Learning to Pay Attention

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Attention sign

Attention sign.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Paying attention is important.

Sometimes staying focused is vital. We were all told repeatedly to pay attention. Some people have been told they have an attention deficit.

Were you ever taught how to pay better attention?

Better attention is a skill you can learn. If you have ADHD there are skills you can develop that may not cure your condition but they can go a long way to getting your attention defects under control.

Try these ideas to increase your ability to pay attention.

1. What is the goal of paying attention to this information? Why might it be useful or fun to know this?

It is hard to pay attention if you can’t see a use or benefit to knowing this information. Learning and attention are emotional. If you like the topic you can learn it. Don’t have any interest in the subject? Then you will need a really good reason for your brain to bother to pay attention.

2. What do you need to focus on right now?

Every minute of every day there is all manner of things that are vying for your attention. At any given moment you need to make the decision. “What do I need to focus on right now?” If your mind wanders, do not beat yourself up. Just gently pull that mind back to the thing it needs to focus on right now.

Practice focusing your attention and it will improve.

3. Prioritize – make a list.

Writing out a list and then checking things off as you do them can help keep you organized and your mind working on one thing at a time. Get overwhelmed trying to focus on a lot of things and you will hop from channel to channel without getting the gist of anything.

4. Clear the mind of things you do not need to remember right now – mind dumps.

If you are trying to hold onto an idea or thought that you will need later, you use up some of the mental capacity you will need to be able to pay attention right now.

Have things you need to do after work? Write out a list and put it in your purse or pocket. Now you have only one thing to remember, the list, not all those things you need to do later. The fewer things in short-term mental storage the more capacity to pay attention to new things in the right now.

5. Do the big things first.

If you start with the small things you can spend all day jumping from thing to thing and at the end of the day you will still have those big things to do.

Start with the big thing first and when you reach breakpoints you can easily do those small things.

6. Break big projects into smaller parts.

If you try to build the whole house all at once you can leave out things. Break the project up into small components. Focus on one part at a time. A written list helps to make sure you did not leave anything out. If as you work on this big project you think of more steps, add them to the list. Do not keep stopping one thing to work on another. Jumping from one part to another is a sure way to undermine your ability to pay attention to any part of the project.

7. Single-task.

Multi-tasking is a myth. It may work when you need to hurry through things and none of them need any real attention or accuracy but the more you try to multitask the worse your attention to any one part becomes.

8. Cut out the distractions.

You know the things that distract you. Try to find ways to eliminate or reduce these distractions. When I am writing the sound of voices distract me. I keep wondering what is being said. I wear headphones and have some nondescript instrumental music playing. This works for me to reduce the distractions. The headphones work by the way even if there is no music playing.

Find what works for you to reduce distractions. Turn off your phone if you can or move it to mute. Shut down the email or the social media while you work. Tell others around you that you need to concentrate so please stop talking. Do whatever works for you within the laws and the social setting.

9. Create a work kit or place.

If you can have a set place for your work do so. If you need to move from place to place create a box or bag that includes all the things you will need. Do not have to run back and forth to find pens, pencils or paper, Keep some of all these things in your bag. Even you computer users may need a small pad of paper and a pen in that computer case for the time you need to make yourself a note or when the power is off.

10. Add more steps to the list as needed – skip the things you can’t do for now.

As you are working on your project or your list, there will be things you can’t do right now. Do not dwell on those things. Skip this and move on to the next thing. Having that thing on your list eliminates the need to remember to do it later.

11. Do focus sets – 10-minute blocks and repeat.

Chunking, doing things in small short blocks, and then taking even a micro-break can help improve focus. In teaching, I find I need to move around the front of the room every so often to keep the students listening. As a student, I found that even shifting my position in my seat could help me refocus my attention. A leg that is falling asleep takes precedence over most lectures.

12. Push through to the goal.

It is tempting to stop one thing and do another but if you are close to the end and there is the chance you could finish one thing now, try pushing through to the end and then crossing this off your list. One less thing to remember to get back to improves your ability to concentrate on the other things going on in your life.

There are my suggestions for exercising your attention paying brain muscles. What have you found that helps you stay focused?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Which border is Borderline Intellectual Functioning on?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Crossing the border.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is Borderline Intellectual Functioning?

Borderline Intellectual Functioning (BIF) is one of several totally unrelated conditions which are officially or unofficially called borderline only because they are on the edge or junction of some other condition. BIF is in no way related to Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Intellectual Functioning is a designation for some individuals who find it hard to learn some information. It sometimes gets confused and mixed up with several types of ADHD or the older label ADD.

The definition of BIF is totally determined by the person’s IQ score. Stay with me here as I explain this. I will give you the exact numbers as we go.

There is also a lot of prejudice about anyone with a low I.Q. score even though some low I.Q. scoring people are extremely talented in areas that are not captured on an I.Q. test.

When discussing I.Q scores we need to be very careful. First, they do NOT mean what many people think they mean and since they are mathematical numbers being somehow attached to non-mathematical people we need to talk some statistic-number-stuff to explain this one. I will keep the number stuff extra simple.

The companies that make the tests try to improve the test over time but there is only so much you can do in trying to give a test that somehow is meant, to sum up, a person’s abilities. We believe that  I. Q. is made up, not of one single ability, but a whole host of talents. Verbal and mathematical talents are easy to capture with a written test, musical, artistic and athletic talents may not show up so much.

There is also evidence of something called E. Q. (Emotional intelligence.) We all know someone who is very bright in school but is no good with people and there are those individuals who are good with people or animals but can’t pass a written test.

Many, but not all I. Q. and related tests, are biased towards how many words you know. Want to score well on a lot of ability tests – learn all the words you can.

The scores are designed to measure how someone’s test score compares to other people. We still can’t find any “normal” people to compare others to so we create an imaginary “normal” person by averaging all the scores we get and saying that average (or mean or mode) is somehow the “normal” person.

I.Q. tests are set up so that the “average” score is 100. Theoretically, if you test enough people the most common score is 100. But scores vary an awful lot. So is someone with a 99 really less smart than someone who scores a 101? Not very much.

If you take this kind of test many times you will get many scores. So some days you, one single individual will be “smarter” than on others.

One day the average person scores a 95. We could call that below normal. The next day they get a 105 and are above average. So we learn to use ranges of scores, not just the number.

Turns out that the largest group of people will score between 85 and 115 on most tests. (For the math people the standard deviation here is 15.) This group will contain just under 70% of all humans.

We consider this whole range of people 85-115 more or less the same. Since scores of one person may move up or down 5 points from day-to-day we need to look at the people just outside that range.

So are people above 115 really smart, geniuses maybe? Not that often. It may be easier for someone with an I.Q of 125 to get A’s in school but we all have heard of very bright people who fail school and less smart people who study really hard and get good grades.

For most purposes, we don’t see a lot of differences in individuals till we get out to two standard deviations. People who score between 70 and 130 all fall within the “average” group. This group covers about 97.5 % of all people. Only those below 70 and above 130, start to get extra special labels.

Really high scores might get the label “genius.” But some of them still do some dumb things. It may be a lot easier for the person who has an I.Q. of 125 to do a book report and someone with a score of 90 may struggle on a math assignment or vice versa, but we think anyone in that range, with a good education, can do this stuff.

Now back to Borderline Intellectual Functioning. The definition of BIF is an I. Q. Score of 71-84. The person with this score is on the low end of what we would consider an “average” or “normal” person.

Telling someone they or their child has a low score on an I. Q. test is likely to upset them. They want us to do something.

Most of us understand when a kid is too small or skinny to be good at football. We accept that a really short kid will not do so well in basketball. Most of us get this. Except sometimes parents want their kid to be good at a sport so badly that they push this kid unmercifully to grow more and get taller. Don’t get me started on the long-term damage wanting your kid to be something they are not can do to that child.

Not very many parents want to accept that their kid has fewer math or spelling circuits in their brain. So when they get the results of the I.Q. test they want something to make their kid smarter. Lots of kids in the lower normal I.Q. score range get low grades, get discouraged and stop caring about school work. Then they get diagnosed with ADHD and given a stimulant medication. It may boost their test scores a little, for a while, but it does not make them develop a higher I.Q.

Many people with BIF do graduate from school, get jobs and have happy productive lives. The task for them is to find the other areas in life for which they have abilities and then accept that some school type things may be harder for them than for people with more skill in another area.

My belief is we need to stop telling our kids that they need to be on the football team and get straight A’s and begin to accept that everyone has different talents. What are your talents and what are you doing with them?

For more on the Mental Health treatment of Borderline intellectual functioning see the post on V codes.

There, I will climb down off my soapbox, — for now.

Did that help you understand Borderline Intellectual Functioning?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.