Choices and Decisions

Navigating the Forks in the Road
Carefully Anticipated
– or –

Suddenly Forced Upon Us

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Describing Decision Anxiety

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost*

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

*Published in 1916,
the first poem in the Mountain Interval collection.

Decision Anxiety?

Speaker_-_ScaredAlong with other sources exploring this poem, Wikipedia informs us that renowned poet Robert Frost (3/26/1874 – 1/29/1963) wrote The Road Not Taken as a gentle mockery of the agonizing that frequently accompanies indecision (in particular, the process of indecision that his good friend, writer Edward Thomas, displayed on their many walks together).

Although we are told that Frost later expressed his irritation that most readers took the poem more seriously than he had intended, we continue to do so because it so perfectly illustrates our experience of decision anxiety.

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Change, Growth and Decision Dilemmas

There is no doubt that the process of growth would certainly be easier if it were as predetermined and automatic as the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly.

However, I can’t help but wonder if, were we humans relieved of the task of having to decide what comes next, we would be more comfortable with life’s changes or more frustrated by them.

As difficult as most of us find the process, it seems we are practically “hard-wired” with some kind of drive to exercise our free will.

  • Since early childhood, few of us have been especially happy when someone else tells us what we must do.
  • More than a few of us absolutely refuse to acquiesce. (Why else do you think we describe that particularly early transitional stage characterized by the single word NO! as “The Terrible Twos?”)

So how come so many of us AGONIZE when it comes time to decide?

Making Decisions in our Lives

Chocolate or vanilla? Monday or Tuesday?
This drawer or that one?  Move or stay put?
Have a baby or remain a dual-income-no-kids [DINKs] couple?

We each must make a great many decisions every single day.  A few of them we think about carefully, and some we make quickly and unconsciously – sometimes even really big and important decisions. Since our mental processes are subconsciously influenced by our emotions and memories, more frequently than not we remain oblivious to what drives those decisions.

Then there are the many times we’re thrown into the agony of indecision – even between choices that are actually too small to, ultimately, make much of a difference in our lives.

The Wikipedia article on decision-making tells us that, “In psychology, decision-making is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities.

Every decision-making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action.”

Before we can even think about getting into action, the first step is always the need to decide what might be the best thing for us to do first, and then attempt to figure out what we will be the best thing to do after that.

Superlatives generally give everybody pause, but
they can be complete stoppers for those in the EFD community.

The Difficulty of Choosing our own Pathways

I happen to believe that it is well within our power to make conscious choices and decisions that will lead to our greater well-being.

It may not be as simple as the productivity gurus make it out to be, but I believe it can be done — with a bit of understanding of – and attention to – the process.

Let’s begin by reviewing (and expanding upon) some concepts I explored with you in more detail at the conclusion of an earlier blog post, Sherlocking Task Anxiety, a two-part article in my TaskMaster™ Series:


It is essential to understand a fundamental, psychological truth about all human beings, ADD/EFD or not: we are conflicted about growth and change. At bottom, most of us crave safety as strongly as we crave freedom and adventure, although not in equal measure at all times and about all things.

The fact remains that there is a conflicted relationship between making choices and preserving freedom. Whenever we choose one thing over another, a great many alternative courses become closed to us, possibly forever. The sad reality is that ALL decisions close more doors than they open.

And THAT leads to feelings of anxietytask anxiety, of course, but primarily decision anxiety.

We must learn to make peace with our conflicts, at least to the extent that we are able to change and grow (or accomplish much of anything) — if we are to continue to evolve into the human beings we were uniquely created to become.

We understand the import, so what’s the problem?

Duh!  “Importance” speaks to motivation – we need help with decision-making and ACTIVATION. That begins with understanding our stoppers, on the road to normalizing our behaviors (so that we can remove the self-flagellation that is a major impediment to action).

Normalizing our Reticence

On a level just below conscious awareness, we all buy into the mythology that there is a “right” way to do life that will, if we do it right, lay all of life’s goodies at our feet in a nice, neat row. And if we do it REALLY right, getting the goodies will require no input or assistance from anybody else.

Feeling like we might “blow it” is highly stressful for anyone, and especially so for those of us who seem to step into holes more often than our contemporaries. Attempting to soldier on alone in an attempt to avoid exposure to the humiliation of not knowing how to do what “everybody else” seems to know already, we agonize.


Yet Another Stopper

Rational decision making is a multi-step process.  It begins with problem identification and moves through solution selection, sifting through options on the way to making logically sound decisions.

OH NO!  Tiered tasks are the worst – they overwhelm us, decimating our resolve to get into action.

SO, rather than move directly into an action that might make a difference, we “procrastinate,” turning our attention to low-ROI activities [return on investment], spending our energies on things that really won’t, ultimately, make much of a difference.

Action by itself, however, is not the goal – it leaves us running around in circles – motions that don’t get us anywhere. Ticking off an easy task or two on our to-do lists can be useful to create momentum. Ticking off a bunch of of those tasks is a waste of time – despite what the “do anything that will take two minutes or less, without delay” advice might tell you.

Have they ever MET anyone in the EFD crowd?

We can spend entire days rapidly ticking off one relatively unimportant two-minute to-do after the other. Even Peter Drucker, touted management guru, admits that “there is nothing quite so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Ways we make deciding more difficult

We don’t mean to make things harder – we rarely think we do.  Yet many of us have any number of unproductive habits that slow us down – and sometimes stop us completely.  Let’s take a look at a few of the most common.


About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

9 Responses to Choices and Decisions

  1. Pingback: Change, Growth and Decision Dilemmas | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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  4. janetkwest says:

    You may exit my brain now! This subject reminds me of what I wrote regarding contentment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bethbyrnes says:

    I have a few things to say about this that are only what pop into my head while reading all this. And, I know you are tailoring this discussion to those people who believe they occupy a certain place on the continuua for certain behavioral challenges.

    Having said that, I do believe that parents should encourage children to make age-appropriate decisions that are slightly outside of their comfort zones. Unfortunately, very very few parents know anything about child rearing, thinking they can just do it on instinct. It is little wonder so many children develop problems early in life. To be a good parent, you must learn to be from settled science. It does exist, is easily available, and to my mind, it is irresponsible to have children without preparing oneselves first.

    The reason we don’t like others to tell us what to do is because we innately sense that doing so weakens our reasoning and analytical ability. The less we think and exercise the muscle between our ears, the more it atrophies. We have a lot of our congenital cognitive abilities taken away from us by overbearing adults who cannot understand the world from a child’s point of view. This is especially true for females. One of the ways I can tell that this has happened is when I hear a grown woman (21 years of age and over) sounding like a little girl, i.e., speaking in a high pitched, pinched, nasal voice. A healthy woman has a throaty voice.

    Analysis and reasoning must be taught. They should be taught first by primary caregivers and then in school. But, sadly, people get none of it until they get to graduate school, at which point a lot of poor decisions might have already been made.

    It is never too late, however and having a coach or advisor or therapist can help with this.

    Those are my two centavos having read this and reacted immediately, lol. Forgive me if I tread on any toes. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are absolutely right!, Beth These skills CAN be taught, and NEED to be taught to *most* of us, neurotypical or neurodiverse (and, at least, validated and affirmed for most of those who are more naturally inclined).

      The earlier the skills are taught (or underscored repeatedly), the more effective the life of the child as s/he grows into an adult – and the happier the adult. I, too, wish parenting classes could be required for BOTH parents — even well intended parents who do the very best they know make choices I bet they second-guess once their children grow up.

      It IS more difficult to teach developmental skills to a child who is “wired differently” (remembering that their brain maturity is likely to be approximately 2 years behind same age peers). In order for the lessons to land, experts have shown that those kids *need* frequent and immediate positive feedback, underlying the lesson, even if the results are slightly skewed – only ONE of the reasons why I preach that tough love doesn’t work. Tough love teaches, primarily, fear of failure (which can make things harder) — what is needed is lessons in tools for success.

      It’s also the reason why, ADD/EFD or not, learning professionals say to praise the effort not the IQ (or the result). NOT, “You got an A – you’re so smart.” but “You got an A because you worked hard for it, even though you really wanted to be hanging out with your friends. You did your best – that would be true even if you ended up with a B. I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work!”

      As I’m sure YOU are aware, even the latest thinking in dog training is praise – not punishment – based, for heaven sakes. Because that’s what works!

      Waiting until remediation is needed to teach skills (to dogs OR humans) makes everything more difficult – *especially* if there has been repeated shame & blame around failure. Neural pathways have been built that have to be worked with and worked around before new habits take hold that are positive and effective.

      In one of my linked articles I attempted to briefly explain to my adult readers that it’s never a good idea to “throw out the structure baby with our parent’s bathwater” – which many of us do unconsciously – which alludes to the above point (and yours!). Thanks for giving me a chance to underscore.

      RE: “stepping on toes” – as long as you don’t make any one person (or group) wrong, all opinions are welcome here. Thanks for taking the time to share yours.


      PS. THIS article was written in an attempt to underscore “why we don’t” — future articles will offer some help with “how we CAN” — or at least with some suggestions of what to try that might be expected to work.


      • bethbyrnes says:

        Madelyn, you are so right on all this.

        Did I talk to you about Dr. Becky Bailey and conscious discipline? She has a series of books, based on research, that show us how to work with children so they never have to be punished in any way and yet grow to be cooperative, fully adept, magnificent human beings. I love her books, like, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline and I Love You Rituals.

        Bailey is right in sync with your ideas and work!

        Liked by 1 person

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