Do you ever feel like having to make one more decision is simply not possible? Decision fatigue is a real thing and according to some experts, it’s the reason why people make silly decisions that aren’t well thought-through. The inability to make a rational decision occurs after several decisions have been made in a row. Some simple lifestyle changes can be made to help combat this fatigue and ensure better decision making.
I often think my ‘brain is tired’ and after recently reading an article on this very topic was amazed that it’s an actual scientific principle. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist known for a wide range of work on the self, coined the term ‘decision fatigue’ in reference to the idea that our willpower or ability to make good decisions declines when our mental resources are limited. This can be compared to how our muscles suffer from fatigue and feel ready to give up after a strong physical workout.
Countless studies have been conducted to help understand the concept with various results and theories emerging. The constant amongst them all is the idea that our brain has a finite capacity to make decisions – once that’s been depleted, we may start to look for shortcuts in decision making or we may even decide to give up and do nothing when faced with a decision. Understanding decision fatigue can help you make positive changes to your lifestyle so you can save your mental energy and willpower for making important decisions.
Here are our top six tips to help you make better decisions on a more consistent basis:
- Stick to routine: Routine helps because the decision has already been made and the number of decisions you have to make each day is reduced. This increases your odds of doing the right thing more consistently. Having the same (or similar) breakfast every day, organising lunches in advance, menu planning for weekly dinners, and having a ‘work uniform’ are all simple ways to limit your daily decisions. Many successful and/or high profile people wear the same or similar outfit to work every day – and for good reason. Former US President Obama always wore the same thing, which he claimed was part of his secret to getting so much done. He once told Vanity Fair “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. 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 other decisions to make.”
- Make important decisions in the morning: This is when your brain is clearest because it is not yet fatigued from the day’s activities. You haven’t been faced with too many decisions, so you can stop and think about the specific situation. Experts believe that scheduling important decisions for the morning can set you up for success. I have personally observed my own behaviour in this area and now try to make important decisions about tasks early – I believe these decisions are made faster and more accurately than if I leave it until later in the day where I am more likely to procrastinate because the decision seems more complex.
- Limit daily decisions: This applies to those decisions that need to be made every day – it goes back to number one with limiting decisions about what to wear and eat, but it works equally well for more complex decisions about work. Setting up standard processes or ways to complete tasks that need to be done regularly means you’re not constantly ‘deciding’ on the next course of action.
- Get rid of perfectionism: Sometimes, if we try to make sure everything is ‘perfect’, we procrastinate. Try completing a task until it is just good enough, and come back to it later to refine. You’ll often be amazed at how good your first attempt actually is, and how little ‘refining’ it really needs.
- Schedule down time: Try not to schedule back-to-back meetings or fill your day with tasks you know will be difficult to achieve. Allowing time in between meetings or tasks to de-compress, write notes, think about your next tasks etc. will help your brain to better cope with your workload. It also means fewer decisions that often make you feel guilty about what to cut out when you end up going over time on tasks or meetings.
- Set up regular ‘appointments’ for non-negotiable activities: This applies to exercise, time with family, or any tasks that can get sidelined when you’re busy. Rather than hoping to make the ‘right’ decision about doing things, you’ll probably be more successful by simply scheduling the things that are important and making them ‘non-negotiable’.
Your capacity to make decisions can decline as your brain becomes fatigued. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another set at the gym. When your brain is tired, this means it becomes more likely you’ll make a bad decision, or no decision at all. Implement some or all of our tips to improve your decision-making capacity.
Do you have trouble making decisions about your career or day-to-day work? Are you interested in obtaining some career advice? If so our career advisors are experts in their field. If you would like some direction, please see our Career Counselling Services.