You love your Smartphone, your laptop, your car’s navigational device, your programmable oven, TV, and all the rest of your modern day devices. They make life so much easier in so many respects! You can communicate with anyone anytime, by phone, by text, by videochat. You can Google all sorts of information instantly! You can compare prices online for virtually any product at any time of day or night. You can figure out which TV programs you want to record weeks ahead of time. You wish your kids were as easy to control . . .
And yet, all that lovely convenience comes at a price. Researchers are discovering a phenomenon any dedicated shopper knew about ages ago: decision fatigue (see Roy F. Baumeister, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”). It’s that moment when you’ve been scouring the mall for a good price on jeans for the kids, checking mall prices against what you’re finding on-line on your cell, and suddenly, something inside you seems to collapse, and you’re in “Whatever you want” mode. You’ve hit a mental and emotional wall. You can’t think straight anymore. You’ll do anything just to get some kind of relief, and you end up spending far more than you anticipated on spiffed-up jeans you’re not entirely sure the kids should be wearing. You’ve fallen prey to – decision fatigue.
You see, all day long, every day, we make decisions. Not necessarily big decisions, just an unending series of little decisions. Stop at the yellow light or go through? Pick the dry-cleaning up now or let it go until tomorrow? Check out that article on Google or trust your memory? Program NCIS or Jersey Shore? Yell at Junior to clean up his room or forego the fight in the interests of a peaceful morning? Trust the climate control at work to function, or take an extra sweater? Eat a yogurt for lunch to support your GI tract, or eat a salad because it has fewer calories? Need I go on? The specifics vary, but there isn’t a one of us who isn’t faced with 100 decisions before lunch. And that’s on a quiet, normal day . . .
The problem with decision fatigue is that we tend to cave, and make poor decisions. We buy too much, eat too much, have an affair with someone we shouldn’t, don’t get done what really should get done, and so on. Yet we can’t very well stop making decisions, and our world continues to get more complex, not less.
Not all hope is lost. Here are a few easy ways to combat decision fatigue:
1. Breathe. Take a moment every hour or so, to close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a few deep breaths. Your brain needs oxygen to function properly. Give it extra oxygen every so often by simply taking a few deep breaths.
2. Diminish the number of decisions you make by being better organized. Make a reasonable “to do” list the night before, and stick to it. That’s why the list needs to be reasonable!
3. Keep yourself properly fed, hydrated and exercised throughout your day. The brain needs glucose to fuel it, but too often we alternately starve and stuff ourselves. Pace your food intake so you’re neither starving nor stuffing. Drink plenty of water – not soda, not coffee, not juice. All those beverages are fine, in moderation, but nothing replaces the value of water to your body. It’s what facilitates the transport system in your body. Exercise is another great way to get oxygen to your brain. Exercise can simply be getting up from your desk and taking a quick, brisk walk. We’re not talking an hour of calisthenics here.
Decision making is inevitable. Use the above tips to make your decision-making process as easy and successful as possible by being aware of, and avoiding, decision fatigue!