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The Trouble With Decisions

What’s worse than a bad decision made quickly? A bad decision made slowly, of course. If you’re going to make a bad decision, you might as well get it over with!

Getting our decisions over with is something people with ADHD do well, at least some of the time. A little too well, in fact.

These are the decisions that aren’t just fast decisions, but instant decisions. Impulsivity plays a role here: something seems like a good idea, so you do it. Even calling these “decisions” seems like it might be a reach because there’s really not much deliberate deciding going on.

Decisions, decisions.

But people with ADHD don’t always make instant decisions. We can also be frustratingly indecisive. We see the upsides (or downsides) or multiple paths, and we just can’t commit to one. Or we procrastinate on decisions like so many other unpleasant tasks.

How can someone with ADHD be recklessly decisive in one moment and frustratingly unable to arrive at a decision the next? It seems like we should just be able to combine these extremes to find moderation.

Really, though, impulsivity and indecision aren’t polar opposites. If anything, indecision can be thought of as a type of impulsivity.

Look at it this way: people with ADHD tend to make decisions based on our gut. We pick whatever option immediately jumps out to us as more rewarding (we’re all about those rewards, after all).

But what if neither option immediately jumps out at you, or both do? Suddenly, your go-to decision making method, going with your gut, is useless. We’re so reliant on making snap decisions that when a situation comes up where we can’t make a snap decision, we don’t know how to proceed. Thus begins the going back and forth, considering both perspectives multiple times, and still not knowing what to do.

What’s missing in both instant decisions and glacially slow decisions is a deliberate, forward-moving weighing of the pros and cons of different options.

In instant decisions, the process is: “hey, I immediately see this one pro of option X, so I’m going to go with option X based on that.”

In slow decisions, it’s: “well, there isn’t one pro of one option that strikes me right away – I see multiple pros and cons, and I don’t really know what to do with that.”

Impulsive decision making and indecision aren’t opposites of each other. They’re two of a kind, and the opposite of both of them is methodical decision making: going through multiple pros and cons, and organizing that information to move steadily toward a judgment of which option is better.

Some ADHDers will be more inclined toward split-second decisions, others toward “analysis paralysis.” People more on the hyperactive side of ADHD will probably tend more toward the former, people with comorbid anxiety toward the latter since anxiety has a way of making you second-guess your decisions. Of course, plenty of people have both hyperactivity and anxiety, and what they’ll do in a given situation is anyone’s guess.

Most individual ADHDers will have patterns of which situations tend to bring out recklessly quick decisions and which lead to indecision. If you aren’t already aware of your own tendencies, it might be worth keeping an eye out.

Personally, I’ve got an energetic back-and-forth going on between my impulsive side and my indecisive side. But in a way, maybe they keep each other in check to some extent? If you experience the “instant decisions” or the “no decisions” aspect of ADHD, or both, I’d be curious to hear about it – please leave a comment below!

Image: Bryan Jones

The Trouble With Decisions

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). The Trouble With Decisions. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jun 2018
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