Monday, January 31, 2011

The 55 Gallon Drum Practice Bull

(c) 2011 by Tom King

During the great mechanical bull fad of the 70's and 80's, we East Texas denizens decided that ridin' a fake bull looked like a whole bunch of fun. Not being able to afford a $12,000 one like they have down at Gilley's, we looked around for ideas. Evidently a lot of us have old 55 gallon barrels sitting round our backyards and came up with the same idea. All of sudden saddles were strapped to barrels slung between trees and fence posts all over the piney woods.

Because we often didn't give safety a high priority, a lot of us wound up in various emergency rooms with an assortment of cuts, scratches, fractures and abrasions. Over the years, in my work as a recreation therapist, day care director, youth director and teacher, I learned a bit about playground safety. I applied those lessons in playground safety to the bull barrel device and here's what I came up with.  While not 100% without risk, it is far safer than those early examples we strung up in trees (sometimes a little higher up in trees than was wise.  Here's how to build the Barrel Bull.  Enjoy!

___55 gallon barrel with lid
___4 large eye bolts with short shafts, 4 nuts, 8 flat washers and  4 lock washers
___ 4 Heavy duty boat hooks
___ 5/8 inch heavy duty rope (grass or nylon - avoid polyethelene)
___4 large eyebolts with 6 inch shaft with 4 nuts and 8 flat washers and 4 lock washers
___Pipe insulation
___4 heavy duty 4x4 posts 10 feet long
___Concrete mix and pea gravel
___Western saddle

First things first:
Drill holes large enough to fit the short shaft eyebolts.

Bolt the eye bolts in the positions shown in pictures. Put a flat washer on the outside and inside of the barrel and the lock washer on the inside of the barrel next to the nut to hold it in place.  Tighten the heck out of it.

Put the lid on the barrel. Put the keeper ring over the lid and top ridge of the barrel and bolt it in place. For safety, place the bolt assembly that tightens the lid

Dig 4 holes three feet deep or find 4 big trees evenly spaced at least 15 feet from the barrel in a big rectangle with the barrel in the center.  Dig the holes wider at the bottom than at the top to hold the concrete in the ground firmly.

Set the posts in the holes. Put six inches of pea gravel around the bottom of the posts.  Mix up the concrete in a wheelbarrow and pour it into the holes to a depth of six inches below the dirt.

Drill holes through the posts and bolt the eye bolts with the long shafts in place with the eye toward the barrel. Again, place washers on both sides of the post and the lock washer next to the nut. Tighten.

Cut your rope in 4 pieces long enough to reach from the corner of the barrel to the support posts. Tie one end of each rope to the boat hooks clipped to the eye bolts on the barrel. Tie the other ends to a boat hook. Estimate the length at first. Get help to lift the barrel while you hook the ropes to the posts.  You may have to shorten the ropes a bit several times to even out the barrel. It should be suspended with the bottom two and a half feet above the ground.

Cut pieces of pipe insulation the length of each rope and wrap the insulation around the rope.  A couple of turns of duct tape at about 4 places onlong each piece should hold it securely in place and protect you from rope burn or bumps.

Tie the saddle to the barrel as tight as you can get it.  You'll have to retighten after every ride or so. 

Crash padding:
Two ways to address the fall safety issues:

1.  Old mattresses piled around underneath the barrel
2.  Scoop out a foot of dirt in a 10 foot circle around the barrel and overfill it with sawdust.
3.  Buy some tumbling crash pads

Instructions for use:
1. Put on a helmet.
2. Climb up in the saddle
3. 4 fiendish friends stand at the posts, one on each rope
4. The said 4 fiendish friends shake the ropes till you fall off. 
5.  If you want to make a competition of it get two 4 person teams. One team mans the ropes and the other team rides one at a time. Someone with a stopwatch times each ride, adds them all up and that's the team score. Which ever team has the longest time wins.

Alternative Approach:

What's really fun is to suspend the barrel over a lake or swimming pool and when you fall in you get wet. Make sure you have at least 10 feet of clearance on all sides from the barrel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Friend or Fiend – What to Do About That Tree-Killing Ivy?

© 2011 by Tom King

You'd be surprised what people will fight about. While researching an article on ivy and live oak trees, I stumbled on a whole series of rather nasty exchanges between two points of view over ivy. One group says ivy is a natural part of the woodland eco-system and ought to be left alone. On this side are organizations like the Royal Horticultural Society, the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University who clearly state that ivy is not parasitic and not a threat to the health of healthy trees.

On the other side are those who see a damaged or sick tree literally covered with ivy and make the intuitive leap that the ivy must have killed the tree. On this side are gardeners, the US Department of Agriculture (some of them) and even some authorities from the above mentioned Societies and Universities. It seems so obvious that ivy chokes trees to death that the idea is firmly entrenched despite evidence to the contrary. There are some folks who actually walk around with clippers and chain saws, cutting ivy off at the base of trees, thinking they are “saving the trees” from a noxious invader.

If you understand the nature of ivy, however, the so-called common sense view is shown to be wrong. Ivy is not a parasite. Ivy is symbiotic at best and benign at worst. Ancient trees like live oaks form almost complete and independent eco-systems, sheltering within their branches, not only animals, birds and insects, but also providing the food, moisture and shelter to sustain the fauna and flora that live upon the sturdy framework provided by the tree trunk, its branches and its leaves.

Trees have enormous root systems that draw moisture and nutrition from a huge volume of soil. The root system of even a very large ivy draws relatively miniscule amounts of water and nutrients from the soil at the base of the tree. All a tree must do to compensate is to extend its root system farther and deeper into the Earth.

Ivy do not burrow into the tree itself or into walls they climb or buildings they grow on. Ivies put out small suckers that attach themselves to the trunk and branches of the tree to hold the ivy in place. These anchors do not draw nutrients from the tree itself, but only act as a support for the growing vine. Most ivy supports itself entirely from these anchor points and do not twine themselves around the tree like strangler figs do in the jungles of Cambodia. Virginia creepers, English ivy and other ivy vines may grow large and cover the bark or the trees they grow on, but they don't “choke” the trees.

So why are sick trees often covered with ivy?

Note these winter-bare trees. The ivy stops growing
before it gets into the canopy of the trees.
Good question. First understand that most trees naturally control the growth of ivy under the canopy. Ivy like deep shade. They tend to stay out of the canopy of a healthy tree because more sunlight trickles through at the higher reaches of the crown. The sunlight discourages ivy growth there. When ivy reaches the crown, it matures and begins to bloom and produce fruits. Animals and birds feed off the ivy's leaves and fruit and keep the ivy trimmed back. If trees become sick and decline, the animals, birds and bugs that have lived there all along may leave and be replaced by borers, pests and opportunistic critters that damage the tree further. The ivy, unchecked by the tree's animal population, grows further and further out the limbs.

If a tree is in decline, ivy can become a liability, contributing to the weight of weakened limbs and the “sail-effect” of extra leaves in the higher reaches of the canopy. The weight of ivy foliage can make the tree top heavy and more vulerable to storm winds.

The only time you really need to trim ivy vines from a tree is when you are treating the tree for disease. Ivy can hide fungus infestations, insect damage and rot. Removing the ivy allows you to reduce the weight of vegetation on weakened limbs and helps you find and treat damaged areas and bug infestation. Consult a tree expert before pruning problem limbs as too severe trimming can impede the tree's recovery process. Trimming ivy up the trunk and below the crown allows you to take the weight off compromised limbs while preserving the ivy's sheltering and forage benefits to the tree's animals, birds and beneficial insects at the lower levels of the tree.

While plants like English ivy may be invasive, especially in Northwest rain forests and may threaten to push out indigenous ground growing plants, there is no real evidence that English ivy are a threat to healthy trees.

I notice that the folks most interested in conducting a pogrom against tree-dwelling ivy tend to be gardeners and city-folk. I suspect it is ivy's penchant for covering over rotted and fallen trees and vegetation with a nice green blanket that most irritates the obsessive gardener. These guys seem most happy with a nice unlittered forest floor and trees with clean, unadorned branches. There are a lot of these neatnick foresters, especially in England and the damper parts of the United States. I'm not sure what a rainy climate has to do with it, but down here in sunny Texas, most of us seem less interested in running around with a machete, chopping down innocent ivy and grape vines for the dubious purpose of “saving the trees”.

Ivy is a natural part of the woodland ecology. Ivy grows on trees in the same way Spanish moss, resurrection fern, baby squirrels and birds do. There are some parasitic plants like mistletoe that can cause damage to trees. Healthy trees, though, seem to be able to resist or at least tolerate parasites. Ivy is not one of these parasites. If your tree is in good shape, in a good place and undamaged by you or by diseases transmitted from neighboring trees, then ivy serves only to support the tree's individual eco-system and to add a vibrant green cloak that accents the beauty of the tree.

The relationship of great trees to ivy was beautifully explained by the Eugene Fields in his sweet short story, “The Oak Tree and the Ivy”.  Fields believed trees naturally don't live forever. As they age and begin to decline, the lucky ones with a drape of ivy are gradually covered more and more thickly with vines and leaves and the story portrays this as a sweet thing.  As I write this blog, I'm sitting comfortably in my recliner, my hair gone white, with two blankets wrapped around my legs and feet. I would deeply resent it if someone snatched off my blanket because they thought I'd be healthier with cold feet! The truth is both people and trees naturally age and decline. You can't jerk off our blankets and hope we'll grow spontaneously younger.

God save us from busybodies, health gurus and horticulturalists who would rather we not age gracefully.


Texas A&M: Live Oak Tree Problems and Solutions
UC Davis Cooperative Extension: Landscape Notes – Diagnosing Your Oak Tree
American Forests: Live Oak the Ultimate Southerner
Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories: Live Oak in Texas
Plant Conservation Alliance: English Ivy
Nature Net: Ivy on Trees – Kill It or Cherish It?
Royal Horticultural Society: Ivy on Trees and a Ground Cover Weed
US Department of Agriculture: Plant Guide – Virginia Creeper
University of Arkansas: Plant of the Week – English Ivy
The Oak Tree and the Ivy by Eugene Fields

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Daily Bread for the Home Office

I love the smell of homemade bread, especially when I'm working at my desk in my home office. Unfortunately, I'm flying solo right now because my wife is in Seattle taking care of her sister. I've gotten used to having homemade bread on a regular basis over the past couple of years. It was one of those things, no one particularly wanted to do and I discovered early on that if I wanted homemade bread I'd better figure out how to make it. I did and even wrote a blog about making homemade bread with a bread machine.  Check out the link. There's everything an amateur bread-maker needs to know in that post.  I'm not here to talk about bread-making itself, but about the "sequence" needed to do it and work at the same time.

One thing I discovered about using a bread machine was that I got a lot of waste bread if I leave the baking part to the machine.  The bread machine bakes the loaf in the hopper with the stirring paddle in the middle of the dough.  It leaves a messy hole in the middle of the loaf when you lift it out. 

Then I discovered the "dough" cycle.  I found I could make better homemade bread by letting the bread machine make the dough and then reshaping it and dumping it into a bread loaf pan.  Baked in the oven, the loaf was pristine and solid through and through.

Now my only remaining problem was working breadmaking into my busy day. Every do-it-yourselfer is (or should be) familiar with the law of sequences.  For any DIY project, you have to respect the sequence or it all gets messed up. So here's the sequence:

1. Take a break from the desk for 15 minutes.  Set the recipe before you on the counter so you don't leave anything like yeast or salt out.  Take out the bread pan and spray the inside with Pam cooking spray.

2.  Set all the ingredients on the counter.  Put them away after you add them to the mix. That way you don't forget anything. If you did forget anything, it will be whatever is still sitting on the counter. It took me several disasters before I quit trusting my memory in the middle of a writing project. 

3.  Put all the ingredients into the bread machine.  Pile all the dry ingredients into the machine hopper first, then the butter or oil and finally the wet ingredients like milk and eggs.

4.  Press the select button and choose the "dough" cycle.  Then press the "start" button.  Follow the instructions for meddling with the dought for the first couple of minutes (see my earlier article for the secret bread-making techniques my grandmother taught me). 

5.  Go away and work some more till the bread-maker beeps at you that the dough is finished.

6.  Lift the dough onto a cutting board and pat it into loaf shape. Make sure you work out the hole in the middle from the mixer paddle. 

7. Gently set the dough into the loaf pan and set pan and dough, covered with a dish towel in a warm place (not the oven). I set my bread on the dryer with a load going inside.  Set the oven to 350 degrees and let it preheat.

8.  Go away and work for a half hour or so, then check the dough. If it's risen, set the pan in the oven. It will rise some more as it cooks.  Set a timer to buzz in 20 minutes.  Check the loaf till the top crust is a nice crusty brown.  It should be done. 

9.  Remove the pan from the oven and turn the loaf out on the cutting board.  It should fall right out if you remember these three rules:  (1) Never wash your bread loaf pan in the dishwasher. (2) Never leave your bread loaf pan to soak - it's better to leave it dry and clean it later if you can't wash it now.  (3) Wash it out with mild warm soapy water and then rub the inside with oil.  Let is sit out on the counter to fully dry before you put it away. See my article on curing a skillet. It's the same principle. If you treat your loaf pan right it will never stick.  The bread will just fall out of the pan after it's baked. 

10. Slice off the end of the loaf and put butter on it.  Eat it and let the loaf cool while you go back to work. You've wasted enough time baking bread!  Clean up later. If you cleaned up as you went along, you don't have any cleanup to do other than cleaning out the bread machine.

Looks like that if you bake it in a loaf pan instead
of the bread machine.
The whole thing takes half a day. You continue working and take several short breaks, the longest, of which, once you get organized is about 15 minutes. Most of the steps can be done in under 3 minutes and it really doesn't interfere with your day.  I'm baking a loaf as I write this.  The picture above is the actual bread dough I made. I'll try to remember to come back and add a picture of the finished product.

Hope your "daily bread" comes out good!

Bon' appetite


Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Forgive Your Family

© 2011 by Tom King

If you suffer a disability or a physical or mental illness, if you have suffered a tragedy or if you've suffered a devastating loss, you instinctively turn to your family for support and comfort. Sometimes, suppor is there in abundance if you are blessed with a healthy, strongly-bonded family that's worked out all it's issues and loves each other unreservedly.

Sometimes, though, our families fail us entirely at our moment of greatest need. The consequences can be fatal for a family. At the very least, it can leave us hurt, angry and vulnerable at our moment of greatest need.

So, is there any way to fix it?

There can be, but it takes a rather remarkable person to make it happen. If you are waiting around for someone else to be that remarkable person, you're likely to be disappointed. That remarkable person is very likely going to have to be you.

“But my mother should have.....”

“If Dad had just.....”
“My sister knows I need.....”
“I'm always there for them, but when I need them........”


I'm not going to quote long passages from researchers like John Bradshaw and Helen Featherstone, who have done extensive work on why trauma can wreck a family. I read all that stuff in grad school so you don't have to. I can best explain by drawing on one of Bradshaw's favorite illustrations – the mobile.

Imagine a mobile, one of those hanging art sculptures that have all the pieces suspended from wires and sticks and perfectly balanced and spaced so the variously shaped pieces hang there rotating slowly without colliding with one another in an intricate dance. Bradshaw used this to illustrate how families achieve a kind of balance with one another – healthy ones do at least. Like an element of a mobile sculpture, if one of the family members needs or situation change, the whole thing goes through a period of re-balancing. Some relationships and spacing may need to be changed. This can happen as a result of a marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a family member, disability, mental or physical illness.

The mobile is a good illustration. A healthy family recognizes that when something like this happens, the family system will need to change in order to achieve a new healthy balance. If there are sufficient mature family leaders, the transition can be almost seamless. Usually, the strongest members take it upon themselves to do most of the accommodation – the shifting to a new balance point, if you will. This can be a brother who shifts his role from prince to mentor to the new baby brother. It can be the Mom, who steps back from a newly married child and gives them time to pair bond before attempting to re-establish the close relationship she once had with the child. It can be many members of the family adapting to the needs of a family member suddenly disabled or who is stricken with mental illness.

This is how healthy families do things. Chances are you don't have one of those. In very close, insular sorts of families or already dysfunctional families in particular, members may resist change. Sometimes, if the family balance was difficult to achieve in the first place because one family member is already needy or dominating, family members may be terrified of any change in the status of a family member and simply retreat from reality and refuse to recognize that change is taking place whether they want it to or not. They may blame the person who is sick or who they see as responsible for the change.

Doing so, leaves them unavailable to comfort the person in trouble. If that person is you, it is very painful to experience. It's easy to become angry because the people you thought you should be able to count on are so wrapped up in their own fear of change that they are worse than no help at all.


This may not be a lot of comfort to you if you are ill, grieving, disabled, mentally ill or sick. You have to decide if your relationship to your loved ones is worth saving or not. You have to decide if you have what it takes to actively participate in repairing the breach. There are three things you can do:

  1. Let things be and hope they come out alright. If you do that, things will likely get worse before they get better unless you have some unusually healthy kinfolk. While you view their lack of support as a betrayal, they may not understand what's happening with you at all. If the problem is mental illness, think about this.  They may not fully understand what's happened to you and blame you for acting erratically. If it's grief, loss, illness or disability, the family may simply be overwhelmed by the tragedy and be grieving themselves. Sometimes that grief can cause them to pull away and try to regroup. You can say nothing and let it happen and it may work out. The chances aren't very good, especially if you make a fuss because your loved ones appear to have abandoned you.
  2. Confront your loved ones and tell them exactly how you feel and expect them to fix it. Sadly, the chances of this working out well are very low. People are flawed creatures and yelling at them or demanding they be better than they are isn't very effective. Waiting on someone else to fix a damaged relationship between you and your family leaves you feeling helpless and your family feeling put upon. You'll need a professional mediator to solve your problem if everybody is waiting for someone else to fix things.
  3. Change what's going on in your own head. This advice applies particularly to Christians, though some other faiths and philosophies offer some variant of this advice. Being Christian I will defer to what I know. Families are God's microcosm of the human family. When God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, he was mad at them and wanted them to learn a hard lesson. Families are where we learn to love someone besides ourselves. It's where we learn the practical application of the Golden Rule. Forgive your family and toss aside what you believe they should have done. Believe that they love you and look for a solution, not for someone to blame. It may just be the whole horrible situation that's to blame and not any one person. Ultimately, though, you may have to be the first person to realize and accept that.
Love is something you do, not something you feel. It flows out from you. In no place in Scripture does God tell you to sit back on your fuzzy butt and wait for people to give you love. As His agent, each of us is commanded to love one another. It's hard when you are hurt and suffering to love people who seem to have abandoned you, though. Paul gives us a hint about how to do that in I Corinthians 13. He says that love bears all things. He says that love believes the best of others.
So how do you believe the best of someone who is acting like your tragedy is all your fault and isn't there to support you when you need them? You believe the best of them, that's how. You have the template for doing that inside you already. God gave each of us the innate ability to believe the best of ourselves. No matter what we do, we always find excuses for ourselves. Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. So do that!
We are apparently under orders, by God to expect the best of our loved ones (technically, that's everyone, but it ought to be particularly true of our family – the very ones on whom we are to practice love). If our loved ones fail, God wants us to believe the best anyway. Assume there's a reason they seem to have failed. Assume they really love you, but for some reason, they have been overwhelmed by it all. You'll be happier than if you cling to your hurt feelings and assumption that everyone's being selfish (which is probably untrue anyway).
Try honestly discussing your own situation with the family members you most need comfort from. Be honest about what's happening to you. If you feel overwhelmed, say that. If you are in constant pain, tell them. If you feel useless and depressed, tell them that.
Forget about confrontation. Don't demand anything of them, just ask them to let you talk over what you're going through, if they can. Tell them you love them and need them to know that you will always love them no matter what. Let go of your anger. Don't even tell them you forgive them, just do it!
They may not handle it well. They may want to give advice to try and make it all better. It's okay to ask them just to listen and trust that you were raised well enough to figure it out for yourself. If you tell your loved ones you're miserable and just need someone to sympathize, you'll be surprised how fast their hearts melts.
It may go all wrong too. Your loved one may be so desperate to stop the change in the family dynamic that they unload on you, tell you how it's your fault and telling you what you need to do to fix it. When that happens, back off and try a different family member, because that one is in just as much psychological trouble as you are. If they react to you with pent up anger and can't grant you a simple shoulder to cry on, something is very wrong with them. Don't hate them, pity them. It's lots easier.
Say to yourself, “She's just too upset over this to think clearly.” Then move on. Sometimes, all you do is say, what you need to, especially with compulsive people who tend to really resist change. Don't worry if you appear to have lost the argument.  Forgive and sleep well. They, on the other hand, won't be able to stop thinking about it for days. They'll argue with themselves in their heads and they won't be able to sleep till they come to some new internal balance. They may even argue your side of it so well in their own heads, that they eventually see your side of it and come and apologize to you days later.
I know it's tough to have to endure trauma yourself and be the mature one in your family at the same time, but it's the only sure way I know of to preserve your relationship with those you love. It's up to you to decide if it's worth it. I believe it is.

Beside, it will help you not to feel helpless anymore.

Thriving with Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder sucks – sort of. Fortunately, God's gifts are only good ones. The trick is finding the good in them. I grew up with it. Got it from Dad, I think. It makes you hyperactive. You have trouble focusing, You can't sit still in class. You're always fidgeting or diddling with something. You have trouble paying attention in class or getting your homework done. Here are some survival tips for coping with ADHD and finding the sharp edge of this two-edged sword.
An unharnessed gift.


Realize that school is not designed for you. We adapted our system of education from the Germans around the turn of the last century. It sounded great – all orderly and graded and regular. It was designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution. German schools were designed to teach children to show up on time, to do repetitive work and not to complain about it.

The problem is the United States was settled by people who don't like to sit in one place all day, do repetitive work and not complain. According to one Harvard sociologist, there's a reason Americans have higher rates of ADHD than practically anywhere in the free world. Our hyperactive ancestors got kicked out of every nice, tidy, civilized country in the world. They came here and percolated north, south and west till they ran out of frontier and invented Alaska, California and Texas.

Basically there are a lot of us. So how do you survive a school system designed for obsessive compulsives if you have ADHD? Here are some suggestions.

1.Take notes in class. I started in 5th grade. If your hands are busy you can focus better and you don't need to study so hard.
2.Do your homework in class. You have to sit there anyway, so you might as well get something done. You probably aren't an auditory learner anyway.
3.Set doable goals and give yourself a reward for doing your homework. The reward is important because positive feedback is a key element in achieving the flow experience. If nobody else is going to give you positive feedback, you'll need to do it yourself.
4.Record things you're going to be tested on and run the tape over headphones while you're going to sleep. Before you doze off, a lot of info gets pumped into your relaxed brain and maybe even while you sleep. I used to wake up in the night and flip the tape over.

Selecting a Career:

Vocational testing was disappointing for me. The counselor said I could do practically anything I wanted. That only confused me further. I spent two years in grad school studying rehab and vocational psych. Here's what I learned about testing and ADHD.

Testing shows you what you like, not what you'd be good at. It gives you an idea of what field you'd enjoy being in, but not necessarily what job within that field. With ADHD you tend to be focused widely, on lots of things at once. Unless something is very powerful and intense, it won't hold your attention. Being a CPA is unlikely to work out for you because you are too easily distracted. You like sports and hobbies that involve a lot of action. You're designed to be a hunter, alert to everything in your environment, quick to spot game, then intensely focused on the chase.

Choose a couple or three good fields and then see if you can find a job within that field that plays to your strength. Drawn to the medical field? You'll probably do better as an EMT than a floor nurse, a better trauma surgeon than an administrator (if you're smart and stubborn enough to get through med school). If you like the aviation, join the Air Force. The training is intense, but there are jobs there for you if you are good under pressure, in an emergency of have to think on your feet. ADHD folk go into law enforcement and fire-fighting. They're notoriously good in action and lousy with paperwork.

Getting Into the Zone:

Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did some ground-breaking work a few years ago on why some people find such satisfaction in what they do. He described a phenomenon called “Flow”, a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity, feels energized, focused, fully involved and successful”. Flow is what athletes experience in the midst of a game. It's the hyperfocus of surgeon working without relief for hours to rebuild a human heart or brain. It's a kid playing a video game for six hours straight.

Parents of ADHD kids have long complained that their kids can't concentrate in school, but can focus on a video game for hours. This ability of ADHD kids to hyperfocus leads many to believe they are deliberately disruptive and restless in school and if they just applied themselves, they could focus.

The ability to focus on intensely immersive experiences is an example of how “flow” works. Psychologist George Simon suggests that if ADHD patients learn to channel the flow experience, thye can make it work for them. To do so, you need to look for jobs that allow you some flexibility and allow you to:

  1. Select tasks that have clearly defined objectives. Boring tasks or jobs that require you to shift from one task to another will overwhelm you. Trim the scope of tasks you take on so that they come in achievable bites and can be completed within the time allotted. Shelter the work site so you aren't frequently interrupted. When you are in the zone, you do your best work.
  2. Get training to prepare you for the job. Flow happens best when you are skilled at what you are doing. That's why athletes and musicians, artists and computer programmers are so incredibly focused. They have developed skills in difficult arts. When you have practiced a skill to the point that the skill itself becomes second nature, you move past merely pressing the piano keys or throwing the football. These skills are ready and at your command when you need them. Your mind is free to think about strategy and nuance of the game or activity. Chess players, painters, sculptors, soldiers, and fire-fighters all find that their senses are fully engaged when using these well-practiced skills. They experience a kind of hyperfocus that overpowers distractions from the surrounding world.
  3. Make sure you create clear measurable objectives for what you want to accomplish. In a game, the objective is usually just to win. If you don't know where you are going, you won't be able to focus your efforts sufficiently to get there. Flow is best experienced when you are proceeding success to success. As in a game, you complete one series of tasks and you move to the next level or series of tasks. The harder it is for you to maintain focus, the more limited your objective should be.
  4. Design lots of feedback into what you are doing. Regular positive feedback keeps you engaged in the task and maintains the flow experience. Games create flow by having dozens of little feedback events along the way. You shoot, something explodes. You jump, you clear the obstacle. You find the key, you open the door. Feedback is probably the most important thing necessary to maintain flow.
  5. Find a place to work where nobody will interrupt you. Interruptions are the death of flow. If you can, cut off the phone and steer visitors in another direction. White noise like a fan or radio turned low or one of those ocean wave tapes or something can help blur potential distractions.
  6. Time your tasks so you can work without distractions. When you are experiencing the flow state, you will lose track of time. You may have to set an alarm clock or ask a colleague to remind you when it's time to go home or you may find yourself looking up and realizing hours have passed. If you work for yourself or have a job that's a little more flexible and can set an open-ended work session, then you can press on to completion.
If you match your work style with the jobs you take on, you can take advantage of your ability to achieve flow to help you succeed in your life's work despite your ADHD. In fact, your project oriented works style may even prove an advantage in some sorts of jobs. While performing tasks you will find that you become more and more adept at achieving a state of flow. If you aren't in charge of your work schedule or how you set up the parameters of your workspace and times, find yourself an ally. It can be a colleague, a teacher, or supervisor. Family and friends can help not only help you get what you need to work well, but act as your advocate and ally in adapting your work to your most effective style.


Achieving flow can help you overcome the distractibilty that tends to dog people with ADHD throughout their career. Achieving flow while performing job related tasks can help you be successful, but be aware. The flow experience, while satisfying, can be almost addictive. This helps you slip into the flow state more easily when getting down to work. Unfortunately, if you have other absorbing tasks or activities in your work area, you can wind up doing one function of your job to the exclusion of the other. Try moving potential non-targeted activities out of your sight if you need to do something else, so you don't spend all your time editing videos, for instance, and never getting around to editing your audio tracks. Don't leave your Game Boy on your desk either or you can find yourself playing games all afternoon.

Use the flow experience to help you succeed. Don't let it use you to make you fail.


FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Harper and Row, 1990.

VAXA: Hyperfocus The Other Side of ADHD

TED: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow

Counseling Resource: Hyperfocus and ADHD
ADDitude Magazine: Learn About ADHD: Hyperfocus

© 2011 by Tom King