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Decision Fatigue: What It Is and How to Reduce It

Image of sleeping girl belted in car seat,

It's been a long day and you decided to not cook. However, when faced with the decision of where to go for dinner, you have no idea what you want to eat or where you want to go.

Winter is coming to a close but has not quite arrived. It’s time to chose your clothes for the day and nothing looks appealing. You really liked all the clothes when you bought them. Why can’t you decide what to wear? It isn’t all that hard, is it?

It’s your day off, and to solve the problem of what to wear you decide to go to the mall. After hours of shopping, you’ve seen several things you would like to have but you can’t make up your mind which one to buy.

What Is Your Problem?

It could be decision fatigue. It’s different from ordinary fatigue in that you are not consciously aware of being tired. You may even feel energized. Instead, you are mentally tired.

The more choices you are given, the more choices you have to make, the harder it makes it for your brain to choose.

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs people make. It leads people to avoid making a decision until circumstances make it for them.

Famous Decision Makers

Former President Obama knows the value of limiting decisions. He believes that making decisions erodes your ability to make decisions later in the day. While in office, he told Vanity Fair, "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Mark Zuckerberg shares that belief. In 2014, when asked why he wears a gray T-shirt almost everyday, he said that he didn't want to waste time and energy on small decisions when he could be helping others.

Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue can explain why bad decisions are made. When the brain gets tired it begins to look for shortcuts. It can happen in two ways. First, you can act impulsively instead of taking the time and energy to think through the advantages and consequences. The only goal is to get the decision “over with.”

The second shortcut is to not decide, and do nothing. Instead of taking the hard step of making a decision, the brain stays in indecision and confusion. Time will force a decision which usually make bigger problems, but it feels like it reduces the stress of the moment. Decision fatigue causes you to resist any action, change or risk, even as small as deciding what to eat.

Regardless, decisions are necessary in life so how can you lower decision fatigue? We can take some lessons from Former President Obama’s playbook.

1. Simplify:

Look at the ways you complicate your life and make some changes. From the clothes you wear, to the food you eat, to the activities in your day. It is easy to make things more complicated than they need to be.

2. Have less to do:

Distractions suck the life and time out of your day. It is very easy to be busy just for the sake of filling your time. Be selective about what you chose to do in your private time, make selective decisions about the commitments you make to others. Choose activities, relationships and causes that have meaning to you.

3. Make a plan for your day:

Deciding as you go is exhausting. Take time to sit down in a relaxed manner and look over what you want and need to do. It is helpful to do this in the evening for the day to come. If that does not work, start your day making a plan. Make choices and create a loose plan on how you will proceed. At times plans will need to be changed but it is easier to make changes when you have a framework in place.

4. Once a decision is made, don’t second guess yourself:

Usually the first decision is the best decision. After you have carefully considered your options and the consequences, leave that decision and move forward.

5. Stop multitasking:

The idea of multitasking is a myth. Yes, we can do more than one thing at a time, but the amount of time, energy, and focus wasted by constantly changing focus can drain you and accelerate the onset of decision fatigue. We will address this at length in an upcoming post.

6. It is important to get the task done than to make it perfect:

This falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from multitasking, yet both can create decision fatigue. Perfect does not exist. It truly is that simple. Perfection is a way for the Harsh Inner Critic to punish you. It is the breeding ground of procrastination.

Get enough sleep, get enough exercise, have quite time in order to recharge during the day, eat in a healthy way and have fun.

From time to time all of us will suffer from decision fatigue. It cannot be avoided but it can be reduced. If you find that you are not able to make the changes needed to reduce decision fatigue, call me I can help, (919)881-2001.

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