Edward (Ned) Hallowell, MD, on Stress in the Workplace: A second interview by Bob Morris


HallowellEdward (Ned) Hallowell, MD, a child and adult psychiatrist, is a New York Times bestselling author, world-renowned speaker and leading authority in the field of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane Medical School, and the founder of The Hallowell Centers in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and New York City. He was a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty from 1983 until he retired from academics in 2004 to devote his full professional attention to his clinical practice, lectures, and the writing of books.

Dr. Hallowell’s recent book, Shine: Using Brain Science to Bring out the Best in Your People was published by Harvard Business School Press in January 2011, as was his latest, Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive (January 6, 2015). His other published works include Married to Distraction: Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption, with his wife, Sue George Hallowell, a couples’ therapist; Superparenting for ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child, with Dr. Peter Jensen; Delivered From Distraction (Pantheon), with Dr. John Ratey (Pantheon) and the accompanying Answers to Distraction (Pantheon, 1995); and Delivered From Distraction (Ballantine) in 2005. He published his first children’s book in 2004, A Walk in the Rain with a Brain (Regan Books/Harper Collins). It conveys the message, “No brain is the same. No brain is the best. Each brain finds its own special way.”

Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Ned.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing your latest book, Driven to Distraction at Work, a few general questions. First, for decades I have heard people suggest something to the effect, “If you want to get something done, give the work to a busy person.” Does that tend to be true?

Hallowell: Yes and no. Obviously, if the person is too busy, he can’t invent more hours in the day and so the work won’t get done. However, the wisdom in the quip refers to the fact that most people who are very busy are also very industrious, and so likely to complete whatever work they agree to take on.

Morris: In your opinion, are there more, fewer, or about the same number of distractions today as there were (let’s say) ten years ago? Please explain.

Hallowell: A gazillion more. Is a gazillion a word? I just looked it up, and it actually is! The reason that there are so many more distractions today than ever before is that our electronics have offered us exponentially more inputs than ever have been possible in history. The great news about modern life is that we can do so much. But that’s also the bad news! To thrive in today’s world a person must be able to prioritize and to create boundaries.

Morris: Based on your own experience as well as what you have observed, which seem to be the most difficult distractions to ignore? How best to avoid or overcome them?

Hallowell: Electronics. The most difficult electronic distractions to ignore are the ones that interest you the most! This is obvious, but often overlooked. If you are an avid sports fan, then ESPN will grab your eyeballs most easily. If you are an inveterate gossip or newshound, then Twitter is your Achilles heel. If you love to play the market, then your Bloomberg can own you. The point is that in today’s world you can have instant access to whatever you love the most. So you have to learn the difficult skill of moderating your consumption of electronics of all kinds. The most basic and useful intervention of all is the hardest one to implement: T.I.O. Turn It Off.

Morris: During the ten years since you retired from Harvard Medical School faculty, what have been the most significant improvements in the identification and treatment of ADD and ADHD?

Hallowell: The great need today was the great need 10 years ago: education, both of the public and of the professionals…. Stigma reigns, still. Perhaps the most exciting advance in educating the public is a website aimed at parents called Understood.org. Created by 15 non-profits, understood.org brings together in one place all the expert knowledge and latest information anyone could need to identify and deal with all manner of attention and learning problem. Funded to the tune of $75 million, Understood.org could be a real game-changer, at last bringing these issues out of the dark realm of ignorance and misunderstanding into the light of knowledge and enlightened practice.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant – and troublesome – misconceptions that remain about ADD? What in fact is true?

Hallowell: The most significant and troublesome misconceptions include:

1. Having ADD means you are stupid. Not true! Many of the most gifted and creative people in the world have ADD or dyslexia or both.

2. You cannot achieve at a high level if you have ADD. Not true. In my own private practice, I have brain surgeons, self-made billionaires, Pulitzer Prize winners, hugely successful entrepreneurs, inventors, professors, acclaimed writers, successful artists, gifted teachers, decorated military personnel, and on and on.

3. ADD is a curse. Not true. Managed properly, ADD can lead to a life of the highest levels of achievement and personal joy. However, if not managed properly, it may indeed become a curse.

4. ADD is due to bad parenting. Not true! The vast majority of cases are inherited. ADD is one of the most highly heritable conditions in all of the behavioral sciences.

5. The only effective treatment for ADD is medication. Not true! There are many treatments for ADD–or methods of managing it, as I prefer to say–that do not include medication. I, myself, have ADD and dyslexia and do not take medication (other than coffee!). The mainstays of the non-medication methods include coaching and structure; physical exercise; meditation; nutritional supplements; and creative activities (having a creative outlet is essential for people who have ADD).

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Shine, you explain how “the best managers bring out the best from their people. This is true of football coaches, orchestra conductors, big-company executives, and small-business owners. They are like alchemists who turn lead into gold. Put more accurately, they find and mine the gold that resides in everyone.” What are the defining characteristics of the mindset of the best managers?

Hallowell: First, an ability to get along with a wide variety of people. Second, an ability and a desire to locate the talent in every person. Third, an ability and a desire to help other people shine, even if it means surpassing their manager. Fourth, the ability to change one’s mind, see a different point of view, and admit when one is wrong. Fifth, the ability to give criticism in such a way that it can stimulate growth rather than induce shame.

Morris: How specifically do the best managers “bring out the best” in those whom they supervise?

Hallowell: Most of all by setting them up to work in their “sweet spot”: what they do really well, what they really like to do, and what advances the mission of the organization.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which those efforts are most likely to be successful?

Hallowell: High trust, low fear. High levels of frank and candid conversation. Plentiful connection, in which members of the group know each other in some depth.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Driven to Distraction at Work. When and why did you decide to write it?

Hallowell: I decided to write it because the people at Harvard Business Review Press told me the Number One request they received from executives was for advice on focus. Since I am a “focus doctor,” it was a natural book for me to write.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Hallowell: The major one was how prevalent and pernicious the problem of distraction is in today’s world, costing many billions of dollars and millions of hours of lost productivity.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Hallowell: Rather dramatically. I ended up writing a lot more about individual psychology than I had originally envisioned, and a lot less about the science of attention. That’s because I wanted to write a useful book, a book that readers could really apply in their everyday lives.

Morris: To what extent (if any) did you learn something especially interesting or significant about yourself while writing the book that you did not realize before?

Hallowell: What a lovely question. Let me think. I learned than I am not as dumb as I feared. I was not sure I could write this book, but, when I did complete it and knew that it was good, I felt the same way I did when, as a kid, I did something I didn’t think I could.

Morris: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has much of value to say about what he characterizes as “flow”: that is, the mental state during which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Athletes call it being in a “zone.” In essence, flow is almost total complete absorption in what one does. In your opinion, how best to reach such a state? How best to sustain it?

Hallowell: Do something that is both challenging and deeply interesting to you.

* * *

To read all of this interview, please click here

To read my first interview of Ned, Please click here

He cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

The Hallowell Centers link

Meet Dr. Hallowell link

ADD and ADHD Briefing & Resources link

Amazon link

YouTube Videos link

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