Please don’t ask me to make another decision (my brain will explode!)
We’ve all been there. The music in the mall is blaring, someone’s child is whining (perhaps yours), everything you look at is either too small, too ugly, or too expensive—and you’re running out of time. You’ve got discount coupons on your phone that can only be used during a month with 30 days, or in combination with another offer, and the sales clerk in front of you is offering a 2 for 1 deal if you make a purchase within the next 20 minutes.
By the time you’ve escaped, you’ve the proud owner of 4 pairs of overpriced shoes, an extra credit card, free T-shirt, and a trial membership at fitness club in another city. What happened?
You succumbed to decision fatigue. Normally an individual with a responsible attitude and sensible priorities, your “will power muscle” totally collapsed. The clutter in your brain, including decisions being forced upon you, either weakened your resolve, or left you in a state of decision paralysis. Even the retail sector plotted against you, with too many choices and music designed to make you move through the stores faster.
Understanding the draining power of decision-making
One of the biggest drains on our energy is the act of making decisions. Psychologists attribute it to the “finality” of the act. Once a decision is made, there’s no turning back. In fact, the word decision shares a root with the word homicide (caedere), meaning to kill or cut down. Decisions drain our energy because it means we close off options. Eventually we simply can’t make another choice, or worse, we start making bad choices.
Buying too many shoes is fairly harmless. But when studying decisions made by trial judges, researchers found was that at the beginning of the day, a judge was likely to give a favorable ruling about 65 percent of the time. But as the morning wore on, the judge became drained from making decisions, and the likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero.
Fighting decision fatigue
So how do you fight decision fatigue? The first step is to be aware of all the pressure around you to make decisions, and know you can fight back with these tips!
- Let your brain relax by moving stressful decisions and things that need remembering to your second brain. Productivity Ninja time management training suggests establishing habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. For example, lists that prioritize what is urgent, and what can wait for another day.
- Limit your choices by deciding which ones are relevant to you (Unless you’re James Bond, does it matter if your drink is shaken, or stirred?)
- Find ways to make certain decisions routine. This Productivity Ninja loves online shopping for certain items. You can return again and again to order the same size, style and colour.
- Don’t make decisions when you’re hungry. There’s a scientific link between drop in blood sugar and the ability to decide. When your glucose is low, your brain responds more strongly to immediate rewards, and is less likely to prioritize.
- Take breaks to recharge. Exit the mall, leave the office, walk the dog, sit quietly and listen to music. After 10 minutes you’ll gain back enough energy to at least set some priorities.
- Eliminate activities certain to drain you, like back-to-back meetings and decisions late in the day.
- In the spirit of embracing Ninja unorthodoxy, leave some decisions alone. It’s surprising how some things just solve themselves.
- Structure your life to control your will power energy. Here’s where time management training becomes important. It keeps you from jumping from decision to decision, feeling rushed and out of control—the very things that wear down that will power muscle.
Know when you can’t trust yourself
Being in control of decisions makes you more responsible. If you take steps to manage such energy, you remain in control of your decisions. Roy Baumeister, the first to coin the phrase decision fatigue, states it best in a New York Times article, “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”
“…truly wise [people] don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “
Well said, Roy!
By Beth Parker
Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.