself and overwhelming oneself with fears about learning, fears about being dumb, fears about being embarrassed, making a mistake, etc., or from a lack of structure in directionalizing mind.
Conversely, the higher frames that govern a passionate state of learning and which enables a person to zoom in on information or experience, powerfully encode it so that it makes a powerful impression, and screen out every distraction leaves one in a state of excitement, desire, motivation, and commitment. It is when we lack that kind of higher frames of mind, that our attentions fling and dart all over the place. We don’t care enough about something. We don’t feel enough passion.
When I met Terry, he was nine years old and had been labeled “ADHD.” And he had all of the classic symptoms. He couldn’t sit still. He moved and fidgeted. He looked at this and then at that. He seemed bored in my office.
“Do you ever play computer games or Nintendo?” I inquired.
“But I bet you get tired of playing those games. I bet you can’t even keep your mind on the computer screen!”
(Laughing) “No, I can. That’s easy.”
“You mean that you can focus on it and stay with it?”
“That’s great! And of course, you know what that means, don’t you?’
“That I’m only interested in games?”
“It means that you got a great brain that can learn in really effective ways. It means that you can focus and concentrate and that there’s not a thing wrong with your brain.”
He was surprised. At nine, he had actually come to believe several things that were sabotaging his learning excellence. He believed that he was dumb. He believed that other kids were smarter than him. He believed that he could not control his brain. He believed that the learnings he was doing with Nintendo and baseball were not “real” learnings, but just play. He believed that there was nothing he could do to become better at school. He believed it was terrible to be laughed at or embarrassed. And the list went on.
The Meta-Levels of ADD
The “belief” frames above highlight and structure the meta-levels of Attention Deficit. These beliefs involve the checklist of beliefs that Dilts has put together in the so-called neurological levels, as well as the other logical levels.
Capabilities: Am I capable of learning?
Can I control my own brain? Is that possible?
Can I focus my attention?
Values: How valuable is it to learn? To study.
Identity: Am I intelligent or dumb?]
Relationships: How would changing my learning style affect my relationships? Would others accept or reject me?
Intentionality: What are my intentions?
What are the higher intentions above and beyond those intentions?
The Intention –Attention Dynamics
Attention refers to what’s immediately “on our mind.” And this constantly shifts, changes, and alters. And so it should. Attention describes our immediate conscious experience of the world as we move through it. Oftentimes we have to “lose our mind and come to our senses” in order to shake off trance like states that prevent us from being in the here and now. Sometimes we have to lose one of our older meta-level “minds” in order to free ourselves from old ideas and concepts that put us in a bad relationship to something like “learning,” “school,” etc.
Intention is a higher level of mind that arises from our orientation and that shows up in our everyday motivations and passions. The nine-year_old boy spending hours with a computer game obviously has great motivation and passion about that game and that motivation is precisely the higher mind that supports and enables him in his concentration and focus.
And there’s something else. As he becomes more and more skilled, as he finds delight and pleasure in succeeding (as we all do), he gets another meta-level pleasure: being able to define himself as successful in that area. This keeps him motivated.
We say in NLP that energy goes where attention flows. Our mental and emotional energies go out to attend, invest, care, etc. Attend to anything long enough and our skills and knowledge will increase. There’s no mystery in that.
In Meta-States we add another phrase to this line, a phrase that fills it out and makes it more true to the supporting higher frames of mind. We say_
Energy flows where Attention goes as governed by Intention.
If you want more focused mental and emotional energy to go somewhere, not only do we have to bring our attention to it, but we most effectively bring our attention to it when we align it with our higher intentions. That’s why finding, identifying, developing, and enriching our personal sense of intention so that we can take a strong and definitive Intentional Stance about something empowers us in activating our highest skills and potentials.
How can we apply this for the experience of ADD? Many people start merely at the level of attention. Typically we start by trying to “command” or order attention:
“Pay attention to this!”
“When I talk in this classroom, I expect that you listen to me!”
“You need to pay more attention to your homework.”
If that works at all, it usually doesn’t work very long. So we shift into getting or grabbing attention by using attention getting devices. We try to make the information more interesting, more dynamic, varied, colorful, dramatic, etc. We liven things up, we use different approaches, etc.
Sometimes that helps. But we’re still at the level of attention. It’s really not until we step back and go upward to the higher levels of awareness, that we can activate a person’s intentions. Here we connect the primary attentions with higher level reasons, understandings, values, identities, etc. Then, when we have a big enough “Why” or “How this is important to me,” we will find our attentions quite willing to do serve for our intentions.
In this, it is never a question whether a person has enough or sufficient attentions, it’s always a question of having sufficient and powerful enough intentions. When Bob Bodenhamer works with ADD children, he frequently asks,
“What are you attending that your teacher or parent doesn’t want you attending?”
He knows that mind is forever attending something. What we attend, well, that’s another question. The ability to become riveted to a TV show, movie, video-game, cards, book, drawing, love making, climbing a mountain, etc. comes with being a human being. Riveted R Us. Csikszentmihalyi studies in Flow as The Psychology of Optimal Experience show that we have the ability to enter into a focused flow state with a very wide range of things from walking, gardening, running, meditating, to vertical wall climbing, intense research, to even the mundane things: washing dishes, doing chores, etc.
Getting lost in something that elicits focus states, concentration, perseverance, passion, etc., primarily involves our neuro-semantics-higher level reasons and meanings.
Mastering the Deficiency in ADD
All of this describes the first step in the process of mastering ADD. First we need to go after intention. We need to develop it, expand it, enrich it. We need to get it to become strong and intense and powerful.
We then need to meta-detail that intention into many specific attentions that will translate the intention into real-life and real-time experiences. Meta-detailing combines global thinking with specific thinking, it creates a unity and integration of moving up the levels of abstraction that occurs when we generalize and moving down the levels when we precisely specify something. To meta-detail, move up or down until you find a specific larger level frame of mind that’s critically important to you… then detail it out into tomorrow’s life.
With this in mind (the meta-level principle), how will you act tomorrow? What one thing will you do? What will you say? How will you say it?
Meta-Detailing also helps us to add specific attention aligning behaviors to our repertoire of activities. With it we can look around our room to check the environment in which we read or study and check it out in terms of supporting our attentions. A great study environment reduces the distractions and outside noise. It assists us in focusing. It helps us relax. It allows “the world to go away” while we get lost in the study. Via meta-detailing, we can chunk down from feeling overwhelmed by information coming at us too hard and fast. We can chunk down to learning in steps and stages, taking on one thing at a time knowing and believing that “given some time and exposure, we will learn it.
This illustrates the importance of treating ourselves and the learning/ misunderstanding/ correcting/ refining process in a kind and gentle way. Stress, pressure, and tension undermines effective learning. It de-accelerates the learning, sometimes even bringing it to a stand-still. By adopting a relaxed and yet alert state of interest and fascination we set the kind of frames wherein we feel safe to experiment, explore, learn from mistakes, etc.
We can further master ADD by setting the kind of meta-frames or meta-states that support the experience of accelerated learning.
“I can learn anything I set my mind to.”
“Learning is a fun and playful way of encountering the world.”
“The more I learn and become skilled in running my own brain, the more I accelerate my powers for learning.”
Forget any so-called Attention deficit and focus instead on Intension deficit disordering. The over-prescribed condition of ADD and ADHD serves as an excuse for far too many people and a belief that sabotages their own personal genius. It takes a set of very special conditions in order to create the ADD. Knowing that structure now enables us to play with it and mess it up. It gives us the ability also to leverage the system at just the right places so that all of the mental and emotional energy wasted in worry about our labels can now be re-directed into new and more exciting focuses.
Blackerby, Don A. (1996). Rediscover the joy of learning. Okla. City: Success Skills, Inc.
Dilts, Robert B.; Epstein, Tood A. (1995). Dynamic learning. CA: Meta Publications.
Hall, L. Michael. (1997). Secrets of Magic. Wales, UK: Crown House Publications.
Hall, L. Michael; Bodenhamer, Bob. (1999). The structure of excellence: Unmasking the meta-levels of submodalities. Grand Jct. CO: NS Publications.
Hall. L. Michael (2000). Meta-States: Managing the higher levels of your mind. Grand Jct. CO: Neuro-Semantics Publications.
Hall, L. Michael. (2000). Secrets of personal mastery: Advanced techniques for accessing your higher levels of consciousness. Wales, UK: Crown House Publications.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D., cognitive psychologist, international NLP trainer, entrepreneur; prolific author and international training; developer of Meta-States and co-developer of Neuro-Semantics. (P.O. Box 9231; 81501). (970) 523_7877. www.neurosemantics.com