Every day, I struggle with my choices. In particular, I have a very hard time deciding what to eat and how to arrange my life to finally lose weight as I’d like to do.
It drives me absolutely bonkers. I have lost weight before. In fact, I’ve lost triple digits more than once in my life. Which means, I know how to lose weight. I’m not uneducated here.
Somewhere along the way, however, I began having a very hard time making any dietary decisions. When I make a choice about my food or exercise, it’s not long before I second guess myself. One moment I think I should go low calorie. The next minute I’m looking at Nordic lifestyles.
My ability to stick to the simplest of decisions is ridiculous.
It’s humiliating to admit it, but I have barely gotten through even one successful day on any healthy eating plan for the past seven years--ever since I first got involved with my daughter’s dad.
Which came first?
The timing is intriguing. After losing over 100 pounds and feeling a great deal of pride about my progress, I began to stumble. I was tired, and through so many poor decisions, it showed.
I had an affair with a married man, and for a long time I couldn’t explain why. The truth, though, is that I was tired. It was my fatigue that told me at every turn to stay. Stay with with the married man, because I was already too invested to leave.
Researchers say that we tend to make poor choices when we reach a point of decision fatigue. So, sometimes I wonder what came first: my inability to make good choices or my fatigue over making them at all?
I might never know for sure, but I can trace my path of exhaustion over these past seven years. It’s a compelling pattern, mostly because it went on for so long before I realized it even had a name.
Decision fatigue is a common problem, but we rarely see the diagnosis until we find ourselves well past our limit for making one more choice.
And by then, it rarely affects just one part of our lives.
Decision fatigue has seeped into my writing career.
Is it obvious? Part of me thinks it must be. I do my best writing in the morning, or in the middle of the night after I’ve had a few good hours of sleep.
But after I take my daughter to school (a task which requires at least 50 quick driving decisions), I return home in something of a slump. My heart longs to quickly write my stories, check each of my boxes, and reach more of my goals.
I want more for myself than this slow sputter of words.
And I don’t like this feeling that I’m suddenly struggling with my writing much in the way that I struggle with food choices.
Should I write this story? Or that one? Which choices will help further my career and which are just weighing me down? I don’t always know how to act in my own best interest.
As much as I “just” want to write, it’s never only writing. There are a million little pieces and endless decisions that go into everything I have to do to keep putting out stories.
What can we do about decision fatigue?
Everything I read seems to offer the same solutions. Mainly, people say the answer to decision fatigue is to make fewer decisions by streamlining the choices you make every day. That seems straightforward enough, except that I’m hung up on even streamlining my decisions.
1. Start small.
I don’t think enough folks stress the importance of tackling decision fatigue in small pieces. When you’re already overwhelmed with making so many different choices, just the thought of making a set eating plan or consistent daily wardrobe can be a major source of stress.
If that’s the case for you, it pays to start small. You don’t have to plan out your whole week right now. Start with just tomorrow. It’s just one day, and if you don’t like your choices, you can try new ones tomorrow night.
That’s what I’m starting to do. Tonight, I’ll input a simple to-do list in my phone. In it, I’m listing three meals and a snack for tomorrow, and my next three blog outlines.
I’m also laying out tomorrow’s clothes.
There’s power in the understanding that these choices don’t need to be permanent. We’re just taking it one day at a time.
At least, that’s the goal.
2. Try batching your work.
When it comes to writing, I’m not always in the right headspace to be as productive as I’d like to be. A lot of my work takes emotional energy to unpack the things that have happened to me. It takes an enormous amount of effort just to look back on some of my worst mistakes.
I’m interested in this whole concept of “batching” my work. It’s another suggestion that comes up often when experts discuss combatting decision fatigue.
Batching your work means setting aside time to do specific tasks rather than finishing one complete piece after another. As writers, we might block off time for research, idea generation, outlines, rough drafts, or edits.
Experts say that batching can help us suffer less with making decisions because it’s easier to focus when we already know what we’re supposed to be doing. That way, there’s also zero guilt for spending a few hours on idea generation instead of finishing a draft.
3. Take time off.
The more we work, the more we are forced to make stressful choices. Which means, the more we work the worse we are at making any choices.
The daily grind wears us out, naturally. If we don’t give ourselves time to rest and recuperate, we’ll struggle to stay focused and mentally strong. Try to give yourself a day or two off, and consider taking a routine nap.
4. Rethink your brain food.
Our brains run on glucose, and researchers have found that most people struggle to make quality decisions when their reserves are low. You’re more likely to make better decisions when you’ve fed your brain.
Some folks think that you’ve got to eschew satisfying foods like bread to nourish your brain, but that isn’t true. Complex carbohydrates like whole-grain breads actually provide the sort of glucose that our brains prefer.
If you’ve been struggling with making decisions on a low-carb diet, it might be time to bring carbs back into the picture.
There’s an upside to making choices.
We have the power to change our own lives with our choices. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed about that, the good news is that we get to create the life that we love if we lean into decision making as a labor of love.
As overwhelmed as I feel about digging myself out of my decision fatigue, streamlining my decisions is all about building a life that works for me rather than against me.
And it’s the same for you.
Building a more productive and less stressful life is a good thing. Even if it takes some time (plus plenty of trial and error) to get there.