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Distractibility by Any Other Name

Why are so many people with ADHD drawn to creative activities?

A lot of us either have creative careers or have creative hobbies that are a big part of our lives. For me, writing and music are two activities that are central to my life.

One possible reason I see is that distractibility and creativity are actually two sides of the same brain. The difference between them is partly just a question of semantics.

ADHD, Creativity and DistractibilityHere’s what I mean.

Think about what it means to get distracted. Usually, the process of getting distracted looks something like this:

  1. You’re engaged in some activity
  2. Something brighter and shinier catches your attention

The key is that you don’t really plan on getting distracted. Something more compelling just grabs hold of your awareness whether you want it to or not.

Now, as anyone who’s ever had an idea knows, getting a new idea is basically the same process:

  1. You’re engaged in some activity
  2. Some bright and shiny idea catches your attention

Again, having a new idea isn’t something you plan out. You can’t force yourself to be creative. It’s more a situation where, if you’re lucky, some compelling thought will pop into your awareness, replacing whatever less interesting thing was there before.

That’s why the act of creating something is basically just an exercise in being constantly distracted.

When I write something, I’m being constantly “distracted” by whatever I’m going to say next. I finish one paragraph, then I get distracted with an idea about what’s going to go in the next paragraph.

When I write music, it’s the same way. I start off without a solid idea of what I’m doing, and if things go well, I get “distracted” with ideas of music I’d like to hear.

I’d guess something like painting or creating a film is similar – although personally my artistic skills haven’t progressed much beyond making stick figures and I’m still working on the camera technique called “keeping everyone in the picture without cutting off the tops of their heads.”

So that’s my theory on why a lot of people with ADHD are drawn to creative pursuits.

If you think about it, having ADHD means you have a harder time than most people not having your mind automatically latch onto whatever the most interesting thought or thing in your environment is. But creating things and coming up with ideas is all about letting your mind automatically latch onto whatever the most interesting thing your subconscious can cook up is, which isn’t that far off from ADHDers’ everyday MO.

As far as I can tell, the main difference between creativity and distractibility is that the former is something we like, the latter isn’t. But they’re basically the same process happening in different contexts.

If you have any thoughts on this, be sure to share them in the comments!

Squirrel credit: Empey

Distractibility by Any Other Name

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Distractibility by Any Other Name. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Feb 2016
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