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Neuroplasticity – A Different Take

Neuroplasticity – A Different Take2015-03-07T06:50:47+00:00

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    I saw there was already a thread about neuroplasticity from 8 months ago, but I thought this idea was quite different from that one.

    Firstly, I don’t buy that those silly game websites will work. Before I even knew I had ADHD, I had Brain Age, Big Brain Academy, and Smart As World. There was no educational purpose behind purchasing them. I just like puzzle games. And yet… my ADHD is just as ship-tastic as it was 25 years ago when I was in elementary school.

    Despite my ADDiction to puzzle games, I still can’t get anywhere on time. I suddenly find myself watching cat videos on the internet with NO idea how it happened, cause I swear ten minutes ago… um three hours ago… I was cleaning my office. Oh that’s right, I stopped to google whether those swiffer things actually DO attract dust, or if it’s just marketing hype…

    Wait, what was I talking about?

    Anyways, the real point of this post was to make an observation, and think through a personal project that’s been on my mind for a while.

    If you want to learn to play the violin, you PLAY the violin. And if you want to learn a foreign language, you PRACTICE the foreign language. And THAT is what neuroplasticity is.

    The only thing those games are probably training is how to play those games. It just doesn’t correlate to any real world  skills. I did some of the practice games on some of the sites, and honestly, they felt a lot like Diner Dash, and Plants vs. Zombies, but less fun. If I were a gardener with a serious undead infestation, Plants vs. Zombies might be a useful strategic planning tool, but alas…

    Think about this. If a game can rewire an executive function in a universal way, then the perfect games for training working memory would be Simon (the game where you repeat blinking lights and tones) or Concentration (the game where you turn over cards two at a time to make matches). Here’s the rub. I am PHENOMENAL at those games. Epic good. And yet, I have no idea where my car keys are right now.

    Any temporary boost in focus people get from Luminosity is probably attributable to a spike in neurotransmitters from doing something fun and challenging. But since people with ADHD have a hard time disengaging from a task that provides dopamine boosts, it seems more likely that someone would use these games to waste time rather than increase their productivity.

    But here’s my thought.

    Neuroplasticity = Learning. It’s your brain’s way of making a commonly performed task more energy efficient. Your brain builds a highway from your occipital lobe, to your motor cortex, possibly with a detour through your limbic system, on its way to your prefrontal cortex. Neuroplasticity happens when you engage in deliberate practice.

    You learn the violin by playing the violin. You learn to drive by driving. So if you want to learn to finish projects, you do it by finishing projects. And if you want to learn to motivate yourself towards an unpleasant task, you do it by making yourself complete unpleasant tasks.

    I know this sounds a lot like the REALLY unhelpful advice people give to ADHDers. i.e. “Well have you just tried to focus?” Or, “What if you make a to-do list?” It’s not… quite.

    I’m trying to devise a series of 5-10 minute exercises to train up some of my woefully underactive executive functions. Each task mirrors something I struggle with in my everyday life.

    I’m not sure if any of it will work, but I figure it can’t hurt. I have been giving it some thought for awhile, so I have quite a few ideas, but I’ll pick just one to start with, and add in more if I can do the exercises consistently. If it’s too complicated or time consuming, it won’t get done. I know me.

    This is really just for my benefit, but if anyone does stumble across this post, and tries some of it out, let me know.

    Here’s my plan. (lolz, if I had a nickle for every time I’ve written those words at the top of a sheet of paper…)

    Each exercise is accompanied by a deliberate, prolonged, and positive emotion to reinforce the activity.


    Completion Training:

    Goal: Teach my brain to complete a series of tasks.

    1. Make a 5 item to-do list of 1-2 minute simple tasks. The entire list should take no more than 10 minutes.

    2. Complete each of the tasks.

    3. When the last item is checked off, take 1-2 minutes to feel really proud of completing the list.

    4. Alternate/Advanced version: Set a duration for each task, and race yourself.


    Remembering to Remember:

    Goal: Keep better track of my possessions. This one will need to be periodically changed as behaviors (hopefully) become habits.

    1. Go outside and walk around the block. (3 min)

    2. When you get back to your house, mindfully hang your keys on their hook as you come in the door.

    3. Take 1-2 min. to feel proud that you remembered to hang up your keys. Look at the keys on the hook while you feel the sense of accomplishment.


    Disengaging from tasks:

    1. Play a game for 5 minutes.

    2. After 5 minutes, immediately turn the game off.

    3. Sit and look at your phone/PS3, but do not turn it back on.

    4. Every time you feel the urge to turn the game back on, notice the discomfort, and congratulate yourself for NOT turning it back on.



    1. Buy a bag of M&Ms.

    2. Eat one M&M.

    3. Throw the rest of the M&Ms in the garbage.

    4. Feel proud of yourself for doing what you planned to do, rather than succumbing to the urge for instant gratification.



    Goal: Be more mindful of your reasons for tardiness.

    1. “Schedule” errands, or make up fake ones. If you know you’re going to the grocery store, or to the dry cleaners, decide what time you’re “supposed” to be there.  (“Schedule” the errand before you actually start getting ready to go. Preferably the night before.).

    2. Attempt to walk into the door of the grocery store/dry cleaners 2-5 minutes before the time you scheduled.

    3. Whether you arrive on time or not, write down a short note about why you were, or were not “on time”. Was there a last minute distraction? Did you lose your keys? Did you forget your shopping list?

    4. Whether you were on time or not, congratulate yourself on making a proactive effort to improve your punctuality.

    5. If you didn’t go at all, or arrived far outside the target time, try to understand why. Make sure to congratulate yourself for whatever effort you did make while analyzing the failure as a learning experience.


    Motivation & Activation:

    1. Imagine that you are a productivity master.

    2. Pretend that you are starring in a reality tv-show about how amazingly productive you are.

    3. They need some quick footage of you doing your thing, and being super productive at an important task.

    4. And action!

    5. Just have fun with this. Treat it like the silly game it is. It’s about starting something, not finishing it.


    Distraction & Task Switching: (This one is more of a tool than an exercise. It shows promise though.)

    1. Decide what you’re going to work on, and write the task on a post-it note. Every time you switch tasks INTENTIONALLY, take down the old post-it, and put up a new post-it note.

    2. There can be only one… post-it note.

    3. If, at any time, you notice that what you are currently doing is NOT what you have written on the post-it note, congratulate yourself for NOTICING that you have accidentally switched tasks.

    4. Did you finish the first task and forget to update the post-it?

    5. Or (more likely) did you get distracted, and switch tasks without realizing it?

    6. Decide which task you want to work on now, and write it on the post-it.

    7. Rinse and Repeat

    8. Also, this little exercise can be used for anything you’re doing, not just work.


    The most important aspect of these exercises is the positive reinforcement. No guilt. No self-recriminations. No name calling. Negative mental feedback is counter productive.

    And don’t think of these as productivity tips. They are training exercises. Focus on one until it’s easy, then add a second exercise.

    Sorry to dump this silliness on your forum, but I’ve been trying to get myself to write out these little plans on paper for the past six days. . . /sigh. . .

    So, if nothing else, at least posting it here got me to organize my thoughts.

    If anyone else has any ideas, let me know.



    L8ly Lost
    Post count: 5

    This is brilliant!!  Sign me up!!

    I totally agree with you about those silly games.  I subscribed to Lumosity for 2 years and spent hours upon hours playing word bubbles and train of thought – completely addictive for me.  STOP!!  GO DO SOMETHING!!  sooo annoying – the time I spent there.

    I absolutely love your ‘training’ exercises.  I will definitely give them a go.

    Thanks for this awesome post



    Post count: 1

    Indeed, this IS brilliant!  … and it makes complete sense, to me.

    I’m going to give this a try.


    Post count: 158

    Wow! Really great thinking! Interesting – focusing specifically on those skills in isolation means you can attach positive emotions to them. (Unlike my attempts to motivate myself to deal with tax issues this week. Unless you count dread as a positive emotion). #3 made me laugh:-) Might try making something up for “tackling a task I have been putting off”.


    Post count: 158

    Whoops – that should have said #4 made me laugh – the M&Ms game:-)


    Post count: 2

    I believe you are right on!! Awesome post. The only way to rewire your brain is to create thoughts. It’s the thinking that does it…and why being told what to do, doesn’t ever stick.

    🙂 Jen


    Post count: 2

    Here’s a suggestion since you said you’re accepting ideas…when thinking of something you have to do that you don’t want to do…ask yourself, “How is this gonna get done?”… and really take your time thinking up a creative original way that you’d like to do it. Creating the how yourself will help your executive function, build the connection, like a brick in a wall…and any emotion you can associate with that how is like adding a layer of cement to the brick.



    Post count: 2

    It’s like DIY biofeedback! I’m going to give this a try!

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