Adults with ADHD are often overwhelmed by decision-making. But having lots of options is a good thing, right? After all, it allows you to get exactly what you want. At least that is what our modern consumer culture leads us to believe. More is better, right?
But what about when you account for the time, energy and stress involved in choosing between so many options? Is more still better?
Many adults with ADHD struggle when attempting to choose among an overwhelming number of options. And you can clearly see this in the quote below of a current client (reprinted 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.
Any choice, whether big or small, can prompt the feelings described above for adults with ADHD. Sound familiar?
According to Barry Schwartz, author of Paradox of Choice, more is less. Let’s see why that is for adults with ADHD and what you can do to address this challenge.
Why ADHD Adults Have Difficulty Making Choices
You may have been told and, consequently, you may believe 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. So, when needing to make choices you may be overwhelmed by:
- the number of choices you need to make in your personal and professional life.
- the various options associated with each of the choices.
With all the thoughts swirling about in your head it can even feel little like a game of pinball. How do I make this choice and that choice? What is the best option? And, because it is so hard, you may:
- avoid thinking about or choosing.
- impulsively making a choice without giving it enough thought.
- continue ruminating — thinking — about the options, but not doing anything.
You can counter this in two ways. First, minimize the number of choices you need to make day-to-day. Then, when you do need to make choices, minimize the number of options you are willing to consider.
Ready to learn how?
Let Go of the Fear of Missing Out
Think of a recent time when you agonized over making a choice. Maybe it was about buying something or choosing how to use your time. The process may have been so agonizing for you because you were being a maximizer — trying to make the absolute best choice possible. And in doing so you may have worried about:
- regrets about the decisions, both before and after making it.
- missed opportunities due to the choices you will or did make.
- what other people have or are doing.
As Schwartz notes, if you are doing the above you may be causing yourself undue suffering because your expectations are unrealistic. There is an alternative. What if instead you could learn to accept “good enough” — be a satisficer?
This does not mean that you are resigning yourself to mediocrity. I know you might be thinking this. If you could really embrace and appreciate this perspective of “good enough,” I think it could bring you peace of mind. What is less overwhelm and less stress worth to you? If you’re in, and want to practice being a satisficer:
- Think about where you have recently made a “good enough” decision? Maybe it was deciding on an internet provider, buying a gift, choosing a meal at a restaurant, etc.
- How did you make this “good enough” decision?
- Apply these strategies to other areas in your life.
Not sure how to do this on your own? Ask for help from a friend, family member, coach or therapist.
Decide to Have Fewer Options When Choosing
Again, think of the last time you tried to make the best choice possible. You know there are more options out there than you can possibly explore given the constraints of your time and energy. Yet, you might have felt compelled to keep researching until your head is spinning with information overload.
Was the cost of going through the process worth it? If you made a good choice, and are only concerned about the outcome, you may decide the process was worth it. Even if it felt grueling. But I know you would also like to feel better about the process of choosing.
One way to feel better about the process of choosing is to limit the number of options you explore. Again, this does not mean that your resigning yourself to mediocrity. Rather, you are deciding to focus your time and energy on what really matters to you. And, when you do this, you will need to let some opportunities pass you by.
While not easy, you can do this by deciding in advance to, for example:
- compare 3 laptops, instead of 10.
- go to only 2 stores when shopping for clothes, rather than the whole mall.
- interview and choose from among 3 accountants
And, as you work toward becoming more of a satisficer, rather than a maximizer, limiting your choices will become easier.
Express More Gratitude and Less Regret
Limiting your options will make the process of choosing easier, for sure. But, if you want to feel better about the process and outcome, you’ll also need to explore how you evaluate the choices.
In many instances, you might either express gratitude or regret when making a choice. And, of course, you will feel better when you focus:
- more on what is good about the choice — what you are grateful for.
- less on your disappointment in the choice — what you regret.
Make sense, right? But you also know it’s not easy to do. So, let’s look at how you can do this in practice.
To see more of what is good in your choices adopt a daily habit of using a gratitude journal. Just before bed write down 5 things, including 1-2 of your choices, that you are grateful for from that day. While your choices may not turn out exactly as you envisioned, you will begin to see what is good about them.
And, to focus less on the regret you might feel, remind yourself in the moment of the following:
- few choices are as life altering as we might think in the moment.
- you don’t really know if a different choice would have led to your imagined outcome.
For example, the food at the restaurant may not have been good. But, on reflection, you might still find you are grateful for the time you spent with your family and friends. That is, rather than focusing on the bad food, you can focus more of what was good about the choice to go out.
Try the above with an example from today.
Remove Excessively High Expectations & Comparisons to Others
Another way to minimize regret when making a choice is to remove excessively high expectations. So, in the example of going out to eat, don’t expect some idealized version of a gathering — perfect food, perfect company, perfect service, etc. Rather, attempt to appreciate the serendipity of the moment.
To do this you’ll also need to explore how you compare yourself to others. Are there any choices you’re currently trying to make based on what you think others have? Maybe you are thinking, “If only I had…, then I would be happy.” Maybe this is prompted by what you see in social media. And, in that case, it might just be illusory, right?
You know trying to make choices based on what others have or what you perceive they have is likely not going to make you feel better. The alternative is to focus on what is important to you and brings meaning to your life. And you can do this by choosing to focus on what you decide is essential.
When you make choices based on this you can “make your highest contribution toward things that really matter to you.” And reduce the number of choices you’re trying to make. Nice, right?!
Learn to Love Structure
Another way to reduce the number of daily choices you need to make is to establish some helpful structures. I know. While structure can be useful for, you may also not like how it feels, right? It may feel too constraining sometimes. So, like many adults with ADHD, you may tend to resist them.
The key is to establish just enough structure and not too much. It’s all about balance. When you have just enough you can focus more on what is important to you. Because you will not be faced with so many daily decisions. And one way to do this is to establish rules and routines, such as the ones below:
- Rather than trying to decide at 6:30 pm what to have for dinner, create a rotating menu of meals. Think Taco Tuesday.
- Always thinking about when you are going to pay this bill or check that account? Have a “meeting” with your finances at a regular time every week.
- Throughout your day do you need to decide where to put information so you can remember it for later? Start a habit of always putting your tasks in a task manager. And put date and time-sensitive information in your calendar.
By deciding these rules in advance you will free up your time and energy. And also be able to focus on choices you need to make that do not lend themselves to routines.
Ready to be Free of the Tyranny of Too Many Choices?
You know adults with ADHD are often overwhelmed by decision-making. Which of the above strategies can you start using to reduce the overwhelm of having too many choices?