What Is Decision Fatigue and How Do You Beat It?
Modern life presents us with an extraordinary array of options. You can just take a look at the multitude of cuisines on your local food delivery app or walk through the grocery store to see a world of choice staring back. These day-to-day judgments that we make, however simple or straightforward they may seem at first, can feel somewhat overwhelming – particularly when they build up or compound – and that’s before we even get to the bigger decisions in life. And there’s now a name for this phenomenon: decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is an affliction that comes from having to make an exhausting number of decisions each day. It can leave us in choice paralysis or otherwise acting impulsively. Either way, we can end up feeling out of control and unable to discern what we actually want and need. So how can we navigate this modern affliction, get back in control, and turn overwhelm into opportunity?
Drained by decision
Research estimates that the average American adult makes around 35,000 decisions per day. Most adults across the globe will be able to relate to this figure around the seemingly endless decisions they need to make throughout their daily lives, be those big or small. That’s a huge amount of mental processing that goes into evaluating all the different options involved in each decision and making a call on it. One theory associates decision fatigue with ego depletion, which says we only have a certain amount of mental energy available each day and this gets drained like a battery. In this case, however, it’s more like the amount of available memory on a computer. When the memory starts reaching capacity, processing slows down. As our brains fire through hundreds and thousands of decisions, our capacity for making them decreases. At the point of reaching decision fatigue, we are unable to figure out which of the options we’re presented with would be the most fruitful, beneficial or efficient – thereby affecting performance at work and quality of life at home.
The price of freedom
All these choices can be particularly taxing on people who are already indecisive. Indecisiveness as a trait is associated with low self-esteem and comes from a fear of making the “wrong” decision. Making decisions – including more low-stakes ones like deciding which shirt to wear – places stress on the nervous system. Stress exacerbates indecisiveness because it can hijack the prefrontal cortex of the brain and leave us unable to think clearly, making decisions even more difficult to make. Here are some tips for beating the fatigue of overwhelming choice.
1. Establish routine
Having clear routines established for your day(s) helps avoid the limitless “what next?” decision. Dedicate time for certain tasks – from your morning routine to work, exercise, and meals – and be sure to build in some time to follow your curiosity in leisure and relaxation. Enjoy the rhythm of knowing the overall shape to your day.
2. Prioritize self-care
Keeping your nervous system calm and grounded will give you more clarity to make decisions faster – and as a result, saving energy on agonizing about the many possibilities. Find practices that soothe and rejuvenate your mind and body, and commit to doing them on a regular basis.
3. Create systems
Eliminate the stress of any recurring decisions by planning ahead. Build in systems that reduce the options. If deciding what to wear each day is draining, create yourself a work uniform of sorts, and make up a routine that can take you through the week or month. Devise a few staple meals to have each week, or use a menu delivery service to reduce food indecision. Or make note of anything else you regularly find exhausting, so you can take a look at it and figure out how to get creative about establishing your own more streamlined systems around that.
4. Engage mindfully online
The internet presents us with an infinite number of decisions about what to click and read and watch and learn about. Limit your time online each day, and practice good sleep hygiene by turning off devices at least an hour before bedtime. Try and establish a ritual that helps signal to your mind that it’s time to relax and that your decision-making is done for the day!
5. Trust there’s no “wrong” answer
Taking the pressure off making the “wrong” decision will lower the stakes and relieve some stress. Try to clear away the mental chatter and tune into your intuition – it’s the most powerful decision-making tool you have.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Decision Fatigue: A Conceptual Analysis; “I Know What I Like” – Indecisiveness Is Unrelated to Behavioral Indicators of Evaluation Difficulties; Stress and Decision Making: Effects on Valuation, Learning and Risk-taking.
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