Many depressed people lose their ability to make decisions. They spend much of their days in a fog of uncertainty and indecisiveness, not knowing what to do next, or not being able to execute what they know they have to do.

I’d always thought it was impaired thinking that caused this, the impact of depression on the mind, but James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, identifies a closer connection with our feelings. Here’s a summary of his argument:

1. A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state.

2. Desire is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

3. Even the tiniest action is tinged with the motivation to feel differently than you do in the moment.

4. Our feelings and emotions tell us whether to hold steady in our current state or to make a change. They help us decide the best course of action.

It’s here that he makes the connection with depression:

“Neurologists have discovered that when emotions and feelings are impaired, we actually lose the ability to make decisions. We have no signal of what to pursue and what to avoid.” (129)

So the loss of feeling in depression, the dullness of emotions, is one of the major factors in contributing to indecisiveness and uncertainty in depressed people. Without emotions, it’s very difficult to know what to do next. There is no desire to change their internal state because they have little or no feeling.

That information not only helps us to understand depression better, it hopefully will also increase our sympathy for those with depression. We will condemn them less for their dithering and patiently wait for counseling, and possibly meds, to eventually restore their feelings and thereby their executive ability.

In the meantime, we often have to make decisions for them, we have to be decisive in the absence of their ability to do so. This kind of interventionist leadership takes great wisdom so as not to crush a person. Their input should still be considered, and the person helped to understand the decision, and even asked to approve it. This “team” or coached decision making, can give a sense of worth and value, and so also contribute to the healing process.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones