Decision fatigue is real! Have you ever said “yes” to someone just because you didn’t want to hear them go on and on again about why you should do it? Even when you know you shouldn’t, you say “yes” anyway. And have you ever said “no” for the same reason? The person you’re interacting with has worn you down. Picture this…
The crazy girl (or guy) at work has the hots for you. She (or he) has been asking you out for months, constantly at you to go out on a date…in a fun jokey way of course. Then one night you’re all out for work drinks. You’ve had a rough day and you’re tired. Here she (or he) comes again, trying to convince you why you two should go out on a date. So, you say “yes”, not because you think it’s the best decision to make, but because you’re ill-prepared mentally for the fight. You don’t feel like arguing against it, and you don’t have the energy to bat away her (or his) constant attempts.
This is just one of a thousand moments in life when you make decisions based on what is easy, rather than what is right. We often blame this poor decision making on a lack of willpower. It happens everywhere…
You’ve been in a long meeting. It started brightly and you were contributing to the conversation with long and well thought out comments and suggestions. Then as time went on your contributions became fewer and farther between. After a few hours, you’re virtually not contributing at all, and when you do it’s one word answers like “yes” and “no”. Your mind drifts away and you think of other things, like who you’re going to trade into your fantasy football team for this weekend’s games. Come to the end of the meeting and the team needs to make decisions. Do you make decisions based on what’s right, or what’s easiest at the time? After all, you’d had enough of debating and discussing ages ago. So, you just go with the flow, agree with the majority and get out of there.
That sounds familiar, why does this happen?
Willpower is not some infinite resource you can call upon whenever you need it. It’s like petrol in your car. You fill the tank, use it up on a succession of small trips, then fill the tank again. You use up a little of your willpower with every decision you make, then fill the tank with sleep, food and fresh air. When your brain is running on empty after a long day of decision-making, this is known as decision fatigue. It’s why you’re pumped to have a healthy meal for dinner when you wake up in the morning, then get home after a long day and order a pizza. You have decision fatigue, so make the easy decision rather than the right decision.
For me personally, on the days I write a lot, I get decision fatigue. After doing the research and writing a couple of articles, my brain is fried. So, I make the easy decision to lie on the couch watching Fight Club on cable for the 38th time, instead of the right decision to get on with the bookkeeping.
While decision fatigue is going to happen no matter what you do, there are strategies you can use to ensure you make the right decisions for the things that matter more often.
5 ways to combat decision fatigue
- Make decisions for the next day just before you go to bed. There are some things we do every day, so why not make those decisions the night before when our brain energy is running on empty. That way you won’t waste precious energy the following day making decisions that you’ve already made the night before. What does this look like for you?
- Prepare your post-workout breakfast (oats, milk, protein powder, frozen berries) the night before and let it soak in the fridge overnight. No need to decide what you’re having for breakfast, or what’s going to be in it.
- Pack your gym bag. That way you won’t have to decide what to wear or what to take.
- Roll out your mat and hit pause on the meditation video from your favourite YouTube channel. That way you can just crawl out of bed, sit on your mat and hit play.
Making the smallest decisions the night before can add up to a significant brain energy saving the following day. This will delay the onset of decision fatigue.
- Prioritise what is important to you, and do that first. We know that willpower deteriorates as the day progresses, so make your important decisions in the morning. No point delaying important decisions for when you know you’ll have decision fatigue. If health and fitness is a priority, then:
- Go to the gym before work
- Make sure every breakfast is healthy
- Enjoy an online yoga or meditation class before breakfast
It’s easier to make the wrong decision after a long day at work, like going home instead of driving to the gym, so do what’s important in the morning.
- Schedule your priorities into your timetable. If you make a commitment to doing something rather than rely on hope and your memory, then you’re more likely to do it. For example:
- Schedule your gym sessions on Monday and Wednesday at 6pm, and Saturday morning at 8am.
- Schedule your lunch time food preparation for the week at 11am every Sunday morning.
- Set your alarm for 6.30am every weekday morning and get up for your 15-minute meditation session.
By scheduling your priorities into your weekly timetable, you take the decision-making process out of it. You don’t wake up in the morning and engage in self-talk trying to decide whether you’re going to go to the gym after work or not. And you’re not simply hoping you have enough willpower to go after a long day at work. Instead, if it’s Monday or Wednesday then you’re going because it’s in your schedule and you’ve committed to it.
- Eat some food. If it’s been a long day and you’ve got important decisions to make, take a break and have some food. After all, it’s not possible to always schedule the important decisions you have to make for the start of the day. That’s just life and the schedules of other people often come into play. Replenish your dwindling energy levels with some good quality food, and you’ll make better decisions at the end of the day, like going to the gym or preparing a healthy meal.
- Get rid of anything unimportant in your life. Everything you do requires energy, whether it’s something physical like lifting weights, or something cognitive like reading a book. There’s no escaping it. So, think of anything going on in your life that is unimportant, and get rid of it.
- Know someone who drains your energy but offers nothing in return? Spend less time with them.
- Going on 10km runs three times a week even though you’re not training for a half-marathon? Stop doing it.
- Doing tasks at work that bring no benefit to the business? Stop doing them.
The well-known 80-20 rule applies here. Around 80% of the good things happening in your life comes from 20% of your actions. Figure out what that 20% is and keep doing that, then make decisions about how much of the other 80% you really want to keep doing. And make that decision early in the morning, you’ll have a much better chance of making the right decision.
Over to you…