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Okay, this sounds really stupid, but let me explain.

There have been multiple times in class where I will be fidgeting in one way or another - clicking my pen, spinning the pencil on my desk, tapping my foot, etc - and I don't even notice. It really does help me focus to do something along these lines. However, there are two problems with this:

  1. It doesn't make the best impression on teachers. While I've never had a teacher say anything to me (I get good grades, so it's not quite as big a deal) I still know it doesn't look like I'm paying attention.
  2. It occasionally bothers others, and when I don't notice that I'm even doing anything, let alone that others are bothered - well, I don't want to drive people nuts.

What are some polite ways to fidget - preferably something non-noisy, that should be one-handed so I could take notes, and is not a fidget spinner? (Those things drive me insane, and they're halfway to being banned everywhere anyway.)

  • Have you ever tried the basic pencil spin? In my experience it's usually not even focused on unless someone has never seen it, or you drop the pencil/pen 24/7. – JMac Jul 31 '17 at 23:45
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    Have you tried fidget ball? Looks rather one-handed and silent (and slow, so it should be less noticeable) (youtu.be/MAAEIoUADD8?t=2m here is a bit of a video with a close look at it) – Alissa Aug 1 '17 at 11:55
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    My wife loves her fidget cube. A couple of the interactions are audible, but most are not. thefidgetcube.co – Devil's Advocate Aug 1 '17 at 16:28
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    @Muzer No! No! NOOOO!! Those spinny thingys are the most annoying things possible! [/end teacher side rant] – Zizouz212 Aug 1 '17 at 20:24
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    Fidget spinners/cubes/balls CAN be really useful for people with fidget issues like the OP. Unfortunately, when they become popularised and used by people who don't need them, they instead become a distraction. Then they become banned in schools, etc. and OP is the one who loses out. – sudowoodo Aug 2 '17 at 11:38
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I am also a lifelong fidgeter! In my case, this comes from a need for a little extra stimulation. I'm very familiar with the problem of bugging others. I have had pretty good luck with these techniques:

  1. Gently lift one knee, leaving the ball of your foot on the ground. You can now shake that knee up and down. This has over time become my favorite fidget, as it is entirely quiet, and people rarely even notice that I'm doing it. When I'm really fidgety, it will start to go quite fast; sometimes I have to tamp it down a little bit.

    (Edit: as sudowoodo pointed out in his comment, you do have to be careful with this one. Often, it's virtually unnoticeable, but if you do start to make noise with it or shake someone, they will certainly notice, and it becomes extremely annoying very quickly.)

  2. As a lifelong piano player, I can "play" simple one-handed patterns gently onto the table (or onto my leg, if that makes a tapping sound).

  3. Very, very gently click your teeth or rub them together. You can now hear a sound, but no one else can. Good for rhythmic patterns. (Caution with this approach, as any appreciable forcefulness here can damage your teeth.)

  4. Rub the ends of two fingernails together, or try to "roll" the edges along one another (though this takes two hands, so would not work for taking notes. Good when listening, however.)

One other strategy you might consider is to place attention on extraneous parts of note-taking. Can you write your notes into a layout that would in some deep or poetic way be parallel to the topic at hand? Can you predict where the lesson is going to go before the teacher gets there (and write it out in time)? Can you design your notes in such a way that others could also use them?

The focus task itself is less important here; the point is simply to have one. Such focus tasks have the side-benefit of helping you to actually absorb the material itself faster, as you will be engaging with the material on a deeper level.

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    Just to warn: the leg shake probably works well if sitting in isolation but can be perceived as annoying/disruptive if sitting close next to someone or on a bench. – sudowoodo Aug 1 '17 at 9:39
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    "on a bench" (shudders) I agree with you completely. You have to be careful with that one. – Ben I. Aug 1 '17 at 11:50
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    Obligatory xkcd – Deolater Aug 1 '17 at 15:26
  • +1 for numbers 2 and 3, but please for the love of Pete do not do number one if you are sitting in ANY form of attached seating. I was in a lecture with a leg-chugger once and I was shaking so much my stomach started to turn and I had to ask them to stop. – kem Aug 1 '17 at 15:40
  • I've done the knee moving thing for years, almost constantly (Never on purpose, don't know how I came by the habit)--eventually it does stress your tendons causing foot and knee problems. I'm sure nobody will believe that until it happens to them. Also I've really annoyed the heck out of people sitting behind me in restaurants. Once you've picked up a "habit", it's tough to tell it to stop (or often even know you are doing it) – Bill K Aug 1 '17 at 15:40
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As a teacher, the fact that a student fidgets is sometimes a matter of concern. From an educator's perspective, it is an issue of "are they getting this?" That said, I have found that the bigger issue of the two you raise is if it interrupting someone else's learning.

With that proviso, keep to silent fidgets. I have as a student myself and as a teacher found that doodling is helpful and is fairly non-disruptive. This is providing that it is not on desks or school/college materials. I found as far a concentration goes that doodling "on theme" also helps. This is when there are no particular "useful" notes to be taken, but still focusing on the topic. Examples might be drawing pine cones in a botany lesson, or flag in a geography or history class.

Next to doodling, rolling a pen between your fingers, rather than across the desk top, can be a release.

  • memories of the spinny thingys But otherwise, good answer from the educators perspective. As an educator, I don't mind if people do things as long as they don't distract others, whatever they do is at least somewhat related to the lesson, and they still participate from time to time. – Zizouz212 Aug 1 '17 at 7:09
  • Oh, yeah, I doodle all the time in the margins of my notes. Thanks for this answer! – heather Aug 1 '17 at 15:07
  • It's not the teacher--some kids (me) learn differently and find it nearly impossible to remain attentive in class. Chances are if you give the same kid a book and have him read to himself during the lecture he will get 2 days "Lecture" done in one day and will know it better than any of the kids who were just listening to you. I'm nearly 55 now and still can't be attentive in meetings unless I'm actively involved. – Bill K Aug 1 '17 at 16:01
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Take a coin or button between your index finger and thumb. Then press the back of your middle finger against the coin, and remove your thumb (holding the coin between the index and middle fingers) Next, press your thumb against the top of the coin and remove your index finger, and finally press your index finger against the coin while removing your middle finger.

The coin has now been flipped over, and you can repeat the sequence, picking up speed. Experiment with different size items to find one comfortable for you!

Unobtrusive, one handed, largely silent and does not require you to be able to see what you're doing so it can be kept out of sight

  • This is a great fidget! – Ben I. Aug 1 '17 at 11:56
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Consider buying a stress ball.

They are silent and somewhat more accepted in a work/school setting and are less distracting for other people in the room.

A cheaper option along the same lines is simply a rubber band, I was fidgeting with one as I stumbled across this question which compelled me to answer.

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I've picked up a habit of counting in binary on my fingers... I doubt many other people do this, I've never ever seen it.

Using my thumb as the one's digit try counting to 31 on a single hand (Takes me like 5-7 seconds now). Count to a number, add a second number and see if the result is what you'd expect--try adding up all the visible digits in the room (or all the digits your teacher says) by counting them on your fingers. Try counting by 3's, 5's or 7's, etc. Recognize a few common numbers like 1010 (10) 10100 (20), 1111 (15), etc.

I've never mastered using both hands but sometimes it's interesting to see how high you can count, my left hand gets bored only getting to "go" once every 32 counts.

Note that since I'm right-handed my "Binary" is always backwards. If you were left handed it would be a lot more natural--maybe I'll practice that.

  • I love counting in binary! There is one awkward number...the one with your, uh, middle finger up. But anyway, thanks, this is a great answer. – heather Aug 1 '17 at 23:26
  • @heather I usually have my hand resting on a desk with the "1" fingers touching the desk and the 0's lifted a little, I can count a lot faster that way and nobody gets offended when I reach 4. (although 27 looks a little iffy) – Bill K Aug 1 '17 at 23:31
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This is literally the reason I grew a beard. Beard stroking is a perfectly silent socially acceptable stim.

I know growing a beard may not be an option for you personally or for an awful lot people.

Before I was able to grow a beard, I often played with my hair. Same basic principal applies. In school I wasn't allowed to wear my mohawk up, so I would run my fingers through my hair. If your hair tends to hang in your face it just looks like you're clearing your view and doesn't outwardly look like you're fidgeting.

Similarly oral piercings can provide a silent unconventional fidget. I know it's not for everyone, but fiddling with a lip ring or a barbell in the tongue scratches that itch in way that most people wouldn't notice.


Cautionary note:

Stimming with visually apparent body jewelry freaks people right out. Best to avoid that.

For the love of whatever you hold dear, don't start smoking... If you're a fidgeter normally it's easy to turn that habit into chain smoking... It's an absolutely awful, expensive habit, that's hard to break.

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