Hyper-Creativity: This is Your Brain on ADHD

As I was doing my morning Internet news reading, I came across an article on LifeHack entitled, “Too Many Ideas in Your Mind? How to Focus Your Hyper Creative Mind to Achieve Success” (or at least I think that is what it was supposed to be called, as the article title itself is all messed up.)

The Hyper-Creative Mind: What Makes it Unique?

In this article, a hyper-creative mind is described as one that is constantly engaged, always thinking about new ideas and is usually in a creative state. While this sounds awesome to people who want to brainstorm ideas or come up with new inventions, that’s not what a hyper-creative mind does. Think of your mind as a pond, with a lily pad for each new idea that forms in your head, invited or not. Now, imagine that you are a frog, and your ultimate goal is to jump from lily pad to lily pad to catch flies — in other words, to accomplish goals. However, if you stay on one lily pad for too long, you begin to sink and you must jump to another lily pad to regain your footing.

Lily Pads

Because of this constant jumping around, you are never able to stay on a lily pad for long enough to catch a fly, or to complete a task. To translate this analogy into reality, your active mind — or your consciousness — constantly jumps around from idea to idea, never pausing long enough to flush out an idea or compete a task (“catching your fly)” because it does not want to “sit” still. It’s almost impossible to sit down and work on a single task through to it’s completion because your mind wants to jump to something else after five minutes. It’s not that you get bored, it’s that you want to do everything. The active mind is restless and must be continuously moving across millions of neural pathways; a PET scan of your brain in these moments would light up like wildfire. Your mind and focus is constantly on-the-go, whether you want it to be or not.

Whether I want to be thinking or not, my brain will always be actively moving from one idea to another, without refrain except when sleep overtakes me.

Finding an article on hyper-creative minds was one of those eureka moments for me. I’ve been diagnosed with having ADHD, but I always got really good grades in school; the doctors figured that my mind that was more hyperactive than my body, but that it wasn’t anything that interfered with my daily functioning. The first half of that sentence is true, while the latter half is completely false. I had no idea how severe my ADHD was until I started taking medication for it. I had a new viewpoint on work. Reading and writing were so much easier now! How did I manage to graduate with Honors WITHOUT having been treated? It’s a miracle. Anyway, after my diagnosis, my doctor put me on a drug called Vyvanse – It was like the clouds parted and little rays of sunshine slowly began to peak through, beaming down on my now calm body, mind and soul.

According to the DSM-IV (aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible for Psychologists and the insurance companies they bill), there are two subcategories of ADHD, inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity, and patients may belong to one or to both.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, an individual must meet the criteria for either (1) or (2):
(1) The individual exhibits at least six of the following symptoms of inattention, for a period of more than six months, to the point where these behaviors interfere with normal functioning.
(I’m not going to list the symptoms of inattention here, since it’s not relative to my hyperactive mind discussion, but it you want to read more about them, you can go to this website.)

– or –

(2) The individual exhibits at least six of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity, for a period of more than six months, to the point where these behaviors interfere with normal functioning. The subject…

Hyperactivity:
a) often squirms or fidgets with hands or feet;
b) often leaves seat in situations where remaining seated is expected (such as in the classroom);
c) may experience periods of restlessness (in adolescents and adults);
d) often has difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly;
e) is often “on the go” or acts as if “driven by motor;”
f) often talks excessively.

Impulsivity
g) often blurts out answers before questions are completed;
h) often has difficulty awaiting turn, such as in a game or conversation;
i) often interrupts or intrudes on others.
__

There are some other criteria, but what I listed above is main content relevant to my post.

Instead of the body engaging some of those sensations, such as the squirming or feelings of restlessness, imagine if it was your mind experiencing these states. And imagine this happening all of the time. Sounds pretty tiring, doesn’t it? It’s exhausting. This is how mentally exhausting my daily mental life can be: Even days where I lay on the couch all day, watching television, leave me going to bed burnt out from all of the thinking I did while I was on the couch. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a physically lazy and lethargic person by nature; however, mentally, I’m a freakin’ Olympian. It’s so oxymoronic that the body can be perfectly still while the mind’s aflutter, but individuals who are hyper-creative know exactly what I mean.

While it seems like hyper-creativity and ADHD are the same things, I made a point earlier that explains the difference succinctly: People with ADHD tend to become bored very easily, while individuals who experience hyper-creativity tend to want to do everything. It’s almost akin to the manic state someone with bipolar disorder experiences. Someone might be writing an article on Depression, and have a brief thought that completely side tracks their writing so that they start a whole new task altogether that is devoted to this one new idea. They leave the original article open, but in their mind they are thinking, “It would be more fun to work on this new idea right now; I’ll come back to my other article later.” This process can happen several times in one day, leading the person down a path that is far from where he or she started.

Here’s another scenario that readers might be able to relate to and thus better understand how the mind of a hyper-creative person works. Have you ever been cleaning your room and come across a drawer or box of old photos? You haven’t seen these pictures in awhile, so you take some time out from cleaning to look at them. That seems perfectly healthy, right? What if every time you started on a new area in your room, you had to go through everything and reminisce before putting stuff away? You go through your closet — oh, look, a shirt you haven’t worn in awhile; better try it on to make sure it fits. You’re DVD shelf is fine but… they aren’t alphabetically organized. You found your stash of receipts, but they are just stuffed in a box — wouldn’t it be easier when tax season came around if you organized them now? Many people can relate to the scenarios I’ve just described, as it is the curse of procrastination one faces while cleaning: Everything else looks more interesting than the cleaning you have to do. This kind of behavior is what people with hyperactive minds have to battle each day; in order to get a task done, the mind has to be quieted in some way, but how?

Brain's Want to Stay Up and Party When it's Time for Bed!

Has There Been Any Research Done on Hyper-Creativity?

Not so far as I can tell. I didn’t find any solid research after conducting a thorough web search, nor did my search of the online library at my local university turn up any scholarly articles on the topic. It’s most likely the case that this is a pop-culture term, but I have a feeling that it may soon be absorbed into humanistic psychological perspectives. It makes plenty of sense, for starters. Also, the research is really already there, just in the form of information on ADHD and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

What’s the Treatment for Hyper-Creative Minds? Can You Learn to Calm Them Down?

Perhaps adults who exhibit these tendencies should look into treating their mind as a creative object, instead of as something that has a “disease” that requires medicine to correct. True, it may be the case that your brain is hard-wired to think in this hyperactive manner, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t retrain your brain. Studies have found that an eight weeks course of meditation as therapy, specifically mindful attention training (MAT), resulted in lasting changes to the amygdala, which plays a key role in the “emotional processing of both positive and negative-valence stimuli” (Desbordes, et al). When shown emotionally positive or negative images, the subjects who underwent MAT were recorded as having less activity in their amygdala when compared to the measurements that were taken before the therapy began. This strongly suggests that some forms of meditation therapy can have a lasting effect on a person’s emotional regulation and response to stress. This is evidence that there is a correlation between the changing of mental habits with the lasting changes in recorded brain functioning.

If this is the case, how can people with hyper-creative minds rope in their thoughts? The first and most crucial step is to pay close attention to and analyze your behavior when you catch yourself becoming side-tracked. If you can identify the thought patterns going through your mind while you’re being tempted to veer off-course, then you can use mental exercises such as thought-stopping — where you literally stop your thoughts before they can fully emerge into your brain space — and redirection. If you’re able to consistently practice these methods for a few months, you should see lasting changes in the way your brain functions.

You can also do other things to keep yourself on task, such as starting your day with a to-do list, or using a timer and making yourself work for a certain set period of time before taking a break. If you are able to work in 25-30 minute spurts, with five minute breaks in between, you’re likely to stay refreshed and focused on the task at hand.

You should also create a contingency plan for those days when, no matter how hard you try, you can’t stay on task. It’s bound to happen sooner or later, so don’t get upset when you find that you’re unable to stay focused on a single task. Instead, turn to your contingency plan. This might include something like, “Take your cell phone outside and record voice notes to yourself regarding your work,” or “take a walk while using the environment as inspiration.” Maybe you’ll throw a blanket and a bunch of pillows on the floor and make an impromptu fort over which you will reign and under which you will work. The point of these ideas is to do something drastically different; you’ve already proven to yourself that doing the same thing is resulting in the same behavior, so change what you’re doing! Make it fun and refreshing while you’re at it. Just change your thinking, stay positive, use your surroundings to your benefit and don’t give up — if you can follow this formula, you’re well on your way to mastering your hyper-creative mind. One you learn to corral your thoughts and train your mind to race as if it were a thorough-bred horse, then there would be a significant improvement in your ability to quickly and effectively complete tasks. Two cheers for productivity.

4 thoughts on “Hyper-Creativity: This is Your Brain on ADHD

  1. This. All of this. Seriously, I have often wondered if there was a name for it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten out of bed because my mind was too active to sleep. I’m also NEVER bored, but I have a to-do list a mile long and I want to do it ALL. Great article!

    1. I’ve thought for the past five years that I just had a horrible case of ADHD, so much so that I can’t work without my medication, but I’m glad to know that there are therapeutic approaches that can be cultivated over time. I don’t see how I made it through college, I really don’t. Haha.

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