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Face-to-Face with the Beast: Making Decisions When you Have ADHD


Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to make a decision when you have ADHD?


I can picture a recliner I bought on impulse that we called “The Beast.” It was comfortable, all right, but huge: dominating the living room, towering over all of the other furniture. Once we got it home, I wondered: What was I thinking?


Another time, we were considering having a room built. I wanted no part of it because of the countless decisions that would have to be made!


Decision-making is a cognitive process. It requires you to select a belief or a course of action from among several alternate possibilities. Because ADHD affects the cognitive part of our brains, it can take us longer than others to process an array of choices.


What makes decision-making so hard?

  • ADHD Challenges: Issues with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can make it hard to focus on the task at hand.

  • Executive Skill Challenges: Struggling in executive skill areas may cause us trouble in getting started (initiation), breaking down the pieces of a task, putting steps in order (sequencing), estimating time, prioritizing, organizing, or planning.

  • Not Knowing How to Make a ‘Good’ Decision: We may feel ashamed to ask for help because we are adults and “should” know how to do this!

  • Past Decisions: We may regret a past decision, causing us to hesitate in making a choice today.

  • Difficulty in ‘Selecting: We have a hard time narrowing our focus to make one choice among various possibilities.

  • Shutting Down Under Pressure: Most of us shut down as anxiety mounts. Being “stuck in our amygdala”—the emotional, fight-or-flight part of our brain makes it hard to connect with the logical, prefrontal cortex that is responsible for coordinating our thought processes.

  • Desire for Perfection: Nothing fuels procrastination more than perfectionism.

  • Trying to Please Others: We may know exactly what others think, but we don’t know what we think.


What makes a difference?


Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders states that it is important to set yourself up for success. You can do this by paying attention to three decision-making basics:

  • Booking the time to think about the decision.

  • Defining the decision by identifying key factors.

  • Thinking through the options.

She recommends testing out your decision ahead of time. For example, you might eat at a restaurant whose space you are hoping to rent for a party. Also, Saunders says it helps to pay attention to what you hope will happen, because that gives you valuable information about what you really do want.


What works for people with ADHD?


There are a number of tools that can make it easier for people with ADHD to make good decisions:

  • Mind Mapping is an invaluable tool. It helps with brainstorming options, breaking down the steps of a project, estimating time, prioritizing actions, pacing, and so on.

  • Listing each Decision in a Column, Side-by-Side. Underneath each choice, list both the pros and cons of the decision.

  • Talking out the Decision with someone else.

  • Asking for Help: When we actually do need advice, who is the best person to ask?

  • Identifying the Kind of Help that you need.

  • Taking Off the Pressure: A “good enough” decision is better than none at all.

  • Questioning Yourself: If I say “yes” to this decision, what am I saying “no” to?

  • Giving Yourself a Deadline: As time coach Saunders says, “choosing well does not have to mean choosing slowly.”

  • Setting a Timer to make smaller decisions.

  • Paying Attention to the environment in which you work best while making a decision. Do you need a quiet area, someplace with music, or something else?

  • Sidestep too many decisions by making your choice ahead of time.

  • Make the Decision: Not making a decision is making a decision.

  • Trust Your Gut: Many of us talk ourselves out of our initial response.


You’ve Got This!


I’m pleased to say that I quickly said good-bye to “The Beast.”


After beating myself up about making an impulse buy, I DID return the plus-sized recliner to the store. While there, I actually found a recliner that I liked better. “So, I didn’t get it right the first time,” I told myself. “Big deal!” Most decisions are not final and can be reversed if we change our mind.


As for the remodeling job, we DID add on a room to the house. Once I saw a picture in a magazine, I knew exactly what I wanted. All I needed was to see it.


Even ADHD coaches can have trouble making good decisions. We’re human, after all. And isn’t it nice to know that there’s grace for everyone? There will be new opportunities tomorrow to make new and different choices.

If you’ve ever struggled with making decisions, consider reaching out for support. There’s a lot of help available, and sometimes it can be closer than you think.


Contact me today for a free consultation.

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