Break Free of Decision Paralysis

Every day, you make a lot of decisions. But you might not even be aware that you are making decisions because you operate on autopilot for at least half of the day. Simply behaving out of habit, as it were.  Additionally, the capacity to make decisions in dire situations may be one of your ADHD superpowers. So, whether you are operating automatically or in an emergency, making the choice doesn't feel difficult.

Then there are those occasions when you feel stuck in quicksand while trying to make a decision. Sometimes it's because you're attempting to investigate and think through every possible angle of the decision and are becoming stuck in analysis paralysis, but are unable to make a choice.

As an alternative, you might put off making a decision even though the absence of one prevents you from moving forward. You are undoubtedly stuck. Not in analysis paralysis, though. You're frustrated because you want to make the choice, whatever it may be.

The alternative scenario is that the discomfort gets so bad that you make a snap decision without considering the consequences. This method of decision-making can be successful at times. And other times, maybe not so much?

When addressing your decision-making challenges, consider two questions:

  • How can I proactively minimize the chances of this happening?
  • How can I respond in the present moment when I eventually get stuck?

Read on for some suggestions on how to answer these questions.

You know how you feel paralyzed when you need to absorb information and make thoughtful decisions? While some of the causes, including fear of failure or missing out, are similar to those of your neurotypical classmates, others are specific to your ADHD issues.

As demonstrated by Olma's example below, writing an email is an example of how your ADHD issues with executive functioning can make a seemingly basic and uncomplicated task challenging.

Olma, a tax attorney, was scheduled to meet with her client later in the week. She still had not set the update she promised two weeks ago and now wanted to send it before their conversation. But, when she started writing, the objective of updating her client became a little bit murkier, as she could not decide what to include. She wondered whether she should explain why it took her so long to send the update. Then, when she started thinking about how angry she thought the client might be, she became frustrated with herself. And, once again thought maybe she was not cut out to do this work.

You might tell yourself, "It's just an email," if you have trouble writing emails. However, you might not have thought about all of the executive function abilities that go into creating emails, like:

  • identifying the primary objective.
  • creating a specific execution plan, including when and how you will write it.
  • organizing all the information and ideas.
  • reviewing your progress along the way.
  • adjusting your plan — prior decisions — based on new information you receive along the way.
  • regulating your emotions.

That is a lot, I realize. Additionally, it could be daunting to consider, especially if you currently find some or all of these skills to be difficult. However, depending on the decision you must make, you may need to use some of these processes even though you may not need to use all of them.

The good news is that executive functioning abilities can be learned. Really!

Practice slowing down to think carefully as a first step.

Operating at the speed of light may be one of your ADHD superpowers and help you in the proper situation. However, as you are aware, it can also interfere with your decision-making and ability to be intentional. You may have developed a propensity for quick thinking and action as a result of your ADHD racecar brain, but it has also grown into a habit.

However, you don't want to completely break this habit; rather, you want to be able to slow down when doing so will allow you to make decisions more quickly. Let's consider how Olma might put this into practice.

She could create her task list as part of a weekly review and planning session. Additionally, she would utilize her curiosity to investigate what is impeding her from making certain judgments and what would enable her to do so if she discovers she is doing so.

Then, a daily planning and review routine would aid her in remembering to carry out the choices she made at her weekly review, or pivot if necessary. This may have included the time allotted for her to write client updates. If not, she might forget and let whatever seems most pressing control her day, as you are well aware.

At transition points during the day she could also pause and ask herself the questions below to be sure she is being intentional about how she spends her time:

  • What am I doing?
  • What did I intend to do?
  • What is the importance (value) of my original intention?
  • If I’m altering my original plan, what is the reason?

Decisions aren’t written in stone. Sometimes when you get new information, information you didn’t have when you made the original decision, it makes sense to alter course. And you certainly want to be adept at being able to do this. So, while you want to remember your intentions, if there’s a compelling reason to change your original decision, you want to be able to pivot.

Another aspect of slowing down to make a decision that is often overlooked is setting aside dedicated time and using a specific process to make the decision. If you don’t do this now, it may be because you don’t think of decision-making as a discrete task. Though you know certain decisions need more thought than others, right?

But if you ignore this, you might also put off activities that depend on that choice. Olma, for instance, didn't choose what information to put in the update for her client. It follows that it is not surprising that writing the email with the update was difficult due to this.

The key sometimes is to externalize your thinking, rather than allow the ideas to bounce around in your brain by:

  • talking to someone to process your ideas. Once you explain your thinking, whether they give you feedback or not, the solution may come to you.
  • externalizing your thinking by writing out your thoughts either in prose or in a tool/process like a mind map or pros/cons list.

Sometimes with working memory challenges and an overload of stimuli your ADHD brain is just not the best place to make a decision.

Sometimes you could find it difficult to make a choice since the time is simply not right.

Olma, for instance, had been debating whether she ought to submit a resume to other companies, but she hadn't made up her mind. She was annoyed by her unsureness! But after discussing it with a friend, Olma understood that the moment simply wasn't right to decide whether or not her current firm was the appropriate one for her.

After the conversation, she realized how her thoughts about the law firm were being influenced by the challenging case she had been working on for the previous four months. She therefore made the choice to postpone making any career decisions until she had finished working on the case.

It didn't make sense ffor her to rush to a choice, partially due to her involvement in the investigation. She also reasoned that if she could just let it simmer on the back burner for a while, the solution might come to her when she had more room to think about it. You've probably experienced this experience.

Whatever the cause, sometimes postponing a choice is the wisest course of action. Naturally, you'll also want to include a reminder in your task list for the day you'll go back and decide. You already know that if you don't, you can put off doing something forever.

Sometimes behaving impulsively is the opposite of procrastinating. Additionally, if you worry about acting impulsively, you might not pay attention to and believe your instincts. Perhaps you lack confidence in your capacity to make wise decisions. Unfortunately, adults with ADHD experience this all too frequently.

If this holds true for you, you are losing out on chances to respect the knowledge of that inner voice that can direct you in accordance with your beliefs and years of experience. When your mind is somewhat still, you can hear that inner voice. The choice seems appropriate. When you follow your gut instinct, you might choose to:

  • speak up about something without worrying about others’ judgment.
  • accept a job without agonizing over the decision.
  • pursue a friendship with someone after just meeting them.

The thoughts will continue when you pay attention to your intuition, seeming to irritate you. You can use these thoughts as a helpful guide when making judgments if you pay attention to them.

In contrast, you are not operating from a place of calm when you act impulsively,  however perhaps responding to a trigger. Therefore, you can impulsively decide to quit your work out of rage or make an expensive purchase without conducting any research out of sadness. Because the impulsive notion that drove you to act impulsively was brief, you eventually come to regret your choice.

Making decisions will also be simpler if you let go of your expectations and desire for the ideal result.

Limiting the amount of research you conduct before making a choice is one approach to achieve this. After all, there will always be more information available, regardless of how much you collect. You can never be completely confident of how a choice will turn out.

And even if the result of your choice isn't what you wanted, it might still be true that you used the knowledge at hand to make the best choice you could. Additionally, choosing to reduce any anticipatory regret and making the decision easier can be accomplished by choosing to be appreciative for what you will receive from the choice rather than concentrating on the drawbacks.

You can regret choosing a restaurant, for instance, if you go there and don't enjoy the food. Gratitude for the time spent with your family or friends can help you overcome this regret. Likewise, keep in mind that it's only one meal.

A more significant illustration is choosing to accept a job offer. Despite the fact that you may have given the position a lot of thought, it could not be the ideal match for you. That does not mean that you chose poorly. Again, given the facts you had at the time, you may well have chosen correctly.

But what you didn’t have is a crystal ball. No matter how large or small the decision, you can never know if the results will be what you want.

Do you have any current decisions that you're having trouble making? Which of the above stages are you interested in trying?

Perhaps you've made an attempt on your own but are still having trouble. If that's the case, don't be hesitant to seek support from a family member, friend, professional, or person in your network. Who might be able to help you?

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