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How to Deal with Decision Fatigue

Whether making “good” or "bad" decisions, Americans make about 35,000 of them daily! Learn all about decision-making psychology and the importance of not wearing it down.

How to Deal with Decision Fatigue


Did you know it is estimated Americans make a whopping 35,000 decisions a day? Obviously, some decisions require more attention than others and a vast majority of decisions take little brain space. 

However, some daily decisions may seem exhausting when weighing the implications of the best actions to take. Living in a post-pandemic world adds complexity, nuance, and extra weight to some daily decisions.

How do you know if you have decision fatigue and what can you do about it? Discover what this impairment entails and what to do when you feel unable to make decisions. 

What Is Decision Fatigue?

A 2020 analysis on decision fatigue defines this condition as, "the impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making."

The premise for decision fatigue is similar to muscle fatigue. Muscles can only handle so much contraction (exercise) before they are depleted with energy and fatigued. Muscle movement after this stage is limited. 

This logic is similar to the brain; it can only handle so much processing of information to make decisions. After this point, the energy and mental capacity to sift through various decisions can be overwhelming and limited. 

What can lead up to decision fatigue? The unknown stress of dealing with a pandemic environment or other chronic, stressful situations, which may be out of one's control, can increase the risk for decision fatigue. It may also go hand in hand with something similar called crisis fatigue

Signs of Decision Fatigue

How do you know if you or someone close to you is struggling with decision fatigue? While it is best to consult a doctor or mental health professional for individual guidance, these are some common signs one may be experiencing decision fatigue.

• Feeling paralyzed to make any decisions

• Impaired ability to analyze situations for trade-offs

• Taking a passive role in any decision making or altogether avoiding making decisions

• Making choices that appear impulsive, irrational, or against one's values

• Depleted self-control for certain behaviors such as eating, drinking, or shopping

• Experiencing high levels of stress and general fatigue

• Mental functions, like test-taking, or physical endurance can suffer

5 Ways to Overcome Decision Fatigue

If the signs of decision fatigue ring true, practice these ways to help overcome this difficulty with making decisions.

1. Avoid Procrastination

Studies show decision fatigue and procrastination are associated together. Therefore, tackling procrastination can help with alleviating decision fatigue.

Mind Tools suggests staying organized with a schedule and a to-do list can help minimize procrastination. Furthermore, focusing on doing things, not on avoiding things can also help shift perspective. Lastly, when a task is completed on your list, reward yourself!

2. Automate As Many Choices As Possible

Find small things in your life that can be automated to cut down on lower-level everyday decisions. An example of automation can be tied to creating a schedule, as mentioned above. 

Automation can also be implemented in deciding what to eat. Meal delivery services, like bistroMD, can help cut down on the daily decisions surrounding healthy meals to free up mental capacity for other decisions.

BistroMD offers well-balanced meals straight to your doorstep which can cut out time and energy with grocery shopping, cooking, and meal prep. 

3. Focus on Quality Sleep

This is where the expression "sleep on it" can really come into play! Experts suggest avoiding finalizing decisions at night when mental energy is lowest. Instead, focus on getting a quality night's sleep and make decisions in the morning.

Quality sleep can help restore energy levels and refresh mental capacity. An important aspect of overcoming decision fatigue is to take care of overall energy levels which involves getting enough sleep. This focus will also boost energy in the mornings for decision-making and set you up for a consistent and productive morning routine.

4. Ask for Help

Social isolation may feed into decision fatigue and can also increase the risk for depression. Enlisting a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional can help guide decision-making choices and be a sounding board when you do not have the bandwidth to do it on your own. 

They can also be a sounding board for what could be irrational or impulsive decisions, as these can be a sign of decision fatigue.

5. Tune Inward

Pay attention to how energy, stress, and fatigue levels are feeling. Fluctuations in these areas can all increase the risk for decision fatigue which can easily slip under the radar. 

If feelings of stress, anxiety, dread, or overall lack of energy are a reality, take steps to relieve stress naturally and limit as best as possible what else is put on your mental plate. 

Decision Fatigue Recap

Everyone makes thousands of decisions every day, big and small. 

Decision fatigue is a condition that makes it feel like making decisions is incredibly difficult and is ultimately avoided. This can come on for various reasons but usually from chronic stressful life events or constant decision-making that feels multi-faceted or evolving.

The result of decision fatigue can lead to avoidance of making decisions or making impulsive decisions that may be out of character. 

If suffering from decision fatigue, address procrastination along with focusing on getting quality sleep to help come out of this condition. Tune inward to stay connected with emotional and mental energy levels to recognize signs of decision fatigue. Also, enlist the help of trusted loved ones to help bear a load of decisions during this time.

References:

Colino S. Decision fatigue: Why it's so hard to make up your mind these days, and how to make it easier. The Washington Post. Published September 22, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/too-many-choices-decision-fatigue/2021/09/21/2dffce74-1b22-11ec-bcb8-0cb135811007_story.html

Pignatiello GA, Martin RJ, Hickman RL. Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis. Journal of health psychology. Published January 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6119549/

The Mind Tools Content Team. How can I stop procrastinating?: Overcoming the habit of delaying important tasks. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_96.htm.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on March 11, 2022. Updated on April 19, 2022.

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