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31 Flavors

Choosing is agony…but listen to your gut, not your tastebuds.

Back in the olden days, there were only nine channels on the TV set, and only one or two of them showed cartoons, so I was able to watch for hours without falling into despair. A trip to Baskin-Robbins, on the other hand, was agony, and they only had 31 flavors to choose from!

While the rest of my family sat there enjoying their chocolate fudge, their mint chocolate chip, or their orange sherbet cones, I tried to decide if I wanted pistachio more than black walnut or piña colada more than bubble gum. I would so avoid making the wrong choice, I ended up with two flavors on a cone so opposite in flavor that they tasted awful together.

If little choices were this difficult, how on earth would I face the big ones? Where to go to college? When and whom to marry? What career path to take? And, God forbid, what if I had to navigate an unplanned pregnancy?

Everyone struggles with choice in America. At the supermarket, we find 81 varieties of crackers, 285 kinds of cookies (21 of them chocolate chip), 51 kinds of bottled water, etc., etc., and we have to make decisions on all of them.

They say there are two kinds of decision-makers: Maximizers and Satisficers. Maximizers try to make exactly the right decision, get the most out of every choice, and therefore get as much information as they need before choosing. Satisficers take what comes to them, settle for less, and are happy with what they have. Clearly, I was a maximizer as a child. Entering Baskin-Robbins, a satisficer might order the first kind of ice cream she sees when she walks in, or just choose a flavor she knows she likes every time.

There are pros and cons to each type of decision-making, but in the big picture, maximizers suffer a higher psychological toll, becoming more stressed, more anxious, and more disappointed when their expectations aren’t fulfilled. Maximizers tend to make more money, but satisficers feel more satisfied in the end.

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that people with the inattentive type of ADHD tend to be satisfiers and those with the hyperactivity molecules tend to be maximizers, but the good news is, we have a choice in how we make choices. And different decisions call for different styles.

The two types of decision-makers reflect our brain’s two decision-making processes: rational and intuitive, or conscious and unconscious. Those of us with racing brains assume we are doing the right thing to work our pros and cons lists, to shop in three places, or to compare all the different qualities of the things between which we are choosing. Curiously, this is true for small but not large decisions. When we read the labels on our shampoo bottles and comparison-shop for smaller items, we make decisions we are happier with. With bigger decisions, we need to listen to our gut. Studies show that people actually are more satisfied with their decisions when they take in all the information and then turn their minds to other things, making their final decision with a gut feeling.

People with ADHD have to be extra-careful not to become stuck in the paralysis of analysis and the shutdown of overwhelm. This is when we need to learn to trust our intuition. We make big choices best when we get all the information our rational minds can handle…and sleep on it. Literally.

I now go into an ice cream store and pick a flavor like a normal person, because someone helped me realize that it doesn’t really matter. Powerful words. The worst possible thing that could happen to me if I make the wrong choice is… I would still be eating ice cream.

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