Make decisions easier on your brain by avoiding choice overload.

Heather Ashman
Sep 13 · 6 min read

Every day your brain makes hundreds of decisions. Each of those decisions requires some degree of energy from your mind. It might be a simple decision, like should you have turkey or ham on your sandwich or it may be a harder decision like should you quit your job and move to Tahiti.

The sheer number of decisions required of you on a normal day can be exhausting. Even if they were all simple choices, you could still feel overloaded at the end of the day.

This is especially true if you have anxiety.

Anxiety will make you second guess yourself about everything. Something that seems simple may no longer be simple once anxiety is finished analyzing it. Deciding to have the ham instead of the turkey may have you wondering all day if you just contributed to a future heart attack by making a less healthy choice.

There is a way that you can help your brain avoid getting overwhelmed. Limit your choices.

Everyone claims to love the freedom of having many choices, but research shows that it can be more difficult to make a choice when you have too many options.

Also, having extra options will give your anxiety extra opportunities to question your decision and find fault with it.

Here are some areas where you can cut down on choices without a loss of lifestyle.

Clothing

Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

How many clothing choices do you legitimately need? Some people are able to cut it down to one work outfit (multiple copies of the same outfit), one casual outfit, and a couple of dressy things. Think Zuckerberg’s famous outfit.

I’m not that extreme. I have more leeway because I work from home, but this could work for those who go to an office as well. I have a template outfit. The same type of bottom and the same type of top. Then I own a range of colours in the template. All match each other. On any given morning, if I don’t have anything unusual going on, I can grab any top and any bottom that strike my fancy. They are all in very similar shades, so it is not like I’m choosing from a wide spectrum of colours. Nothing that could require extra time or effort.

On the rare occasions I need to dress up for something, I have several basic outfits in each category (from work dressy to formal). This would not work as well for people in certain careers where showing up in the same outfit for two events is a social faux pas. Those careers are pretty rare in the overall scheme of life.

Food

Photo by William Felker on Unsplash

Limit your choices to two or three options per meal and rotate. This is more difficult for everyone to replicate because some people eat out a lot or have dietary concerns. Rotate your menu every week or two depending on how far out you schedule your life.

Some people do their meal prepping on Sunday and prepare the entire week’s meals that day. Then all they have to do is grab a container and they are good to go. I’m not that organized yet. I hope to be one day.

In my case, breakfast is easy. I don’t eat breakfast. Coffee is my breakfast. How many times I cook dinner in a given week fluctuates widely. It is dependent on my family’s schedule. If we are not all home, I don’t cook and it is DIY evening meals. Each week I generally have two meal choices for lunches and DIY dinners. I rotate them for that week. Then I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat on a given day. I can save my mental energy for something else.

Plan your meals in advance. Even if you don’t eat the same thing each day, have a plan for what you will eat. Stick to your plan. Make sure when you grocery shop, you buy the supplies you need for your planned meals so you don’t have to figure something else out when you run out of a necessary item due to lack of planning. If you have a set menu, you don’t need to think about it. Look at the menu — -it’s lunchtime on Tuesday, you are having the tuna.

Household Supplies

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

This one many people already do instinctively, but if you do not, you should. Have specific brands and scents that you always use. Do not deviate unless the store is out or the manufacturer stops carrying them.

In the store I shop at, there is an entire aisle of laundry detergents. Tons of brands. Each brand has multiple scents and multiple sizes. If I had to choose a new bottle each time I needed to buy detergent, I would be in there for an hour smelling everything. To cut down on wasted energy, I have used the same brand and the same scent for about fifteen years now. I even buy the same sized bottle every time. When it is time to get more, I walk down the aisle, find the brand, size, and scent, pick it up and move to the next item on the list. I ignore all the other choices.

Do this with all your supplies. Toothpaste, toilet paper, deodorant, all of it. You do not need to try every new thing that comes along. If what you have been using works, stick with it.

Schedule Your Time

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

My final suggestion is to schedule your week out. Try to keep each week as consistent as possible. Unusual things are inevitable, but try to limit how much of your schedule they disrupt. Don’t throw the entire week away just because you have to attend a wedding on Saturday. Keep the rest of the week as normal as possible.

Have your chores and necessary activities scheduled in so you know when they will occur. If you have a regular laundry day each week, you won’t have to figure out when to do laundry so you don’t run out of clean underwear. If you have a regular grocery day, you know how much food to buy so you don’t run out of what you need for your planned meals before the next shopping day.


Any steps you can take that limits the amount of mental energy you need to expend making choices will help you save your energy for more important decisions. It may seem boring to limit your choices, but it helps take the pressure off your mind. It also helps calm your anxiety. It is much harder to feel anxious about a habitual activity.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Heather Ashman

Written by

Writer. Single mother to transgender son. Deep in grief from the recent loss of my partner. Lifelong fighter of depression and anxiety. M.A. in Human Behavior.

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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