Decision Making: Why You Suck at It

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Quick: Give Me a Yes or No

Do you suck at decision making?

Wow. That was one decision that was easy to make, right? I’m guessing there was a great big “yes” there.Decision making, list, brain, symptoms, low self esteem, distractible, inattentive, no filters, depression, anxiety, no confidence

I know for sure that trying to decide between one thing and another is torture for me. It takes me forever, weighing the pros and cons of each.

(I used to complain about how long it took my brother-in-law to do anything: find the perfect Christmas tree, decide where to go, figure out what he wanted to eat. No more.)

And (as the guy who was trying to hit on me on Facebook told me) because I am “older than everyone”, I’m giving you the link to a song that was running through my head as I was writing this. I think you’ll like it.

Here’s a fun fact: an inability to make a decision is part of your ADHD. Insert that red angry faced emoji here.

How Does ADHD Factor In?

ADHD is a truly generous and giving condition.

It gives you poor short term memory and gifts you with the ability to notice many things at once; also known as distractibility.

Difficulty paying attention, anxiety and depression, poor self esteem, and poor filtering mechanisms can also be part of the package.

Just one of these can have an adverse effect on your decision making abilities, but when you have more than one, as most of us do, well, it’s no wonder you suck at this.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these symptoms and see how they impact the way you think, especially when you have a choice to make.

Poor Short Term Memory

People with ADHD have poor short term, or working, memory.

You’ve probably experienced this a thousand times – walking into a room and wondering what you came in there for, or getting to the bottom of the page in a book and not remembering what you just read.

If you have to make a decision between two things, sometimes poor working memory interferes with that.

A simple decision – chocolate or vanilla, for instance – doesn’t really require working memory. You can easily recall which one you like best, and make a quick decision.

But when the choice becomes more complicated, working memory comes into play, and you find that it’s harder to recall everything that you need to in order to decide.

For instance, did you ever watch one of those house hunting shows on TV?

A lot of the shows (or the hosts) will give each house a name, based on some characteristic of it. Chip and Joanna Gaines, from the show, Fixer Upper, were especially creative when it came to this.

There’s a reason for that.

It helps you remember which house is which, and makes it easier to compare the features of each.


When your mind is so busy noticing everything at once, it can be hard to zero in on one thing long enough to come up with a clear answer:

  • Yes or no?
  • Do you like it? Or not?
  • Which one?
  • Red or blue?

And while you’re trying to go through your options, there’s all sorts of other stuff going on:

  • There’s music playing somewhere. What is the name of that song??
  • Someone is talking; kids are playing.
  • There’s a dog barking somewhere.
  • My leg itches.
  • I’ve got a headache.
  • Wonder what I should make for dinner….

Making a decision is practically impossible under these circumstances.

Lack of Attention

How are you supposed to make a decision if you’re not paying attention?

You can’t.

And I’m not reprimanding you here; I know. It’s part of who we are.

Not paying attention and being easily distracted often go hand in hand, although I suppose if you were simply daydreaming, that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as being distracted. Or would it?

Doesn’t matter.

Sometimes we’re not paying attention when we should be, and we don’t always want to admit it. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we know our partner is going to say something because they always complain about it, or maybe we don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings.

But you can’t reasonably decide about something if you weren’t listening.

So maybe you wait, and you delay your decision, hoping for more information.

Or you make a decision, not having all the facts, and may regret it later.

Which leads us to the next two on our list: anxiety and depression.

Anxiety, Depression. I Don’t Know.

Of course, both anxiety and depression often come with ADHD. When you take a full look at ADHD and the impact it can have on your life, it’s easy to understand.

Just as easy is how having anxiety can prevent you from making a decision about something.

We worry, a lot. About messing up, being wrong, making a mistake.

And sometimes that leads us to freeze. We procrastinate. Another symptom I forgot about that can also be behind our sucking at deciding.

If you wait long enough, someone else will decide. Or it won’t matter anymore.

You know what they say: not making a decision is making a decision.

And what about depression? How does that play into this?

We can start with the fact that when you’re depressed, you simply might not care one way or another.

And when you’re in a depressive state, it seems that all of your other ADHD symptoms seem to get stronger. It’s enough just trying to get through the day; who cares about anything else?

Low Self Esteem

Spend most of your life missing social cues, feeling like an outsider, struggling with depression and anxiety, and generally getting things wrong most of the time. Your self esteem is going to take a beating.

Why make a decision when it’s likely to be the wrong one anyway?

We turn into poor Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

I don’t care.

Doesn’t matter.

Whatever you want. You choose.

And you can’t blame us. Vegas wouldn’t even put odds on that one.

Low self esteem, along with depression, means you’re not only going to avoid decision making, you’re probably going to go hide somewhere to avoid people altogether.

Poor Filtering Mechanisms

You may see poor filtering mechanisms as part of being easily distracted, and that certainly can be the case, but it goes deeper than that.

A poor filtering mechanism means that you find it hard to separate things out into their proper groups.

For instance, let’s say you are comparing two similar items. While they have some features in common, they each have a set of features unique to them.

Let’s say you are looking at two different pairs of pants in a store.

Both are the same color and price, and fit you equally well.

But one is a little more versatile in it’s design, meaning you can wear it to more places. The construction is slightly better, but it needs to be dry cleaned.

The second pair is slightly more casual, but still appropriate for work. The fabric is softer, and it’s machine washable, but it will need to be hemmed, which the store does for free.

As you debate between the two pairs, your filtering mechanism will cause you to get confused over which pair had which advantages. You will need to check the labels again and again, or maybe ask someone you’re shopping with to help you keep them straight.

So How Do You Deal With This?

The good news is that, like a lot of ADHD symptoms, there are ways to work around them.

For things like poor short term memory and filtering problems, it may help to keep a list. Identify each of your choices in a way that makes sense to you, then do some pros and cons, or list the features that are important to you.

You can carry a small pad of paper and a pen with you, or do it on your phone.

You could even use your phone to take a picture to help you remember the details of each. And there are lots of apps out there that will let you write on the picture itself. Here is a list of 20.

Anxiety, depression, and low self esteem require a lot more work, because you have to learn to trust yourself and stop thinking in such negative terms.

Try taking a measure of the kind of decision you’re making: is this really important, or just one more every day thing? Will you even care or remember in a week or two? Maybe this is the time to go with your gut, or your heart.

Of course, lack of attention and being easily distracted are standard issue ADHD symptoms, so learning to manage these will provide long term benefits.

First, try and filter out as much as you can. Eliminate as much noise as possible.

Then, close your eyes if you have to, or go to another room.

Do you have to make this decision right away? If not, you can always say that you need time to think it over. If this is the case, be sure to give the person a date and time, and stick to it for yourself as well.

You Can Learn to Do Better

Remember, most of these skills are just that: skills. Things that can be learned and improved upon with practice.

Instead of shying away, try putting yourself in the position of making more decisions every day. They don’t have to be big ones; even small ones count.

Get your family and friends involved, as long as they can do it in a loving way.

Pretty soon, making a decision will be no big deal, unless it really is a big deal. But you’ll know what to do.

And if you mess up, make a mistake or a poor decision, well, that makes you human, and puts you in some pretty good company. Just Google it. You’ll see.

Be sure to Pin this if you want to remember it!

Decision making, ADHD, brain, symptoms, anxiety, depression, working memory, low self esteem, poor filtering, distractible, inattentive



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Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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