Does Rationalization Get in Your Way?

I ask all new coaching clients how they would like me to partner with them. A client recently mentioned to me that he wanted me to be very direct with coaching questions and very clear with accountability because he can easily “BS” himself with “excuses, rationalization and digression.”

Excuses, rationalization and digression are common coping strategies for managing the frustration of living with ADHD symptoms. But, they are maladaptive, often creating more problems than they solve.

This is the second in a series of three blog posts addressing these coping strategies. The first addressed the use of excuses. This post will address rationalization.

What is rationalization?

In the Clinician’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Goldstein and colleagues describe rationalization as follows: “offering excuses for perceived difficulties and failure rather than accepting responsibility.” Goldstein and colleagues also provide several examples of “rationalizing” to one’s self or others (p. 137):

  • A young woman quit college claiming the courses were too “boring.”
  • A man refused to go to a job interview, claiming, without having gathered adequate information, that the job would not be adequately challenging. 
  • A man blamed his boss for his poor work performance saying, inaccurately, that the boss gave him more detail work than he gave other employees. 

I have worked with several students who say they want to complete college but, at the same time,  have complained that it’s not possible because the structure of college doesn’t fit their learning styles. I’ll be the first to admit that many colleges don’t capitalize on hands-on-learning, a learning style preferred by many individuals with ADHD.  And I hope that, over time, that will change. But, not completing college for that reason? That’s rationalization.  Not everyone needs a college degree to be happy and well-employed. But, if you really do want to get a college degree, there are many options for how to go about it, at least one of which you can make work with creativity, determination, and, as needed, support (see notes below**). 

Why use rationalization?

Rationalization may help an individual avoid situations or explanations that contribute to a feeling of overwhelm, anxiety or vulnerability. At the same time, its immediate self-protective purposes can, in the long run, be self-defeating, impeding personal growth, confidence, competence and happiness.

What can I do about it? 

If you recognize rationalization as part of your behavioral repertoire, ask yourself:

  • What am I gaining from using rationalization as a coping strategy? 
  • What is it costing me (self-confidence, engagement, life opportunities, regrets)? 
  • How ready am I to start looking at my situation(s) more honestly – both my strengths and my challenges? 
  • How willing am I to develop healthier and more productive ways of coping with my ADHD and related symptoms (overwhelm, motivation, initiation, anxiety)?

If you want to start over, building on your strengths to manage your challenges, consider coaching! An ADHD coach will work in partnership with you, step by step, to put new habits and responses in place of the old so you can create the life you want to be living, the life in which your unique gifts can shine!

 (For an inspiring story of determination and resilience,  take a look at ADHD Coach Joyce Kubick’s book: Unraveling ADHD: How I Turned my Greatest Deficit into my Greatest Asset.)

College options to consider:  pick a college best suited to your learning style, find out how to get college credit for real-life experiences, look for a college with an “alternative” structure, pick a college with lots of disability support, work for a while and do college later, take courses one or two at a time so it feels more manageable, and/or to learn the skills needed to get by in your college of choice. If you put on your thinking cap, you may even come up with other ideas!

Photo credits: imagerymagestic,

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