How to Preserve Mental Energy for Key Moments
When I have a big decision to make, I often think about one of the most famous American poems: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. But not for the reason you might expect.
For a long time, I, like many people, believed that the poem was about the life-changing significance of a single decision. After all, the poem ends with the lines:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
But a few years back, I read an article that flipped that reading on its head. As The Paris Review explained, the poem is really getting at the way that we attribute certain decisions with huge consequences. If you re-read the poem, the earlier lines indicate that the two paths were pretty equally traveled. But when we reconstruct the stories of our lives, we pretend that certain decisions are more important than in reality.
So when I’m faced with a tough decision, in life or as CEO of Jotform, I try to keep this takeaway in mind. No matter which path we choose, we’ll figure it out. Decisions aren’t always as consequential as they seem. This helps me get over any false hopes for perfection. It also helps me overcome decision fatigue.
The consequences of too many choices
Each day, we make tens of thousands of decisions. While that figure sounds almost inconceivable, the truth is that we make the lion’s share of those decisions on autopilot — you wake up, brush your teeth, catch the train, and so forth. But each time we deliberate on something — be it a major decision, like whether to accept that job offer or a minor one, like what to eat for breakfast — we spend some of our precious cognitive resources. A growing body of research shows that our decision-making ability worsens after we pass a certain threshold — a phenomenon known as decision fatigue.
Problems arise when weighing your options depletes your mental energy when it comes time to make a consequential decision — when deciding “what to wear” chips away at more important decisions, like “who to hire.” That’s…