Decision Fatigue

Updated on
May 3, 2024

by Rachel Mignogna

Take a second to think about how you feel after a long workout. You can barely push your body to do anything. You are physically exhausted, drained and just want to collapse to the ground. Now think about that same sense of fatigue but with your mental capabilities. It's a different kind of drained feeling, right?

After a long day, I bypass things I wanted to do and default to sitting on the couch. I started wondering why this was happening. It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. If you take the 16 or so hours that you are awake each day, that would be about 35 decisions every minute. Thats a lot of decisions!

We don’t often think about the mental bandwidth that is used for small things like deciding what to wear, what to eat, when to reply to an email or a text, etc. But these constant mini-decisions fatigue our brains and make the bigger, harder decisions even more difficult. The volume of decisions we make wears us down and lowers our willpower by the end of the day.

So, now I know that what I have been feeling lately is not physical fatigue or just plain tiredness. I am making too many decisions during the day and I suffer from Decision Fatigue. Decision Fatigue is defined by, Roy F. Baumeister, a Social Psychologist, as, “The decline in the quality of our choices after we make too many decisions in a row.” Decision Fatigue can also affect other things aside from just decision-making including judgment, impulse control, management of aggression, planning, social skills, emotional regulation, and reasoning.

Here are a few tips that will help minimize the decisions we make daily—saving our brains from becoming lazy by the end of the day!

1. Establish Daily Routines

We’ve all heard: “Use your time and energy wisely.” So think about what you can make part of your daily routine? Doing things over and over each day will allow your brain to go on autopilot, using less brain power. Steve Jobs was famous for his turtleneck and blue jeans uniform. He knew the value of not using brain power on what to wear.

2. Tackle Big Decisions Early

Start the day by tackling the biggest decision or one that means the most to you because you have the most brainpower for it. Maybe it’s working out or eating a healthy breakfast. You’ll feel better that it is complete and less worried later on. Also, leave only the decisions that have little to no negative consequences for nighttime.

3. Eat Right, Eat Often and Simplify

Low glucose levels have been scientifically linked to poor decision making. So, make sure you have enough fuel. If it is late in the day and you need to make a big decision, eat something beforehand! Researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make over 200 decisions each day on food alone. Free up mental space by simplifying your meals by eating the same thing for breakfast & lunch, for example. Have your variety at dinner and on the weekends, but let your mind rest when it comes to prepping food for the work week.

4. Take Breaks

My final recommendation is to actually schedule a few minutes on your calendar each day for a break. Get away from the constant stream of information for a few and let your mind rest.

Finally, while it is impossible to maximize our willpower in each moment it is possible to make a few changes to our day or routines so that we can get the most out of our decisions! And finally, by building in routines that value our mental energy, we free ourselves up to do our best work.

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