Attention Deficit Order

Like most human qualities, the quality of our attention exists on a spectrum. Some have an incredible capacity for focus and executive function; others are so incapable of paying attention that they have trouble navigating daily life. We bandy the term ‘attention deficit’ around, but we all have some deficit in this regard, usually exacerbated by living in the Internet Age, when our attention became a comodity to be manipulated for someone else’s gain.

It’s this generalized condition of attention deficit, not the diagnosable condition that many people deal with, that I want to consider today. I contend with some of the common symptoms of clinical Attention Deficit; for example, I begin new tasks constantly without finishing the one I’m on, and I have a hard time keeping track of time. But my life and my habits are pretty highly adapted. I have learned to bend these things mostly to my advantage. So I’m functional.

“At this point,” he said, unironically wandering off topic, “you’re wondering what this has to do with riding bikes.”

It’s this. While many people perceive attention deficit as a negative characteristic, I find that it is merely a different way of processing information and organizing behavior. My mind moves quickly, and that means that tasks like bike handling, reacting to rapid changes in the environment, as in traffic, etc. come more easily to me.

In fact, I think a large part of my comfort on a bike comes from the speed at which things happen. I struggle with stillness. Action, particularly action I’m participating in, is soothing. It calms me down.

On The Paceline a few weeks back we talked about why the bike, for many people, travels at exactly the right speed for adventure. Walking is too slow. You don’t gain ground or information quickly enough. Cars move too fast, and you lose too much detail. The bike is just right, and that, for me, corresponds to my need to process information and react to my surroundings constantly.

It also explains why I drifted away from road riding, which is awfully linear, and deep into trail riding, which is busy.

I spend a fair amount of time wondering why more people don’t ride bikes, why they remain unaware of how magic it is, and seen through this lens of attention, it starts to make more sense to me. A lot of people just can’t process information quickly enough to ride a bike. It puts them in a state of anxiety rather than a state of calmness, and sure, with some practice, they might get to that more peaceful place, but for me, and people like me, it’s instantaneous.

As some listeners might know from listening to our other podcast Revolting, I like loud, fast, often chaotic music, and tell people it’s because my mind is loud, fast and chaotic, and I find music like that soothing. It’s as if someone else has taken the burden of generating that speed and unpredictability off my hands. 

That is, to a great extent, what the bike does for me too.

To get things done in my day-to-day, I need a lot of things to do. I need to start a few of them, so that, as my attention wanders, I have a number of different productive tasks to move forward. So while my wife will often shake her head as I am simultaneously cooking dinner, unloading the dishwasher and writing the next day’s post, all of those things will, in the end, get done.

On the trail, I seek out technical terrain, not jumps that are over almost before they begin, but challenging obstacles that require peak concentration. I’m not particularly good at this kind of riding, but it’s what my mind and body crave. Maximum engagement.

I suspect a lot of you feel this too, this need for kinesthetic engagement, and get it from the bike. This is not to say that all of you are running significant attention deficits, but for those who are, the bike is a therapy, a treatment, an oasis in a desert of anodine tasks.

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