Why are you fidgeting, eh?

At some point in your life, have you ever: Tapped your foot? Spun your pencil? Flipped your hair? Bit your lip? These are all signs of what we call “fidgeting”. Fidgeting is defined as using toys or movements to help keep us focused on what we are seeing, hearing or reading. Especially those with ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder), having an object that they can essentially “play with” can stimulate their brain and help them focus better. I am highly guilty of fidgeting and it may be linked to my excessive watching of Spongebob as a kid (a study had tried to prove that watching Spongebob increased ADD). Like I said, I have always fidgeted and there is no time like today to find out why this phenomenon occurs.


Reading a lecture, typing a blog, or listening to someone talk for more than 5 minutes can create feelings of boredom or anxiety. This is one of the most common reasons of why we choose to fidget–anxiety creates a high amount of stress hormones, which gear your muscles for immediate activity. You probably aren’t the guy with a Go Pro cliff jumping right next to a Great White, so all of that energy that you have will need to go somewhere else and jiggling your leg. for example, is a good way to subdue that.

The authors, Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright, of Fidget To Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies For Living With ADHDgive another reason of why we fidget. In their book, they explain that fidgeting is a way of diverting the “bored” part of your brain so that the other parts can focus on the task at hand. They called this “floating attention” which could be tied back with prehistoric times. This occurs when fixating on one thing is not sensible because this could result in the “person missing the large ravenous beast behind the bushes”, as the authors wrote.

According to WhyWeFidget, there was a study conducted in 2005 explaining that fidgeting improved performance on memory tests. According to the researchers, this is because it lowers the level of cortisol (a stress hormone that has been known to interfere with learning).

There are also studies on how fidgeting effects our productivity. According to the Studies On Fidget Benefits, kids who are allowed to fidget in class rapidly absorb more than those who are not. There has been research done on the fact that handwriting notes increases creativity and memory while typing does not have such benefits and makes very annoying sounds. I have always hand written my notes and when exam time comes, I feel that I absorbed the material so much that studying is not as important as rewriting what I was taught over and over. This may be getting a little off subject, but I highly recommend handwriting notes because all the information in this blog supports the idea that “doodling” (which always always happens when handwriting) can boost memory and attention span.

In summary, fidgeting does many things: keeps us focused, exerts our anxious energy and improves our productivity. It also helps us who have ADD/ADHD learn because we can distract our brain with a mechanism of our choosing (toy, movement) and enhance learning opportunities. HOWEVER, by no means necessary, am I saying it is OK to: flip you hair a million times, click a pen top a million times, hit your knee on the under part of the desk a million times…you see what I’m saying. Fidget in moderation and do your best to not distract others.

Keep Calm and Fidget.






5 thoughts on “Why are you fidgeting, eh?

  1. Jon Shanfelder

    I very much enjoyed your well-written article about fidgeting. I must say however that there was a problem in your conclusion. You said that is it not okay to fidget by tapping your pencil a million tips or tap your foot a million times in reference to our habits and ADHD. Doing something to this extreme is not ADHD, but falls more along the line of OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) or OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder). These conditions are mostly non-voluntary and are explained more here: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000942.htm

  2. Jason Schwartz

    I can really relate to this article because as a kid I was diagnosed with ADHD. In school I can remember always bouncing my leg up and down because I couldn’t sit still. I always wanted to be moving around because I had so much energy. Fidgeting was a way to help me focus on my studies as opposed to focusing on how to exert my energy. I also took medicine to help curve the condition that effected me. It helped my concentration in many ways by raising my dopamine levels to improve concentration and reduce hyper-activeness. Here is a link with more information for your viewing pleasure.

  3. Marielle Concetta Ravally

    This post is me. I am this post. I fidget CONSTANTLY. Often my friends yell at me for tapping my foot, and time and time again I am on the receiving end of a dirty look in class because of pen clicking. In my own personal experience I have found that my fidgeting is stress related. In high school I would often snap my fingers in times of stress. I was stage managed theatre shows throughout high school, and there were few practices that I would not be found walking around snapping my fingers. However I never associated it with concentration. Reading your post though I do see how my fidgeting and nervous ticks helped me focus in situations. By allocating my “floating attention” subconscious to one specific task, my conscious attention could be focused on the task at hand.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. rvm5523

    Great post. I don’t necessarily think I fall under the category of people who have ADD/ADHD but I definitely suffer from fidgeting in class. I never really pictured fidgeting as a bad thing because honestly when I fidget in class I am more focused, like you proved fidgeting does. I also observe people who do the same and it often seems as if they are deeply involved in the class discussion and benefit more from doing so. I found a link that helps support the theory that fidgeting helps pay more attention in class. NBC.com did an article explaining why. Here is is, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/fidgeting-movement-helps-improve-focus-kids-adhd-n373406 Thanks for the blog!

  5. Thomas Tatem Moore

    Great article, I have often wondered why I fidget a lot when doing work. It’s nothing major just usually I’ll tap my foot or twirl a pen in my hand. I always wondered if maybe this was a detriment to my school performance. It is eye opening to find out that it may in fact help my performance. Here is an article I found that additionally describes why it can help.

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