ADHD: Can the Practice of “Original Awareness” Help You Pay Attention?
If you are always losing and forgetting things - Could it be that you didn’t notice them in the first place?
Harry Lorayne, in his books and speeches, talks about a concept he calls Original Awareness. He points out that most people don’t really pay attention to what they’re doing as they go through life. That’s why they’re always losing and forgetting things: they didn’t notice them in the first place.
I started practicing Original Awareness back in the mid-1970’s after I first read Harry’s Memory Book. I was constantly losing pens and combs. Using his technique, I got in the habit, whenever I set down a pen or comb, of observing myself setting it down. I brought myself into the “now,” and noticed what I was doing.
The transformation was incredible. Overnight, or so it seemed, I’d done away with one of the scourges of ADHD. And, ever since then, when people complain about leaving things behind, losing their belongings, or forgetting where they put objects, I silently thank Harry for having taught me his concept.
Two years ago, I shared a few of Harry’s techniques with my friend, Dave as we drove up to New Hampshire for a board of directors meeting. He latched onto Original Awareness, and later mentioned how useful he found it. So I asked him to write up his experience, and here’s what he sent.
From an old friend Dave, a lesson on paying attention to attention:
The way I look at it, the whole point of investigating ADHD is to produce the changes you want in your life. So I suggest that people gauge the usefulness of an adaptive technique, be it a pill or a mind method, by a simple measure: does it produce results?
For me personally, the most profound, lasting, and broad-based change has come from discovering Original Awareness.
My overall goal, from the start, was to be able to achieve what I choose. An important goal in support of that was to remember what I want to remember. (I’m not obsessive about remembering every little detail, but when I want to remember something, that’s different!)
Original awareness was immediately useful. Beyond that, it gave me a real “mind pop:” the sudden realization that I could produce substantially different results in my mind just by the way I put my mind on a subject!
When you’ve come to expect forgetfulness and you suddenly see that you can remember ten things in a row, it’s a genuinely transforming experience. My mind opened to all kinds of new possibilities.
As I lived with the method, I began to notice moments when my mind would get tugged off a subject, such that I was no longer fully aware of what was going on. I noticed that it was usually because something urgent was pulling at my attention.
Then I realized that I was most likely to forget something important—like my car or my wallet!—if I was late for something urgent. As I would race to get there, my mind was running ahead. It wasn’t in the car with me, literally, “my mind had left the scene.”
No wonder I had no recollection of where I put things; in a very real sense, I wasn’t there at the time!
One time this resulted in leaving my wallet in a taxi. On several occasions it resulted in my having no idea where I parked my car at the airport. (My ADHD counselor, Dr. Edward Hallowell, found this amusing, in an ADHD sort of way, and asked “What do you DO when you lose your car??” My answer: “Go LOOK for it!”)
But once I realized the problem—“my mind had left the scene”—the problem receded rapidly. I’ve learned to stay aware of what’s going on, especially at pivotal moments. I’ve learned to notice the feeling of my mind getting off the subject, so I can stop and tug it back. I’ve learned to detect the feeling of “I’m late for something urgent” and become vigilant about staying conscious. For instance, when I’m late at the airport, I’ll make a point of visually imprinting my parking location. I’ll put my eyes on the section signs for a full second, even if I’m running.
Finally, all this encouraged me to realize the value of not being late in the first place, which has led me to put more thought into planning ahead. Sure, all my life people told me to think ahead and not to be late; but that had never been an ingredient of the successes I had. In fact a big part of my success has been that I can work under always-late, ridiculous deadlines, and I can produce results in unstructured situations that make others crazy.
But when I myself started from my own goal— to produce the results I want—and saw how useful Original Awareness can be, the rest followed naturally. So now I’ve added Original Awareness to the abilities I already had, improving my capacity to move steadily through a project and get the results I wanted.