Recently a client, in preparation for our session, emailed me a description of his difficulties making decisions (posted below with permission).
I’m really struggling to make any decisions in almost any scenario. Like, choosing between 2 things, choosing to get rid of something. I get a sense of panic/anxiety, as well as, a sense of frustration. Logic makes no difference. The magnitude of the decision makes no difference. Trust in someone else to “make” the decision makes little difference (I still have to pull the trigger). When I do make the decision, I hold my nose, squelch the butterflies and just do it on faith that it won’t bite me in the butt later.
As I know the decision-making process is often a challenge for adults with ADHD, I bet his description sounds familiar to many of you.
You may even think you are just not good at making decisions because you have made some, well, questionable ones in the past. Of course, if this is your mindset, the process of making decisions can be that much more difficult because you don’t trust your skills.
Since I’ve worked with many people in improving their skills in this area, I also know you can become more effective in making decisions, in part, by correcting the mistakes below.
Think of a decision you are trying make now. As you are reading below consider which of the suggestions can help to make the process easier.
Why Is Decision Making So Hard for Adults with ADHD?
You may believe, and you may have even been told, you can’t pay attention. That’s just not true. The real challenge for you, and other adults with ADHD, is you pay attention to everything! That is, you have a surplus of attention.
Your attention is drawn, not only to all the stimuli in your external world, but also to all the stimuli in your internal world – your thoughts.
And, with all the thoughts swirling about in your head, deciding which thoughts to pay attention to when making a decision can be overwhelming at times. It can even feel, yes, a little like a game of pinball. And, because it is so hard, you may:
- avoid thinking about or making the decision.
- impulsively make the decision without giving it enough thought.
- continue ruminating — thinking — about the decision, but not doing anything.
Obviously, none of these are good options.
Mistake #1 – Not Taking Time to Pull Over
Since your brain, with its particular wiring, did not come off the assembly line equipped to do a good job organizing thoughts in your head, it is important to get out of your head to make some decisions. And two ways to do this are:
- Talk through the decision you are trying to make with someone you trust.
- Journal about your decision.
The cue that it is time to get out of your head is when your mind starts to feel like the Indy Raceway. Instead of responding to this trigger — racing thoughts — by just thinking, avoiding making the decision or impulsively making the decision, slow down and pull over.
Check out how to do this in the example below.
Sam needed to book plane tickets for a trip. But he kept putting it off, thinking, “I need to book those tickets already!” And, the more he procrastinated the more frustrated he became.
It turned out he was putting off buying the tickets because he needed to make other decisions. First, he had not decided whether to go to the Pre-Conference or not. So, he didn’t know whether to fly out Tuesday or Wednesday. Second, he also needed to check in with his cousins to find out if they will be in town. If they could spend time with him, he would extend his stay.
Because of this lack of clarity on these variables, he continued to put off making the decision.
After talking this through with his friend, Ethan, Sam decided not to go to the Pre-conference. And, after checking in with his cousins, he decided to extend his stay.
Now he could book his flight!
In similar situations, when your mind is racing and you are procrastinating, stop and ask yourself, “What is getting in my way of making this decision, and what would help me close the loop?”
Mistake #2 – Trying to Make a Perfect Decision
Ok, I know you already know you can’t make perfect decisions. Yet, even though you know this, you may still put off finally deciding on something because you are trying to make the absolute best decision – the perfect one.
Are you making statements like the ones below about a decision you are trying to make now?
- “Well, maybe I should…” And continue thinking of other alternatives.
- “But what if…?” And think of all the possible consequences of your decision.
If you are caught in the loop of making the above or similar statements, it is time to figure out how to make a good enough decision. Below are steps you can take and an example of how Bob did this.
1. Choose a decision.
Bob wanted to find a financial advisor.
2. Identify your current mode of making the decision.
Bob had been haphazardly researching this on and off for almost a year. Yet, he was no closer to deciding because he was too afraid of choosing the wrong one. So, he kept looking…
3. Adjust how you make the decision.
He finally decided he would ask his friends for recommendations for a fee-only financial advisor, and then he would call 3 of them over the next month. By the end of the month he would choose one and call to make an appointment.
While he hoped he liked the person he chose, he also told himself, “It would definitely be a pain to start this process all over again and I don’t want to throw money away. But, if I absolutely don’t like him/her, I can walk out at the end of the appointment and start over.”
4. Find support, if you need it.
Bob asked his friend, Sue, for help:
- listening to his thought process.
- asking him for clarification if she didn’t understand his explanation.
- challenging him with questions if she saw holes in his reasoning.
- suggesting alternatives.
- checking in with him about his progress.
Notice, Sue didn’t need to have any expertise in finding a financial advisor. She just needed to be supportive and be a good listener.
5. Decide on a time frame.
Bob decided a month was enough time to ask for recommendations, call three and choose one to schedule an appointment.
Are you game to making a good enough decision?
Mistake #3 – Trying to Get All the Information Possible
When you are trying to make a perfect decision you likely want to get as much information as possible. I get it. But, for many decisions, you know there is more information out there than you can possibly digest, right?
Yet, while you know this is true, you still might continue researching until your head is spinning with information overload. If this is your tendency, try the options below so you can limit your research.
- decide to use 2-4 reputable resources related to the decision you are trying to make.
- limit the amount of time you spend researching.
- give yourself a deadline to stop doing research.
- process the aloud with someone so you are not trying to do it just in your head.
Mistake #4 – Not Trusting Your Instinct
If you feel you just don’t make good decisions, I know It is hard to trust your instinct. But, since you rarely make decisions based only on rational factors, at some point, after you’ve gathered enough information, you’ll need to go with your gut.
So, if you tend not to trust your instinct now, go ahead and get enough information, and then take some space and time away from trying to make the decision so you can listen to what your instinct may be telling you.
One way to do this is to step away from the situation by
- going for a walk.
- doing something, whether for work or fun, unrelated to the decision.
- sleeping on it, literally.
- deciding not to decide for a longer period – a day, a few days, a week.
By stepping away from the situation the solution may come to you without trying so hard to make the decision.
Another way to tap into your intuition is to journal. By just allowing you thought to flow onto the paper, you may get more clarity on what you need to do.
What else can you do to stop working so hard to make the decision and allow your instincts to guide you? Because in the end, your gut may just give you the best answer!
Mistake #5 – Waiting So You Don’t Make a Mistake
What more can I say? You already know you might make a mistake.
So, if fear of making a mistake is holding you back from making a decision, ask yourself, “Is the guarantee of not making a mistake worth the price of not making a decision?
Questions for You
What is getting in your way of deciding today?
Which of the above workarounds will you try to close the loop?