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Why My ADHD Brain (and Yours) Loves to “Complexify” Things

In my quest for a “Linda solution,” I peek under every rock for information, and I get sidetracked by issues that have nothing to do with my original challenge.

Reviewed on March 26, 2019

When my son got married, I wanted to find the perfect mother-of-the-groom dress. I shopped online for days, zooming in for close-ups of styles, colors, and fabrics. I settled on a department store assortment. I ordered five different dresses, in two different sizes, and three colors: 13 dresses in all. After they arrived, I tried them on, agonizing over the appropriateness of each one. Finally, I sent 11 of them back and headed down the Internet rabbit hole once again to find the perfect shoes. At the end, I was exhausted but satisfied.

You might interpret this as a cautionary tale about decision-making, but I think it’s more about my willingness — my eagerness, actually — to “complexify” my life. The truth is, I could have ordered one dress and one pair of shoes, but I like solving complex challenges, to the point that I make simple problems more difficult than necessary.

ADHD brains like mine need an endless supply of fascination to keep them entertained and on task. Despite the exhaustion factor, it is deeply fulfilling for me to pull apart the threads of a knotty issue to uncover a unique and brilliant insight or solution. I can persevere with the untangling for a long time — sometimes, too long.

In my quest for a “Linda solution,” I peek under every rock for information, and I get sidetracked by issues that have nothing to do with my original challenge (“Ooh, new worlds to explore!”). Or I can keep probing for a perfect answer long after a perfectly adequate answer would suffice.

So how do I balance the need to get things done with my need to make things interesting and complicated? It isn’t easy.

[Focus Your ADHD Brain With 5 Helpful Hacks]

My ADHD brain prefers interesting over boring. Everyone’s brain does, which is why people sometimes doubt that my need for novelty is because of ADHD. They say in a huffy tone, “Well, I’d like the world to be interesting all the time, too!” They have no idea that interesting isn’t a choice for us. It’s a necessity for our full engagement. Adding some odd angles and flashing lights to ordinary tasks or problems is an ADHD strategy that keeps my mind attentive.

Yet, when I stubbornly refuse to simplify even when I need to hurry, it’s a sign I have slipped into indulgent “complexifying.” I am unwilling to even consider taking a short-cut to the end result. My curiosity is in overdrive, and I don’t want to rein it in.

That’s when I take a deep breath and attempt to step back from whatever I am obsessing over. I try to evaluate whether my insistence on complexity is warranted. If not, I practice a form of mindfulness popularized in the movie Frozen and I “let it go.”

Or, I take a five-minute “worry break.” Forcing myself to obsess about my current project or task can drive pressing issues to the forefront. It’s a primitive means of prioritizing.

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If my complexifying is rooted in perfectionism, I remind myself that if three hours of work gets me 90 percent of the way to my goal, an additional three hours will move me to 95 percent. Six more hours will take me to 96 percent. It’s the law of diminishing returns, and it’s not worth my brainpower.

Henry David Thoreau was right when he wrote, “Our lives are frittered away by detail.” But I don’t agree that the solution is to “simplify, simplify,” as he encouraged everyone to do. There is a place for ADHD simplicity — mindfulness, relaxation, and so on. But, when we are on the hunt for answers, I agree with Albert Einstein, who said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions.”

[Free Expert Resource: Unraveling the Mysteries of Your ADHD Brain]

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