I believe I may have a partial answer to the reason why Aspies and/or people with ADD/HD, BPD, Bi-polar disorder, OCD and general anxiety may have issues with executive functioning, which often plays out in difficulties in decision making and getting things done, however small. Beyond the fact that our brains are simply wired differently, the partial answers that I have come up with are self confidence and high intelligence, which in one way manifests itself as the ability to see multiple possibilities and the good and bad in everything. I also have some tips for how we can improve.
As mentioned before, highly intelligent people see possibilities in everything and can picture something going a variety of different ways, and therefore often have trouble choosing and sticking with something all the way through. Highly intelligent people are often creative and vice versa. We have difficulty understanding how to begin the simplest of tasks because our minds sees many ways of approaching it. We basically complicate things because of our intelligence. While simple things are easy and vice versa, they aren’t necessarily intellectual or creative. If we have OCD, there is usually the added struggle of obsessing about what we do, and the persistent doubting of whether what we are doing is right or not.
This often leads to procrastination and failure to commence anything. I know because I am struggling with it right this minute while typing this blog. Some of the things going through my mind are: did that last sentence make sense? Was that actually what I wanted to say? Does this paragraph even belong here? My mind goes off in a zillion directions. I don’t even know where to start with many of my blog posts!
While it may seem overwhelming, the first part to solving the feelings of being overwhelmed by choice and possibility is to understand that you aren’t happy where you are. While you may be used to being a certain way and automatically revert to it, it is not getting you anywhere; you have to approach things differently and you will feel ten times better than you do. I know it is easier said than done, but I assure you it is much easier to stick with one direction, one thought, one method. While you will find there are things you may not like about it or things you feel don’t work, there will be things that you will like about it and that you can incorporate into another method if you so choose. And if one method simply doesn’t work at all, you can 100% rule it out and forget about it as a possibility, and that way it won’t be floating around in your mind distracting you.
For example, lets say that every time you sit down to type, you always get overwhelmed with how to type. Should I type fast or slow? Should I press the space bar with my left thumb, right thumb, or both at the same time? Should I look down at the keyboard as I type so I don’t make errors or forgo this and concentrate on the screen. As I definitely do this (even right now) it is something I specifically need to work on. My advice is, as mentioned before: you just simply have to choose one way and stay with it. This may be rather hard at first, but I assure you that the consistency and stability of making one definitive choice and not veering off into another one is the key to solving this issue. It will then become simple trial and error- finding which method or approach works and which one doesn’t, and even using various aspects of different methods together.
Beyond intelligence, this can also be an issue of self confidence- we may just plain not believe that we have the ability to do something all the way through, due to comorbid depression, past negative experiences and trauma that many of us with mental & neurological illnesses have. From what I have read and experimented with, the best way to solve this is to break things down into small steps. When you view things as a series of steps, one at at a time, as individual pieces of a puzzle rather than the entirety of what you are trying to accomplish all at once, it makes things much more easy and even enjoyable. You won’t get stressed out or overwhelmed as easily, as you are focusing on accomplishing small tasks. Also, this will force you to be more organized and may even help reveal a better plan that you had previously imagined! Instead of repeating in your head over and over again that you can’t do something, simply see what you are doing as a process, even if that process is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
Often times we get too focused on thinking about something rather than doing something. Our minds make things much more complicated when we focus on only thinking about something rather than doing it. Its as if we don’t trust ourselves when we have low confidence, and as a matter of fact we often don’t. For people with high self confidence and for those who trust themselves, they look at things which require steps as simple as involuntary functions like breathing and swallowing; they don’t examine or question things in depth. While this in turn may make their lives easier, they may not be as creative or intelligent as someone who examines everything. While someone with low self confidence is not necessarily intelligent or creative, and someone with high self confidence can be intelligent and creative, the point is is that there are a number of reasons why we have poor executive functioning.
Another thing about self-confidence- while it may seem hard to cure, low self confidence is often learned. None of us start off life with low self confidence. As mentioned before, previous negative experiences, trauma and mental health may cause our self confidence to dip. One way of healing ourselves is to remember times when we were self confident and how we acted when we were and our thought processes. We can also look at things that we are good at and do accomplish daily, even things we don’t think about that seem insignificant, like getting dressed. When we remember and focus on things that we have done and can do it gives us confidence to gradually approach things again that we may have stopped doing or view as “too hard”.
Sometimes we may not know what our underlying issues of executive functioning are, so this does call for examination. Why are we anxious or unsure about doing something? I found that I was anxious about doing certain things because A) I didn’t think my efforts would be good enough (an issue self confidence) and B) I didn’t know where to start (overwhelmed with possibility/too much creativity). Examining why we procrastinate and put things off in the first place is the first step into finding a way to solve them.
I recommend reading additional books on increasing self confidence and improving executive functioning, beyond what I have suggested here. And don’t beat yourself up if you are still struggling- I am too! Try to see life itself as a process that requires small steps and self confidence everyday to accomplish goals.