Have you ever felt mentally exhausted after a long day? It might be because you are making decisions constantly; from choosing what to wear in the morning to deciding what to do in stressful situations, your brain is constantly at work — even when you’re not really aware of it! In fact, the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day! This continuous onslaught of the decisions we are faced with has been shown to give way to something called decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue occurs when, after making a certain amount of decisions, a person’s ability to make additional choices worsens. This creates consequences in our daily lives and longer-term obstacles on our journey towards reaching our dreams.
There are many ways you can overcome this fatigue. As I wrote in Chapter 3 of my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach For Your Stars, “Habits make our lives easier by removing the need to make decisions constantly.” By understanding where decision fatigue comes from, you can develop good habits to help limit it and stay energized as you work towards your goals. Keep reading to learn more about decision fatigue and how to fight it!
The Science Behind Decision Fatigue
Decision fatigue is a phenomenon in which our ability to make quality decisions worsens over an extended period of time. As we are constantly making decisions, decision fatigue can build up quickly and easily impact us, so it is important that we understand why it occurs. Understanding the science behind decision fatigue and determining where it comes from is the first step in overcoming it!
The Psychological Phenomenon
Decision fatigue is a symptom of the psychological phenomenon called ego depletion. This is the idea that people have a limited amount of energy for their self-control and willpower. For example, if you exert high levels of self-control in one situation, you’ll exert lower levels in another later on. Think of your decision-making ability as a finite source, such as a battery.
Many studies have conducted research to prove this phenomenon. One such study looked at a group of nurses and studied how they made healthcare decisions based on how long their breaks were. They found that as more time passes since a break, the more likely a nurse is to make a conservative decision – or a decision that takes less mental effort. These decisions were also found to be more costly and less efficient.
Studies like this one make it evident that there are major consequences of decision fatigue. This makes it incredibly important that we understand when we are feeling it and that we take the steps necessary to fight it.
Are You Experiencing Decision Fatigue?
Sometimes, decision fatigue is such a common thing in our lives that we don’t even realize it is happening! It can manifest in numerous ways, like solving problems at work or school, shopping for food, or picking out an outfit. All these different kinds of decisions accumulate, and as you make more and more, you are depleting more energy.
In order to fight this fatigue off, you first need to realize that it’s even happening! Common symptoms of decision fatigue include procrastination, impulsivity, and brain fog. Often, you may feel mentally or physically tired, and as the day goes on, you may feel more drained and less able to exert self-control.
If you find yourself with any number of these symptoms, you are not alone! Think about how many decisions you are making each day and reflect on how they are affecting you. When you have a good grasp on your mindset, you can start implementing habits into your routine in a way that works best for you.
How to Fight Decision Fatigue
Developing healthy habits are a great way to fight off decision fatigue and accomplish our goals. Habits get rid of our need to constantly make decisions. When we don’t have to worry about making smaller decisions, we can focus more of our energy on larger, more important ones. The following five habits have helped me work through the decision fatigue I’ve faced, and by practicing them each day, they’ve become vital parts of my routine. Try them out and see what works best for you!
1. Make Important Decisions First
Try to make important decisions earlier in your day. In the morning, you have more energy in your decision-making “battery,” and, therefore, are more likely to make quality choices and less likely to procrastinate on them later in the day. Plus, by getting important decisions out of the way first, you won’t have to worry about them later on!
2. Simplify Options
When presented with a decision, by simplifying your options, you’re reducing the smaller choices you need to make. An example of this is limiting the choices you have for what to wear or what to eat. These are things we do every day, but when you tell yourself, “I have to do ___, so I should wear ____” or “I have ___ today, so I should eat ___,” you won’t be expending as much of your energy as you usually would.
This is also the first step in building a daily routine. When you make plans ahead of time, you don’t have to make as many decisions later on. Things to consider in your daily routine are morning and night routines, transportation routes, and meal planning. By simplifying your options for these decisions, you’ll be making fewer choices and be less likely to fall into decision fatigue.
3. Take Breaks
Make sure you are taking breaks throughout your day! Resting helps you conserve your energy for making choices. Whether it is a few minutes or a few hours, make sure you are allowing yourself to take a break, destress, and practice self-care.
4. Remove Distractions
Oftentimes, distractions will bring with them more decisions to make. Ever catch yourself going on your phone while you’re working? Such a small distraction opens a wormhole of other distractions. Should you answer that new email? Should you check social media? Should you watch a new video? All these choices can quickly drain you, and once you put down your phone, you’ll find yourself with a mental fog clouding your ability to work on the task at hand.
To limit the temptation of this happening, remove any distractions from your workspace. I do this by turning my phone off and putting it in another room. When distractions are no longer surrounding you, it is much easier to avoid them and finish your tasks at hand.
5. Celebrate Your Good Decisions
It’s easy to forget just how many decisions you are making on a daily basis. On top of the big decisions you make, you are constantly making small decisions without even knowing it. Big or small, tune into the different decisions you make, and congratulate yourself for making them. Your ability to solve problems under pressure is something worth celebrating! Acknowledging the work of making a well-informed decision and reflecting on what made it such a good call can encourage wiser decision-making down the road.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like all things, developing these habits will take practice. The more you work on implementing them into your day, the easier it will be to fight off decision fatigue and keep energized to work towards your dreams. If you want to learn more even about the importance of developing healthy habits, check out my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach For Your Stars. In my book, I talk all about successful habits, maintaining a healthy mindset, chasing after your dreams, and more!