Re-set & Re-start: A 60-Second Technique to Manage AD/HD Frustration & Distractibility

How many times have you started on a task and “pooped out” half-way through?  Half-finished tasks or projects may be part and parcel to who you are as a person.  Maybe a bigger problem is sticking your foot in your mouth when talking to people or difficulty staying focused on things.  Any of these things may make you feel frustrated, guilty, ashamed or inadequate.  You probably feel like a loser at times because you can never get things done or let down yourself or others.  Enter the re-set and re-start technique.

The whole idea behind re-setting and re-starting has to do with honesty and experimentation.  Honesty comes in the form of admitting that you have a problem – as do people with alcohol or drug problems – and that your “condition” (i.e., AD/HD) poses challenges for you in ways that are no big deal for other people.  You probably dread doing things that are boring, drab and time-consuming (e.g., schoolwork; work or home-related tasks).  What’s your “go-to” coping behavior in these situations?  Do you seek out things that are fun, interesting or stimulating to save yourself from boredom or something you know is going to require mental effort?  Does your brain frequently take “off ramps” that prevent you from focusing on stuff?  Unfortunately, things don’t get done when you take your eyes off the target – and so repeats the pattern that fuels your frustration.

Re-Setting Technique

So what about the re-set and re-start technique?  You may or may not remember the old Nintendo 64 games; the console had a re-set button you could push if for some reason the screen froze while you were playing the game.  Although this sometimes meant losing your place and starting over from the beginning you could at least play the game, which was the important point.  This is what you can do in situations when you need to re-focus, re-center or settle yourself down.  Re-setting serves two purposes.  First and most important – it helps you deal with negative feelings that well up in you when things don’t work out the way you want them to because of your AD/HD.  In fact, people who are anxious, easily stressed out or quick-to-anger can use this technique to deal with their negative feelings.  Secondly, it provides you an “on ramp” so you can get back on the road and do what you set out to do to begin with or give something another try.

A Happy Memory

An easy re-setting technique is to associate a physical sensation with a positive memory.  For example, close your eyes for a minute and think of a happy memory – similar to what Harry Potter does when he casts a patronus charm.  The memory should be strong.  Imagine all the sights and sounds and, if possible the smells, tastes and touches involved in the image.  Nothing should be rushed…just experience the image as you normally would.  Go ahead…take a minute and do this once you’ve captured the memory.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Notice how you’re feeling as you dwell on the memory.  In fact, as you’re doing this “center in” on your breathing.  Let up a bit on your “breathing accelerator” so your breathing slows down.  Notice how you’re breathing in air and letting it out…breathing in air and letting it out…slowly and smoothly.
There’s a rhythmic quality to your breathing that’s happening as you think about your happy memory.

“I’m Too Distracted!”

Troubleshooting tip:  It’s possible that your thoughts – those damn distracting thoughts – will race in your head while you do this, which will make it hard for you to access or stay in your happy place.  If this happens then don’t fight the thoughts! Just be a peaceful observer of them and allow them to go on.  See if you can incorporate them into your memory.  For example, if your memory is lying on a beach then pretend the racing thoughts are clouds or planes in the sky that you’re watching pass by from left to right – without trying to stop them or change their speed – as you continue breathing in and out – slowly and smoothly – and experiencing the other positive things.

Rubbing a Circle of Warmth

Next, as you continue to think about your happy memory and are allowing it to float on the gentle waves of your breathing rub the palm of one hand with the index finger and middle finger of your other hand in a circular motion.  Some people like using their thumb or to rub other areas of their bodies – it really doesn’t matter as long as it’s not too noticeable as this is a technique you’ll want the freedom to use anywhere anytime you need to re-set.  As you’re rubbing the palm of your hand embrace the warmth of the sensation.  It’s yet another sensation to center on while at the same time centering on your breathing and positive memory.

After you practice this a few times it should only take you a minute – 60 seconds – to do this as a re-setting technique.  Once you re-set you’ll be in a better state of mind to start back on whatever it is you were doing.

Time to Experiment!

OK.  So what about the experimentation piece?  Experimentation normally involves giving something a try to see how well it works.  Maybe today would be a good time to give it a try!  In order for this to work you’ll need to crank up your “self-awareness dial” a notch or two and pay attention to those internal “taps on the shoulder” that are telling you that you’re getting stressed out, off-task, etc. – basically that you’re not “in the zone” and that it’s time to re-set and re-start.  When you realize that you’re out of the zone there’s no need to get frustrated with yourself.  Just acknowledge that you’re heading toward the mental off-ramp again and make the correction to steer back in your lane (I.e., start rubbing the palm of your hand in a circular motion; each completed circle zeroes you in closer and closer to the target of your “sweet zone”).  When you do this you will redirect your brain from a high-arousal negative emotion OR an under-aroused state to one that is neutral and ready to continue what you had started or re-set for the next activity.

The most important thing to remember is don’t get too frustrated and give up if this technique doesn’t work well for you at first.  It usually takes 10 good tries over the course of many days before this technique starts to work.  : )  So remember:

  • A Happy Memory
  • A Breath of Fresh Air
  • Observe Distracting Thoughts (instead of fighting them)
  • Rubbing a Circle of Warmth
  • Experiment

Christopher Quarto, Ph.D., PLLC is a licensed psychologist in Tennessee & Michigan.  Do you suspect that you have Attention Deficit Disorder?  Dr. Quarto provides quick & convenient in-person and online/”Skype-like” psychological evaluations.  Click here for details.

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