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Taming Distractions: how fidget toys productively use “floating attention”

More and more is being written about the science of WHY we fidget. From articles in Fast Company magazine, the Huffington Post, and Sunni Brown‘s TED talk on doodling, we better understand the prevalence and utility of fidgeting and doodling, especially for folks with ADD and ADHD.  But I’ve been wondering if all of us could benefit from more fidgeting . . . especially when we’re reading online and driving — which we all do all the time!

Let’s start with the basics, as described by Jessica Hullinger in her article, “The Science of Why we Fidget While We Work“:

WHY DO WE FIDGET?

According to Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright, authors of Fidget To Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies For Living With ADHD: “If something we are engaged in is not interesting enough to sustain our focus, the additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating, interesting, or entertaining allows our brains to become fully engaged and allows us to sustain focus on the primary activity in which we are participating.”

In other words, the authors believe fidgeting distracts part of the brain that’s become bored so the other parts can pay attention to what we’re reading, hearing, or seeing. They say this “floating attention” could be an evolutionary trait that “dates back to prehistoric times when the ability to focus 100% on a single task was not entirely desirable and would result in a person missing the large ravenous beast hiding in the bushes.”

WHAT DOES FIDGETING DO FOR OUR PRODUCTIVITY?

Research shows a correlation between working with our hands and increased memory and creativity. A recent study found that writing by hand rather than typing on a keyboard helps us better process and retain information. And mindless doodling can boost memory and attention span. One 2005 study concluded that kids who are allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not.”

The next logical question is WHEN SHOULD WE FIDGET?

Fidgeting is increasingly becoming an “acceptable” behavior for those with ADHD and others when:

  • Learning
  • Talking on the phone
  • Participating in meetings

Given how distracted everyone is these days, constantly checking for emails, instagrams, snapchats, texts, and tweets, I think there are many more situations that would benefit from more fidgeting.

Fidget while reading

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