I am constantly toying with ways to improve my focus and attention through nutrition, sleep and exercise.
When I was a child, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. I didn’t like being labeled (I despise labels in general) but I wasn’t alone. I rubbed elbows with 13.5% of boys 3-17 years diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
My early educational career was a grind. By the time I was in 7th grade, I was ditching classes. I had next to no interest in the material and spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy finding ways not to attend. It took every ounce of effort I had to graduate high school while staying eligible to play baseball, even with the relatively low bar of the public Los Angeles Unified School District standards.
As a boy, I was prescribed both Ritalin and Dexedrine, two stimulants used to control the symptoms of ADHD. They definitely boosted my middle school academic prowess, but I strongly disliked the side effects. First, they suppressed my appetite. I was a young athlete desperately attempting to get bigger and stronger; I needed every calorie available. Second, my personality became rather subdued, and I knew even at 11 that it felt unnatural. I stopped swallowing those pills rather quickly.
The struggles didn’t disappear, however. As a Major League Baseball player in my twenties, there were times where my focus would waver on defense. I would have to literally shake myself to come back to the present. I can remember running down a ball hit in the gap in Texas, but I still don’t know how I did it. I was on a completely different planet when it was hit. Then, by some universal stroke of kindness, the rock was in my glove for the third out. I jogged groggily back to the dugout and was greeted with high-fives. None of my teammates were aware of the travels of my spacey brain. Phew.
Now, at 38, I have substantially more interest in my work than I did as a 6th grader, but my focus wavers substantially at times, to the degree that it affects my ability to organize my thoughts. Despite my creativity, the ratio of time spent to my output is not something I’m thrilled with. Do I still have ADD? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t give a shit. The diagnosis doesn’t matter; I only care about my ability to optimize my life for better productivity and sharper communication.
During the middle of my playing career, I decided to go back and see that childhood doctor. He once again prescribed Ritalin. As it did when I was a child, the pills wrecked my appetite and sucked the personality out of me. That experiment didn’t last long, and it was back to the drawing board.
I can now comprehend and articulate what I recognized even back then. The best ways to improve my concentration and focus are alterations to my exercise, nutrition, and breathing routines. This formula sits well with me and jibes with my general approach to health.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know how passionately I feel about personal trial and error. I’m a long way from discovering the optimal program for my brain, but I continue to tinker by throwing all my resources at the wall to see what sticks and what slides down.
My first chuck is always physical activity. After a good workout, I’m almost always clearer upstairs. I often write during or post training. From webmd.com:
When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which helps with attention and clear thinking. People with ADHD often have less dopamine than usual in their brain.
My dopamine release is just fine, thank you. Kaplifestyle.com is judgment free, webmd.
You know about my take on consuming humanely raised and butchered animal flesh. Who knew the practice led to improved focus? From additudemag.com:
Foods rich in protein — lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products — can have beneficial effects on ADD symptoms. Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other.
This is lovely, and I’ve personally experienced boosts in productivity with my experimentation in these arenas. However, my current point of interest is a red dot on the caffeine map.
I believe in most things in moderation. You likely know about my passionate love affair with coffee, but in case you missed this post on caffeine reduction, check it out and rejoin us.
Here’s my dilemma. I’ve found that caffeine in high doses is my most effective focus enhancer. From psychcentral.com:
As it is a stimulant, caffeine has been investigated as a potential treatment for attention deficit disorder. Its use as a therapy is not widespread because it was found in research studies to be less efficient than other stimulants. But experts writing in 2008 suggest the doses were too low to have a consistent effect. They say that if caffeine proves useful, it “would represent a qualitative increment over the traditional repeated use of psychostimulants, which can have severe side effects if repeatedly used in children.”
When I consistently sip black coffee throughout the day, I’m sharper on radio, TV and in my writing. This is both good news and bad news, obviously. I’ve found a stimulant that works for me without the side effects I experience on more traditional prescriptions, but it does come with its own negative factors.
I don’t have the answers to all the questions on this topic, and I may never reach a finish line. I did vow to share my journey with you. Because we’ve established a bond over the course of the last seven months, I’m comfortable coming at you with my tie loosened.