Generally, our image of thinking is that it’s an activity done while sitting still. The brain is moving but the body is not.
As many people with ADHD know, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. For ADHDers, especially those with the hyperactive side of ADHD, an active mind and an active body often go together. In fact, some research suggests that people with ADHD focus better when they fidget, more so than people without the disorder.
Personally, if I’m engaged in an activity that requires thinking but I’m sitting absolutely still, there’s a good chance something has gone wrong. Perhaps I’ve zoned out. You might want to check my eyes, too – it’s even possible that I’ve gone to sleep.
If I’m squirming around and fidgeting, that’s a good indication that my thought process is churning away. Contrary to what it might look like, I’m not necessarily extremely anxious, and I’m probably not in physical pain – all this unsettled energy is just an outward manifestation of my brain at work.
And if I get up and start pacing around, that’s a sign that I’m using my brain at full capacity. I’ve had some new realization, or I’m thinking through something complicated. The force of my thoughts has propelled me upright and out of my chair.
Why do fidgeting and thinking so often go together for people with ADHD? One theory is that sitting and thinking is an otherwise unstimulating task, and people with ADHD crave stimulation. So physical movement is a way of finding an optimal level of stimulation. It brings the brain into the right gear for thoughts to flow, and it wards off the lack of concentration that comes with a lack of stimulation.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to realize that if someone with ADHD naturally fidgets or even paces around while thinking, doing so likely isn’t interfering with their thought process and might actually be helping. Sitting perfectly still while thinking isn’t a useful goal. Assuming it’s done in a setting where it’s not too distracting to other people, we should embrace the relationship between thought and movement, and feel free to fidget away!