By the time Fridays at 4 roll around, I can’t even answer the simple question, “What do you want for dinner?” I would rather skip dinner than try to process a decision. Apparently I’m not alone because this inability to process yet another decision at the end of a busy week has a legitimate name: Decision Fatigue.
Online articles vary dramatically in reporting how many decisions human beings make each day – from 35 intentional professional decisions per day to 35,000 incidental decisions that include things like the precise moment to actually get out of bed.
Thirty-five thousand decisions per day? It’s no wonder there is such a thing as decision fatigue, and this fatigue can dramatically affect your decision-making processes. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Your willpower is like a muscle. And similar to the muscles in your body, willpower can get fatigued when you use it over and over again. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another rep in the gym. And similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.” This explains precisely why, at the end of a particularly challenging day, you will choose the couch over the gym every time because your willpower is wiped out.
Feeling validated that my decision fatigue had a name, I did some reading on ways to try to minimize this phenomenon in our lives. Here are my favorites:
Minimize the small decisions. What are the decisions you have to make every day that you can easily simplify? For example, it’s reported that the famous physicist Albert Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning. In similar fashion, Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck, jeans and New Balance tennis shoes for years. LearnVest CEO Alexa Von Tobel reported in Fast Company (Dec 2013/ Jan 2014) that she eats the same thing every single day so she can “think as little as possible about the silly decisions you can make all day long – like what to eat… because mental energy is a finite quantity.” I personally pre-make outfits on hangers a month in advance so I just grab and go in the mornings to save time and energy
Make big decisions in the morning. What are the big decisions you need to make each day? Write these down at the top of your daily to do list and schedule the time on your calendar to address each decision. Your energy and willpower will be at its height in the morning and therefore the best time to give your important decisions the brainpower they deserve. Don’t just take my word for it, studies at Harvard University found that our moral compass is much more accurate in the morning when we have more energy than later in the day. So I guess the age old advice to “sleep on it” has merit for big decisions, and I’m now scheduling personal appointments with myself each morning to give those decisions the energy they deserve.
So if you see me wearing the same outfit multiple days in a row, you’ll know decision fatigue has set in and I’m taking the Steve Jobs approach to my daily apparel.