Imagine this scenario. You’ve decided to go on a 4km run with the aim of not stopping. You’ve made the halfway mark and start to slow down. You’re into the third kilometre and start to struggle to push your body to make the distance. Your muscles are fatiguing and you’re ready to give up. Your whole body starts to deplete before the finish line.
Now imagine this kind of fatigue not physically, but mentally. When you’re making decisions and they are impulsive, undefined and not purposeful. What would you call this?
Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist defines this as Decision Fatigue, which is the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions after a process of constant decision making. This means that the more decisions we need to make, the worse off our educated decision making will be. What’s the result? Low self-control and willpower.
Understanding the psychological principle of decision fatigue can help you make the changes you need to make in a positive way. This will help you reserve your mental energy and willpower for making the best decisions.
Did you ever notice Barack Obama always wearing a grey or blue suit with a blue tie? Why does he do this? To minimise the decisions he makes each day. In a Vanity Fair interview, Barack said;
“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many decisions to make”
Being president, he did this to reduce the amount of decision fatigue in his life. Each decision digs into our willpower and the more we make, the less our energy bar becomes, making our decision making impaired. Each decision can make us less creative, less focused and not in control.
A Real-Life Decision Fatigue Example
Judges on an Israeli prison parole board was found to have given prisoners parole which was dependent on the time of day the hearing was. For the prisoners that appeared in the morning, parole was given 70% of the time. For those that appeared later in the day, only 10% were given parole. Researchers had found that the decisions were not based on bias, but based on the judges’ decision fatigue.
In making decisions, our brain takes short-cuts and are driven by the urgent need to complete the task at hand and make a choice. This is evidently more apparent when our willpower is running low.
4 Ways to beat Decision Fatigue
Overcoming decision fatigue can be done with a good routine and also healthy breaks throughout the day. Here are 4 ways we can beat it in our daily lives which makes us better off and overall a lifestyle full of impact.
1) Remove Yourself From Life’s Mayhem
How often are our best decisions made in the shower, or over a pint with a mate? We’ve all heard of the successful businesses that happened over a beer, or when it’s least expected. When we are in this environment, we are pulling away from daily demands of life and using our brain that doesn’t allow us to ‘think’. Our brain then subconsciously presents us with new existing knowledge that we weren’t able to tap into when we’re in our thinking zone and fighting willpower. When giving our break a break, we make improved neural connections and our decision making is better
2) Avoid Making Decisions When You’re Hungry
This may be a no brainer, but eating healthy is linked to overall happiness. But when you’re hungry, your body produces a hormone called ghrelin. This hormone negatively affects your decision making, stimulating your appetite and promoting fat storage. This is why it’s important to have enough to eat before making decisions, especially if it’s later in the day and you’re already vulnerable to poor decision making.
3) Focus On Your To-Do List
Try and limit your decision making that’s only on your to-do list. When it comes to finishing our most important tasks, we will have to sacrifice some things. This may mean turning down a night out with friends to focus on your main priorities. It’s important to not have too much on our plate and let our decisions be high impact which we value more.
4) Establish a Daily Routine
By establishing a daily routine, we are able to limit the number of decisions we make each day. The idea of a routine is that we know what we are doing so we don’t need to make the decision each time we do it. It’s productivity. Our routine conserves our energy for creativity and more better decisions, reducing and managing decision fatigue.
The Decision Fatigue Effect
Decision fatigue affects all our lives. For example, Try and focus on having the same few meals for dinner a week. If you manage to do this, you make one less decision a day. This can give you more mental real estate for being creative, less stress and having an increase in energy. The idea is to make small tweaks in your decision making for a bigger increase in productivity.
We make a lot of low impact decisions, so it’s important we review how many decisions we make in a day and look at how many of them we can reduce. Whilst understanding how many we make, acknowledge how much time and energy these decisions have over us. You will make a lot of low impact decisions, so by doing a self-diagnosis on them, you will be able to make the changes needed to really focus on the more important decisions.
Making the change can be as simple as knowing what you want to do before you go to sleep. This way when you wake up in the morning, you have no decision to make and saves you time, leaving you a productive and creative day ahead.
It’s impossible to avoid making decisions, it’s apart of human life. By incorporating some of these ways to combat fatigue into your life, you will be able to identify when decision fatigue is creeping up on you and avoid making impulsive decisions that don’t serve your priorities.