In a previous blog post I wrote about the symptoms of Adult ADHD, but I did not go into any specific detail about how it can affect the individual’s life. ADHD is categorised into 2 types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness and hyper activeness and impulsiveness. In my opinion, one of the most significant impacts ADHD can have on an adult is on their decision-making abilities. As you become an adult, many begin to take control of their own lives and this includes the big task of making big decisions. As a normal part of development through age, some decisions are right, and others are wrong, but there is the assumption that you try to learn from this. Now imagine living a life where your decision-making skills were heavily impaired by your Adult ADHD traits. Think about the decisions you have made today alone and imagine that you were not able to decide, or it was an incredibly stressful experience for you.
There are small decisions that we have to make daily, for example what to eat for breakfast or what to wear and there are big decisions that we have to make, for example what degree should I study, or should I apply for this job. Thinking about my point earlier, about imagining a life where indecisiveness is a real problem because of ADHD traits, can you imagine that this inability to make a decision can be paralysing for someone with ADHD and often means that no decision is made making them worse off. The fear, stress and feelings of paralysis only get worse as the decisions become bigger.
Research conducted on adults with ADHD have confirmed that an inability to make decisions is a symptom however there is no clear cause for this, some have argued it could be a result of executive functioning impairments that are typically experienced. Executive functioning is affected differently in every adult with ADHD however it usually includes difficulties in planning, organisation, self-regulation and prioritising. If you think about it, are these not some of the key abilities that we need in order to make a decision? Not only this, but adults with ADHD may be worried about making similar wrong decisions as they have in the past and therefore attempt to avoid this. Avoiding decision making often means that there is no progress and then usually requires another person to do this for you.
There are some steps that can be taken to help an adult with ADHD become more decisive.
- Firstly, if you do not have an official diagnosis and thinking that you may have ADHD because of the symptoms you experience, not just indecisiveness, it is extremely important to first get tested. You can visit your GP and request a referral, or you can have a private ADHD assessment if you believe it is more urgent and you have the funds. If it is confirmed that you have a diagnosis, treatment (medication) needs to be prescribed and taken to allow your symptoms to be better manager and this in itself may help with decision making.
- Give yourself a time limit for making decisions based on what you perceive its seriousness to be. So, when you are faced with a problem, first categorise it into whether it is a small problem with minimal consequences, medium problem with some consequences or large problem with extreme consequences. The categorisation of the extremity of the consequences is completely different for every person, for example what you eat for breakfast may be a small decision for many, but for some who have intolerances or allergies, it can be a much bigger decision. It is then important to set yourself time limits based on each category. Therefore, this means that whenever you need to make a decision, this process becomes automatic and a decision will be made if followed through correctly. You can set alarms on your phone for smaller decisions and put reminders in a calendar for bigger decisions.
- Know that it is normal to be scared to make decisions but remind yourself about all the times you made good decisions. Knowing what makes your scared about making that decision is an important part of the categorisation process. For example, if you ae scared to make a decision out of fear of what a colleague will think about it, think about whether you actually care about what this colleague thinks about you and what difference will their opinion make to your life. Overcoming fear is a big part of making a decision, not just for you but for everyone. Also, any negative thoughts that you have whilst making decisions, try to blank them out by reinforcing the idea that you are able to make decisions and you make them daily. For example, a thought such as ‘I am not good at making decisions’ should be changed into ‘I made all the decisions yesterday and it was a good day so I can do this’. This may not sound like it is beneficial, but it really can be.
- For big decisions, make a list of the pros and cons. This is not always going to lead to the right decision but if you can simple find more benefits than costs of making a particular decision, you should make it that way. Of course, this means that some time and real thought needs to go into the list otherwise it would be pointless.
- Listen to yourself and see how it plays out. If you contemplate enough and you keep coming back to one answer, why not just trust your instincts. Some choices, although they may be big, are not life long and can be reversed or changed so if your instinct is wrong, instead of never trusting it again, you should just try and change it so that there is more benefit to you. For example, you keep contemplating on whether to take a promotion at work and you finally decide to take it, but it is too stressful, and you do not enjoy it, try to get demoted. If that is not possible, take it as a blessing as you were clearly to skilled for your previous job so you should praise yourself for that and try to find something better – not ideal for many but it is a positive thing in many ways.
Making a decision, big or small, is an important part of daily life and if you are struggling with it because of your ADHD, try the tips above and see how it goes. Anything is better than nothing.