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Inattention and Skipping Steps

Fittingly, when I went to enter the title for this post, I typed “Inattention Skipping Steps.” That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

When you have a list of actions you need to do, it’s one thing to know what the actions are, and it’s another to actually do them in the right order without skipping over any.

MistakeI remember this happening in math class when I was in school. I would know how to solve a problem, but in actually solving the problem, I’d “carelessly” miss a step and end up with the wrong answer.

Cooking is a part of daily life where this can easily happen because it often involves going through a series of small steps. You know the recipe, but maybe you skip over adding one of the ingredients. Or you get something out of the fridge and forget to put it back. Then again, maybe you get an ingredient out of the fridge and put it back in the fridge but forget to actually use it in between.

This has to do with inattention. It usually happens when you’re giving the task at hand less than your full attention. Often, it’s when you’re running on autopilot, so you don’t realize anything’s gone awry until you end up with some kind of absurd result.

The fact that skipping over necessary steps happens on autopilot is partly why knowing the sequence of steps really well doesn’t prevent it from happening. Think about solving a type of math problem you’ve solved many times before in school, or cooking a dish whose recipe you know by habit – if anything, you’re more likely to go on autopilot in these scenarios and miss a step without being aware of it.

A related area where people with ADHD sometimes struggle is with verbal instructions that involve multiple steps. In this case, we might forget a step, or zone out and not hear a step in the instructions. Writing down instructions can help address this problem.

Attention isn’t something that’s on-or-off. Often, ADHDers find themselves operating in a twilight zone of half-attention, where they’re still doing the task at hand but not fully engaged in it. This is a state where inattentive mistakes like skipping steps arise, and where we might not even recognize that those mistakes have occurred because our ability to monitor errors is impaired by our lack of attention.

Image: Flickr/B Rosen

Inattention and Skipping Steps


Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Inattention and Skipping Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 16, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2019/06/inattention-and-skipping-steps/

 

Last updated: 20 Jun 2019
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