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Every day is filled with decisions. What to have for breakfast? What to wear today? Should I do my math homework first, or should I read first? Then there are the big decisions. Should I take this new job? Should I buy a house or rent one? Which college should I attend? For those with ADHD, indecisiveness is often a real problem. The inability to make a decision can leave them paralyzed. They might do nothing because they don’t have a clear idea of which path to follow.
The inability to make a decision might stem from executive functioning impairments. In an article on CHADD.org, Russell Barkley and Tom Brown, who have both done extensive research on ADHD, explain executive functioning differently, but both agree that it includes prioritizing, planning, organization, and self-regulation skills. The article also notes that deficits in executive functions and ADHD symptoms are commonly considered to be interrelated. Decision-making requires the ability to prioritize, plan, and self-monitor yourself to determine whether the process is working or should be revised.
Other symptoms of ADHD can also contribute to indecisiveness:
- People with ADHD often have a problem starting tasks.
- Some people with ADHD avoid complex problems or tasks that are unpleasant or uninteresting because of attentional difficulties.
There might also be the fear of making a wrong decision. Past failures might hold you back from moving forward. You might be afraid of making the wrong choice or worry that you will be judged. Sometimes, however, not making a choice means you give up your power. It allows someone else to make the decision for you.
The following are tips to help you become more decisive:
Categorize your decisions. When faced with a decision, decide if it is a small, medium, or large decision. Small decisions usually don’t have large consequences, and these are ones you should be able to make quickly, without too much analysis. Deciding what type of decision it is gives you an idea of how much thought and worry you should put into making it. You can ask yourself, “Will this matter in five minutes, five days, five months, or five years from now?” The answer might help you decide the category in which to put your decision.
Give yourself a time limit for making decisions. This becomes easier if you categorize them as in the previous tip. For small decisions, limit yourself to a few minutes and add to the time for larger decisions. Set a timer or put the deadline on your calendar. If you haven’t made a decision in that time, it might be helpful to talk it over with someone.
Think about what scares you about making decisions. Is it concern that you will make the wrong decision? If so, consider what will happen. Will it be consequential or a small inconvenience? Use this information to help you decide if a decision can be made quickly. Are you concerned about whether others will judge you? Consider whether their opinion is important in your life; if so, talk to them about the decision. If not, go ahead and make it. If you overcome your fear, your decision will be easier.
Give yourself credit for the decisions you do make. If you are always telling yourself, “I am not a good decision-maker,” think about the hundreds of decisions you successfully make each week: What should I wear? What route should I take to work? What movie should I see? Where should I go for lunch? Pat yourself on the back for making decisions every day and rephrase your thought to: “I make decisions all the time. I can make decisions.”
Get treated for ADHD. For some people with ADHD, treatment, including medication, helps ease the decision-making process. When ADHD symptoms are better managed and you aren’t quite so distracted or overwhelmed, decisions are easier.
Gather information. Before assessing your options, gather all pertinent information. Keep in mind that you can’t make a decision until you have all the information.
Make a pro-and-con chart. Look at what the potential benefits and costs of each decision are. Not every decision is going to offer the perfect choice, but you can look at which option has the best outcome.
Trust your instinct. If you keep coming back to one answer, or if one choice jumps out at you as the best choice, trust that it is the right choice to make, at least for now.
Remember that most choices are reversible. If you decide to take a job and it turns out not to be a good fit, you can look for another one. If you choose to move to an apartment and don’t like the noise from outside, you can find another one and not renew the lease. Most decisions can be adjusted, modified, or reversed.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.