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It’s not often you hear the words “Turkey” and “ADHD” in the same sentence.  And if you do, it’s probably someone going off on a tangent: “Oh, yes, I was diagnosed with ADHD… and did I remember to pick up the turkey for Thanksgiving?” But in this blog we are going to put turkeys and ADHD together in a way that makes a lot of sense.

We often are asked by our patients if there are natural ways to help the mind focus better.  Yes, there are!  And believe it or not, one of them is the spirit of this holiday season.  Sure, you are running around all over shopping for your loved ones, buying food and cooking for houseguests, and just trying to hold everything together.  The holiday season comes along with a million extra details and distractions every day.  Doesn’t this sound like the opposite of something that could help you focus?

But what the holiday season is about—being thankful—actually does help with focus.  This has to do with how your internal attitude helps your mind focus. Specifically, if you have a good attitude toward the task you are doing, you are more likely to focus well on it.  How does this work?

Remember that focus means your brain has prioritized one thought over others.  So if you are going through your day bemoaning all the things you have to do, your brain will just slide from one task to the next without paying much attention to any of them.  When you view everything as an obligation, nothing is special.  Each item on your to-do list is just an additional problem you have to take on and get done. 

But let’s say that instead you view a task as something you are grateful for:  Too much to do at work?  Well, at least you have a job.  Too many groceries to buy and dishes to cook?  But of course that must mean you have a lot of family and friends to cook for!  No time for sleep? (Well, actually, there is nothing good about that.)

When you start appreciating all the things you have to be thankful for, your brain relaxes. It slows down. You can practically feel the little brain cells smiling inside your head. Then there is a shift in your spirit, and that brings with it a shift in your thinking:

Instead of thinking about all the things you “have” to do, you start thinking about all the things you “get” to do – everything that you are lucky to have and should be happy to take care of.  (And since the holiday season is also football season, you can also think of it this way: Instead of the outside world punting trouble towards you, you decide to pick up the ball wherever it is on the field and run with it.) 

In just this way, being grateful and happy puts you in charge. “Yes, I can,” you hear yourself saying. “Yes, I will.”  We all focus better when we decide to do something rather than when we are forced to do something. This is true not only of children with the diagnosis of ADHD, it is true of everybody at every stage of their life.   

So at the beginning of this holiday season, take time to be aware of the positive effects of gratitude.  Each day, preferably at the start of the day, take a few moments to think about three good things you will do that day.  Alternatively (or in addition) at the end of each day think of three good things you accomplished for somebody else.  You can do this on your own privately or more publicly in the company of your friends and family.  Negative attitudes will wilt, positive feelings will flourish, and your ability to focus and be productive will burst forth in full bloom....or, at least it will improve.  Then take your “attitude of gratitude” and extend it beyond this holiday season: Gratitude is a holiday gift you can take with you and use throughout the year. 

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