ADHD and uncertainty: How can coaching help?

I like to describe coaching as helping people with making better decisions in uncertainty. You see, the brain is terribly poor at projecting how it will feel in the future and this is particularly the case when uncertainty of any form is included. At the same time, it bases a lot of its decision-making on how it will feel until we start to look at what the subconscious is factoring into its decision-making. I find this to be typically the case in clients I work with who have anxiety and ADHD in particular.


The link between uncertainty and ADHD

Here are some ways in which clients with ADHD can respond to uncertainty:

Anxiety and overwhelm

Uncertainty can trigger anxiety and feelings of overwhelm in individuals with ADHD. They may worry about unforeseen challenges or find it confusing how to handle unexpected changes.


Some individuals with ADHD may react impulsively to uncertainty, making quick decisions without thoroughly evaluating the situation. This impulsive response can lead to risky choices or actions.


Facing uncertain or complex tasks, individuals with ADHD may delay decision-making or task initiation. This can sometimes be about the fear of making the wrong choice and can lead to procrastination.


On the other hand, some people with ADHD may experience hyperfocus, an intense level of concentration, on a specific aspect of the uncertain situation, often to the detriment of other important tasks.


Uncertainty can exacerbate disorganisation and difficulties with time management, making it challenging to plan, prioritise, and execute tasks effectively.

Handling rejection

Some individuals with ADHD may have heightened rejection sensitivity, causing them to be more reactive to perceived criticism or negative feedback in uncertain situations.

Seeking novelty

Individuals with ADHD may seek novelty and change as a way of coping with uncertainty. They may engage in new activities or take risks to combat boredom and boost dopamine levels.

Frequent shifts in attention

In uncertain situations, individuals with ADHD may have difficulty maintaining focus, leading to frequent shifts in attention and making it hard to stay on track.

Regulating emotions

Uncertainty can challenge emotional regulation. Individuals with ADHD may experience frustration, irritability, or mood swings in response to ambiguous or unpredictable circumstances.

Challenging to make decisions

Decision-making can become more difficult for those with ADHD when faced with uncertainty. They may struggle to weigh pros and cons, leading to either avoidance or impulsive choices.

Difficulty estimating time

Uncertainty can further complicate time estimation, making it challenging for individuals with ADHD to plan and allocate their time effectively.

Sensitivity to feedback

Individuals with ADHD may be more sensitive to perceived rejection or criticism in uncertain situations, which can affect their self-esteem and self-confidence.

It's important to make it really clear that everyone has challenges and struggles with the above. They're things that coaching helps everyone with and things that we all need to work on. I mention them here because I know they can have a really big effect for those with ADHD who have lots of passion and drive and want to make the most of that. 

There are lots of studies which provide some insight into what’s going on with the brain during these processes. ADHD is associated with an altered dopamine response to uncertainty, which plays a crucial role in reward and motivation. This can influence a person’s awareness of unpredictability and the need for more immediate and certain rewards to stay motivated.

Individuals with ADHD tend to have heightened sensitivity to immediate rewards but struggle with delaying gratification. Uncertainty, which often involves waiting for outcomes, may be less appealing to individuals with ADHD, leading them to prefer more immediate and certain outcomes.

Research suggests that individuals with ADHD may exhibit higher stress reactivity, which can lead to increased anxiety in uncertain situations. The brain's stress response systems, such as the amygdala, may be more sensitive in individuals with ADHD, intensifying their responses to ambiguity.

How can coaching help?

Coaches that are aware of this neurobiology and some of the possible experiences someone with ADHD has can help a person gain more insight into themselves. We explore how their brain is experiencing and processing emotions and we look at some of the things it uses to inform decision-making.

We then work with what we’ve got and input practical routines, processes and tools to help while the brain learns different ways to make decisions. I find this combination can be particularly powerful for people who have ADHD and want to manage uncertainty better and make more valuable and rewarding decisions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW1V & NW1
Written by Rebecca Cockayne, BA. (Oxon), MSc, GDL | Delphi Coaching
London SW1V & NW1

Bex is a coach who loves journeys. She's done a lot and has been on many internal and external ones. She loves to help people long their path too.

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