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09th Feb 2024

What is decision fatigue and how can I come out of it?

Anna Martin

decision fatigue

Every day we’re faced with decisions, so we need to make sure we don’t end up what’s called decision fatigue

We make hundreds of decision a day, big and small; like what to wear, what to eat or when to leave the house. The list goes on and it can become tiring even if your choices aren’t life-changing.

In fact, researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. Yes, you read that correct, just one part of our everyday routine.

We don’t make every decision with careful consideration, of course, because some are conscious and others are subconscious.

So, what happens when the decisions we are conscious of cause us to feel overwhelmed?  

Let’s talk about decision fatigue.

What is it?

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Have you ever been met with a choice big or small and it’s like you can’t come to a conclusion at all?

You feel overwhelmed and stressed out, wondering how on earth can you pick just one. Maybe you felt like this many times; stuck in the in-between a number of choices.

Well then you might have experienced decision fatigue.

Though it’s not fully understood, there’s some science behind why our brains are fatigued by decisions.

In the late 90s, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister put forward a theory called ego depletion, together with social psychologist John Tierney.

Essentially, this theory says that humans possess the independence and free will to make choices. Yet we’re challenged with balancing more responsible and beneficial choices with decisions that may fulfil our urgent needs. 

For humans, ego-depletion theory tells us that it lessens our energy supply whenever we have to make a choice that is wearing us out.

To make things more confusing, Psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues published a study that challenges the ego-depletion theory.

Let’s ignore that for a second though, at it’s core decision fatigue is all about becoming exhausted when trying to make some of life’s many choices.

If you’re wondering how you can overcome it, there are a few simple things you can work into your routine to make choices easier like:

Have a process

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Firstly, make sure you leave space to reflect on your mistakes and successes.

Did you evaluate the decision to its individual level of importance? What went well? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time?

Secondly, analyse your self-confidence. This requires a level of self-awareness to understand what role your confidence plays in your decision-making.

If you’re too confident in your choices and things don’t go your way you might find yourself feeling stressed and defeated.

Divide things up

You don’t have to make every choice in life. The big ones that will affect you in the long term take time and effort, but for the little things, don’t be afraid to ask someone else.

For example, maybe you can get your partner to pick what’s for dinner or call a friend to help you choose an outfit.

Fewer decisions mean less stress.

Look after yourself

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Good decisions are made when you feel good about yourself. That means it’s important to take care of all aspects of your well-being. 

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and have a balanced diet. Even factoring in a walk every now and then to clear your head will be of benefit.

A happy, well-rested person is more likely to make decisions they feel confident in.