Choice overload: What exactly is decision fatigue?

You’re probably familiar with having to make plenty of decisions, every day, all day. Some of those decisions can leave you feeling conflicted, and it can become tough to make the right choice. You go around in circles until you either a) make a snap decision because you’re too tired to think anymore, or b) put off making a decision altogether, because it seems easier than committing to one choice. 

Ring a bell? Poor decisions don’t occur because of an inability to decide, but because arriving at one or more choices can mentally drain you.

Research shows we make 10,000 to 40,000 decisions everyday. All of the energy used to make these thousands of decisions can result in a lack of your mental energy, and as a consequence you make poor decisions, which leads to stress and decreases your productivity. 

So how do you get around the inevitable and unavoidable stream of decisions coming your way? One of the most effective ways to combat decision fatigue is to reduce the amount of decisions you need to make each day by creating new habits. Let’s take a look: 

Follow routines for consistency and commitment

One way to cut the number of choices you make is to create a daily routine to eliminate the need to decide all of the trivial and recurring situations that require everyday decision-making.

Both Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have recognised decision fatigue as the reason for wearing virtually the same thing everyday. Instead of having to choose day after day, what food to eat, clothes to wear, or time to head to the gym, you’re putting that decision on autopilot because your pre-planned routine commits you to a specific route. 

Make important decisions early

The later in the day it is, the more likely you’ll experience decision fatigue, when the decisions you make will be less effective. So, it’s beneficial to get any important decisions out of the way before your brain goes into information overload and you’re overwhelmed. 

Prioritise tasks and challenges that require a decision by writing a list in the morning, so you can identify the most important ones you need to act on sooner rather than later. 

Reduce hesitation to avoid rehashing decisions

Once you’ve made your choice, don’t hesitate — hang tough and move on. You’ll feel good and develop more self-confidence because you weren’t going back and forth between choices and giving rise to self-doubt. There are lots of ways to make sticking to your choices easier. For example, you could:

  • Coerce yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. When the timer goes off, if you haven’t already, finish the task with a decision. Time cubes are great for this.
  • Limit any mobile phone distractions when you’re trying to focus. You know how — customising notifications, turning your phone off, etc.

Avoid poor choices by not making a decision when you’re running on empty 

Don’t ever shop when you’re really hungry. Seriously, your basket will be an avalanche of crisps, chocolate and lots of other convenient junk food. 

To avoid making poor decisions, especially in regards to important matters, be mindful of your energy levels when you begin the decision-making process. If you’re too tired, plan after you’ve slept; if you’re too hungry, eat something before you commit to that final decision. Good sleep and nutrition are essential when making important choices. 

Protect your focus by eliminating unnecessary distractions

Remove or reduce the amount of technology around you when you’re working. Constant pings from your devices are not only presenting you with lots of tiny decisions to make, they’re also a huge distraction — especially when you’re making a decision. 

Put your phone out of sight and switch off notifications to stop any distractions during this time. It’s also best to avoid taking in lots of additional information from social media or the news through any other devices until most of your work and decision-making is done. 

Choose quality over quantity

Do you find yourself choosing to watch something on Netflix only to realise a whole hour has gone by before you’ve settled on something? According to the psychological concept known as ‘choice overload’, simply having too many choices can be overwhelming enough to cause decision fatigue. 

The best way to avoid this is to take advantage of the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the genre? The rating? What quality matters most to you? This will help you prioritise and arrive at decisions better. 

Seek input from others to avoid mental overload

While it’s okay to make decisions alone, sometimes it’s necessary to involve others, particularly if you’re finding it difficult. Seeking opinions from people at work or in your family to get the support to arrive at the best possible decision can lessen the mental burden of uncertainty. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the appropriate people for advice, because they might have the ability to help you make the most well-informed decision. 

All in all

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication, but by applying these new practices you’ll be on the path to achieve healthier habits. You should see your productivity and confidence increase, as well as a great improvement in your ability to make the right decisions. 

3 responses to “Choice overload: What exactly is decision fatigue?”

  1. I rely a lot on routine to decrease the daily cognitive burden.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my favourite sayings will always be “the secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

      Liked by 1 person

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