Choices — ADD Tip o the Day 318

We have a lot of choices; this can be a good thing or a bad thing, especially if we have ADD or ADHD.  It is good to recognize that we don’t have to stay in a rut. This is the principle of Your Life Can Be Better; if you can recognize that something is a problem for you, then you can change it – you have a choice.

But – we wake up each am with a certain amount of willpower, and every time we use it, we have less.    And, strangely, every time we make a decision, it also uses up some willpower.  And if we have ADD or ADHD, we need more willpower, not less.

So, have structure, minimize the number of decisions you need to make, and use strategies. When they become habits, that reduces the need for decisions and  for willpower.

doug   add,adhd,adult add, adult adhd, deficit,attention

thank you deborah for this:

In an article for October’s Vanity Fair, author Michael Lewis explored some of these behind-the-scenes details of President Obama’s daily life. To prepare for the article, Lewis spent six months in close company of the president — playing in his high-energy basketball games, sitting up front in Air Force One, and chatting with him whenever the president had a free moment.

There was one particular question that Lewis asked repeatedly of President Obama. Lewis presented the president with the following scenario: “Assume that in thirty minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me how to be president.”

The president first touted the necessity of daily exercise — a habit that I endorse wholeheartedly. But what he said next was even more interesting: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

I share President Obama’s practice of “routinizing the routine.” I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast each morning: a bowl of cold cereal and a banana. For lunch, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a diet soda. Each morning, I dress in one of a small number of suits, each of which goes with particular shirts and ties.

Why do President Obama and I subject ourselves to such boring routines? Because both of us (especially President Obama!) make many decisions each day — decisions that are far more important to us than what we wear or what we eat for breakfast.

Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. In the late 1990s, Roy Baumeister (a professor at Florida State University) and colleagues performed several experiments showing that certain types of conscious mental actions appeared to draw from the same “energy source” — gradually diminishing our ability to make smart decisions throughout the day.

In one of Baumeister’s experiments, subjects were forced to eat a pair of radishes instead of the freshly baked, aromatic chocolate chip cookies sitting on the same table. In another, subjects were instructed to suppress their emotional reactions to a comedic or tragic film. In both cases, those subjects were quicker (relative to control groups) to give up on a problem-solving task that followed, suggesting that their previous acts of self-control and self-regulation — eating the radishes or maintaining a stoic appearance — had depleted their mental resources.

Over the past fifteen years, many researchers have replicated these experiments with slight variations, trying to discover which types of mental actions most quickly deplete our mental resources, and what some consequences of this depleted state might be. Chapter four in Dan Ariely’s new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty summarizes some fascinating experiments that show that a tired brain makes us more likely to eat junk food, lie, or otherwise exhibit poor self-control.

Of particular interest to me (and, apparently, President Obama) are a series of experiments run by Kathleen Vohs (an associate business professor at the University of Minnesota) and colleagues, including Professor Baumeister.

Vohs’s experiments tested whether everyday choices — which candy bar to eat or what clothes to buy, for instance — wear down our mental energy. The results? Vohs and colleagues consistently found that making repeated choices depleted the mental energy of their subjects, even if those choices were mundane and relatively pleasant.

So, if you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day, you should identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane — and then “routinize” those aspects as much as possible. In short, make fewer decisions.

To me, this means wearing dull clothing and eating the same breakfast and lunch nearly every weekday. My specific approach might not work for you — and that’s fine! Maybe your job requires you to dress for success (say, if you work in the media) or vary your daily nutrition (say, if you’re a pro athlete).

The point is that you should decide what you don’t care about and that you should learn how to run those parts of your life “on autopilot.” Instead of wasting your mental energy on things that you consider unimportant, save it for those decisions, activities, and people that matter most to you.

About doug with ADHD

I am a psychiatric physician. I learned I have ADHD at age 64, and then wrote two ADHD books for adults, focusing on strategies for making your life better. I just published my first novel, Alma Means Soul. Your Life Can Be Better; strategies for adults with ADD/ADHD available at, or (for e books) Living Daily With Adult ADD or ADHD: 365 Tips O the Day ( e-book). This is one tip at a time, one page at a time, at your own pace. It's meant to last a year. As a child, I was a bully. Then there was a transformation. Now I am committed to helping people instead abusing them. The Bully was published in January, 2016. It's in print or e book, on Amazon.
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8 Responses to Choices — ADD Tip o the Day 318

  1. Pingback: ADD ADHD and Decisions — ADD Tip O the Day 638 | ADDadultstrategies

  2. Scott Marckx says:

    This is a great post! It reminds me of “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. He talks about some of these studies, but also about a system used at Starbucks where employees were asked to write out very specific responses to situations that may come up at work, like an angry customer. They then practiced these responses to the point where even if they were tired or otherwise distracted, they would automatically go into the “correct” response. We could all benefit from this sort of thing because it could save our willpower for the truly unexpected events.
    Thanks for a great blog!


    • this is a good strategy, to practice how to react to something that might come up. this really works better than just dealing with things from impulse or instinct, and it helps reduce anxiety.
      thanks for this suggestion


  3. This was a fascinating post! I shall go away and consider how I routine my life and why and what I consider to be the important decisions I make and which I should put on ‘autopilot’ as you say!


  4. Pingback: Choices part 2 — ADD Tip o the day 319 | ADDadultstrategies

  5. 333 sounds great – simplify life! thank you for commenting


  6. Pam Moser says:

    Absolutely fascinating! I am going to try to identify the parts of my life where I can implement some type of routine, eliminating the need for making more decision. One thing I was planning to try was Project 333. This is an internet movement in which you attempt to limit your wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months. At the end of 3 months you can swap items out if you need because of a change in the season. I expect we gals typically put more energy in deciding what to wear than you gentlemen do. This project seems to fit right in with your topic today.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work! Pam


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