Henry David Thoreau said he “wished to live deliberately.” I, too, want to be decisive, and yet I often feel paralyzed by indecision. Each alternative seems equally important. Even after I decide, I’ll second-guess myself. I also make impulsive choices I regret. I therefore don’t trust my decision-making ability. Like the batter who stops swinging to avoid the pain of striking out, I stop living my life “deliberately.”
I’ve learned it’s all in the approach! Decision making can be difficult for those of us with ADHD, but it’s not impossible. Our brains may work differently, but they do work. We may think we need a new brain or more willpower, but we may just need a few creative solutions and a fresh approach to decision making more suited to our ADHD brains.
RETHINK your general approach
We can relieve some of the stress involved if we rethink the way we approach decision making. The systems, strategies, and tools that work for those without ADHD may not work well for you. And the best process for organizing, managing time, or making decisions is the process that works best for you.
Think strategic, not systematic.
Any approach to a task that is linear or systematic is rarely user-friendly for the ADHD brain. Yet there are essential aspects to any decision-making process (such as define goals; list options, benefits, risks, etc.). Keep these aspects in mind, but design your own process and carry it out in a way that works for you. Companies like Pixar, 3M, and Apple promote a culture that fosters innovation. Your brain can discover solutions no one else sees. So build a culture for yourself that lets your innovative mind thrive.
Think holes, not drills.
Marketing guru Ted Levitt explains that drill customers actually need a hole, not a fancy drill. The drill is simply a means to obtain a hole. What is your end goal? Don’t lose sight of that goal in your pursuit of order, efficiency or a formula. It’s easy to overcomplicate minor decisions and oversimplify major ones.
Think tools, not rules.
Rules must be obeyed. No exceptions. There’s only one right way. But tools are task-specific. The best tool is whichever one helps you accomplish the task. Your list of strategies is not a to-do list. It’s your toolbox. Keep adding to it as you learn. (This concept comes from Larry Osborne's Spirituality for the Rest of Us.)
RETOOL specific solutions for common dilemmas
How do we know which solutions to use? It may help to see decisions as doors and difficult decisions as locked doors. Solutions are keys that help us open locked doors. Just as a key has no value unless we know which door it unlocks, solutions are only practical if we know which problems they help us resolve.
For adults with ADHD, the greatest challenges related to decision making include dilemmas like impulsivity, procrastination, overpreparation, fear of failing, too many options, lack of confidence and motivation, inertia, and many others. Let's take a look at just one of these: the overwhelming challenge of too many options.
- Pick a leg!
A lion tamer holds a stool in front of him to divide the lion’s focus (some even attach shiny medallions to each leg). With his focus divided between the four legs, the lion can’t lock in on his prey and is less likely to charge. If we try to look at everything, we focus on nothing and then we do nothing. So pick a leg and charge!
- Be a “satisficer” not a “maximizer.”
In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz introduces us to “maximizers” and what he calls “satisficers.” Maximizers seek the best possible choice, which means hours of agonizing and paralyzing evaluation. Satisficers first define a few preferred criteria for making a choice (for example, I want a DVR with these three features and under $200). When an item meets their criteria, they buy it and waste no time in regret.
- Be a chooser, not a picker.
Choosers make decisions about their decisions. Is it important? Must it be made now or made at all? Must I make it? Which option best meets my criteria? Choosers make a choice only when they know what they want. Pickers don’t know what they want. They browse yet resist making an actual choice. (This is also from Barry Schwartz.)
You can build your own toolbox by identifying your own dilemmas and finding useful tools. Use the tool you need when you need it. And then swing for the fences!
There is no guarantee you’ll never make a mistake or an unwise choice. In fact, you can plan on striking out and on getting some hits. Don’t let the fear of a wrong decision keep you from deciding. You can rebound from any mistake, except the mistake of never making any.
So live deliberately! Swing away!
Jack Anderson is a member—and sometimes guest facilitator—of the ADHDKC Support Group in Kansas City, Missouri.
A longer version of this post appears in the December 2014 issue of Attention magazine.
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