Every day, we are bombarded with decisions, big or small. If you really think about it, it’s a miracle we don’t go completely insane.
Think about just your morning: You decide whether to get out of bed or hit snooze. You decide what to wear. You decide whether to respond to an email. You decide what bus to catch, or if you want to walk, or drive. You decide what makeup you wear and what hairstyle you feel like putting effort into and then when you get to the office, you decide what task you’re going to tackle first, if you’re not already stuck deciding what to grab for breakfast.
And this is all before 9 a.m.
I am the world’s most indecisive person, no matter what the decision is. I’m such a classic overthinker that I can’t even decide between two colors of a top at Forever 21, and then I end up either buying both, or neither, or I just go with black. So I end up with a lot of black in my closet.
It also means I exhaust myself every day. We all do. We tire ourselves out just from making decisions all day. Judges do it when deciding cases. Quarterbacks do it during games. You just can’t keep deciding and deciding things all day, without it taking a toll. This whole situation is called decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is basically the phenomenon that making decisions all day will eventually exhaust you and deplete your willpower and self-control, so you start making dumb decisions just from being tired of it all. Hence buying Cheetos at the grocery store when you meant to stick to broccoli, or in my case, going with the color black because I can’t pick between blue and pink. We feel overwhelmed because in modern times we’ve got so many choices (as opposed to cavewoman days, when your dinner was what you managed to catch that night, and not one of the million ridiculous concoctions at Trader Joe’s).
The good news is that once you know about it, you can start making your life easier. So, knowing we get tired of decisions, what can we do about it?
How to fight decision fatigue
Never make decisions on an empty stomach.
Research shows that when we’re hangry, we’re more likely to make bad decisions. Glucose levels might actually affect your ability to make decisions (if you’re low on sugar, you’re low on willpower). So grab a Snickers bar the next time you’re not feeling like yourself. Because as Snickers already knows, you’re not you when you’re hungry.
Sleep on it when you’re tired.
If you have a big decision to make and it’s late in the day and you just can’t think anymore…don’t. Just stop and make the decision later. That’s why “sleep on it” is a thing: You wake up each morning with a clearer head and no decision fatigue. And if sleep isn’t an option? Take at least ten minutes for a walk, free of any devices or distracting thoughts. It will give your brain a break.
Simplify your life where you can.
You know how Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit all the time, or how Obama only wore blue and gray suits while president? This eliminated that wardrobe decision and they could spend more energy on important decisions. And while you might not be able to show up to work every day in the same outfit, you can at least pare down your choices (hint: start with a capsule wardrobe). Maybe you can spend a little more time meal prepping on Sundays so you don’t have to decide what to do for lunch every day. Or you can decide on a set morning routine so that you don’t deplete yourself within just a couple hours of being awake.
The fewer things you have on your desk, the better you’ll feel. Even if you aren’t a neat freak, it can often clutter your brain just to have physical clutter in your environment. With to-do lists and notebooks and all kinds of paperwork, your mind will just keep turning to those things and flipping the switch too much. Just get rid of it. Clear your space and you’ll be able to focus more on the decisions that matter.
Take away the fear that your decision is irreversible.
99% of the decisions we make are not permanent. If I end up hating something I bought, I can return it. Even for a bigger choice, like moving to a new city, I can always just move somewhere else. We often get stuck thinking that a decision is the end-all be-all, when it usually isn’t at all. Ask yourself: What’s the worst case scenario? What happens if I make the “wrong” decision? If the answer is something like, “I won’t enjoy my lunch as much as I would have if I’d gone with the other restaurant” then you should probably spend like five minutes on that choice, max.
Limit your choices.
Can’t decide what to get at Starbucks? Tell yourself you can get either an iced coffee or a vanilla latte. Choosing between two eyeshadow palettes? Pick one factor that’s most important to you- like price- and decide based on that one important factor. Writing a blog post and can’t decide on a topic? Put yourself in a box and limit yourself to a prompt or theme- for example, “Self-Care Sunday.”
Paralyzed at Forever 21? Well, I can’t help you there, the place is a madhouse.
More awesome reading on decision fatigue:
- New York Times, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
- Fast Company, 5 Ways To Prevent Decision Fatigue From Ruining Your Productivity
- Wall Street Journal, The Cure for Decision Fatigue
- Forbes, How to Avoid Self-Induced Stress and Decision Fatigue in Business