Everyday, we are faced with a multitude of decisions. From the harmless decisions like what to wear, to life-changing decisions like switching career paths, there are choices we make every step of the way. As the complexity of life and living increases, so does the amount of choices we make. There are a myriad of things competing for our attention and countless decisions to be made — several of them so inconsequential that we barely even notice we’re making choices as we go through life.
But every so often, we are overwhelmed with the number of decisions we need to make. You might get tired of all that decision-making entails — from investigating the situation and generating alternatives, to assessing the possibilities — and that tiredness can deteriorate the quality of decisions you make.
What is decision fatigue?
This phenomenon is called decision fatigue and was famously observed in a study that explained how being a relentless “decider” can wear down a person and eventually warp their judgement. Simply put, decision fatigue refers to the deterioration of one’s ability to make good decisions after a long session of decision making. In other words, as you make more decisions, you keep getting worse at assessing all the options and making an effective, thoughtful choice. The reason is simple: running your mind through the juggernaut of AB testing multiple times throughout the day is exhausting.
It’s why people are likely to make reckless decisions later in the day, and it’s why they are prone to looking for shortcuts after they’ve tried some alternatives. Often, decision fatigue can be so paralyzing that we might delay the decision or not make a decision at all.
Identifying decision fatigue
If you find yourself making dubious, irrational, or even uncharacteristic decisions, look closely. Decision fatigue can show as an individual making rash decisions or choices that often backfire. It can show up as
- Procrastination: When you catch yourself postponing the decision-making to no particular time in the future.
- Recklessness: When your tiredness pushes you to make decisions impulsively.
- Avoidance: When the overwhelm caused by decisions — usually high-stakes — is too debilitating, you might catch yourself in moments of indecision or avoiding the situation.
More often than not, we cannot shirk away from these decisions. However, if decision fatigue becomes a common occurrence for you, here are some lifestyle changes that can help manage your decisions better.
Combatting decision fatigue
- Setting honest priorities on a daily basis
Prioritizing certain decisions over others is one of the most effective ways of pre-empting and preventing decision fatigue. Give each decision a weighted number and list the decisions down in order of their weights. Start with the ones that carry the most weight and importance so that you can deal with them early in the day when your energy is at its peak.
- Standardize or minimize low-stakes choices
Do you find yourself making a lot of low-stakes decision early in the morning? They might be zapping your energy. Try and standardize or templatize most of these decisions. What you wear, the coffee you drink, how you commute…these decisions are relatively innocuous and low-stakes, but each small decision chips way on your limited reserves of energy. Create some uniformity or routine around these activities so that the time and resources you spend deciding or selecting things is cut down exponentially.
- Leverage afternoon naps or breaks
If you do find yourself face-to-face with countless urgent decisions, taking a break in the middle of the day can be helpful. Nothing rejuvenates like a siesta or a power nap. Even a short stroll can help declutter your mind.
- Minimize distractions to build momentum
Be extremely protective of your limited mental reserves and minimize the needless distractions that can leech on to you. For example, in the middle of the workday, it’s probably not important to discuss what you’ll bring to a party over the weekend. You might not end up deciding anything immediately. However, you’d have wasted a lot of precious time. Focusing on the task at hand can also help you make choices that will stick.
These lifestyle habits can become your preventative strategy against decision fatigue and if you find yourself confronting it despite these, you should take a contemplative pause to repair the damage caused, replenish your emotional reserves, and fiercely protect your self-care routines once you bounce back.