The reality of decision fatigue in our modern life

Is your brain exhausted from making too many trivial decisions? You might be preventing yourself from making the right calls when it counts.

Will it be toast for breakfast or cereal? A decaf or a double-shot? Should you wear a dress or jeans, and should you take a jacket?

If you feel like you’re already exhausted before you’ve even left the house, there’s a good reason for that; you’re probably suffering from decision fatigue, a psychological phenomenon where a person’s productivity eventually becomes compromised after becoming drained from the endless decision-making that comes with modern life – estimated to be up to 35,000 a day.

It’s a way of functioning that cannot be sustained, says Dr Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University and author of The Art of Choosing.

“Humans have limited energy and capacity to process all the options we come into contact with on a daily basis so when those options balloon past a certain threshold, our minds short-circuit and we either make poor decisions or sometimes feel too overwhelmed to even make a choice at all.”

Many of the world’s great leaders and business minds are onto it, actively working to reduce the number of trivial decisions they have to make each day in order to free up valuable brainpower to dedicate on more important issues.

It’s the reason we only ever saw Apple’s late Steve Jobs in black turtlenecks, and that we only ever see Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in grey t-shirts.

Science shows they’re on the right path since the first two hours after we wake up in the morning are our most productive (conversely, that 3pm slump where you brain checks out is also backed up by science).

Overcoming fatigue

Professor Iyengar recommends mastering what she calls the ‘3Cs’.

“The first thing you should do is reduce the number of simple choices you have to make before you categorise the remaining ones,” she says.

“The last C refers to concretise – making the consequences of your choices as vivid as possible so you have a better understanding of potential repercussions.”

To help yourself further, you can also:

  • Organise the more trivial aspects of your life such as what you’re going to wear or eat for your meals the night before. If laying out your clothes and writing a detailed to-do list helps free up valuable brainpower in the morning, then do it.
  • If you’re in the habit of writing a to-do list, only ever put the top three important items on the list otherwise you risk overwhelming yourself and reducing your decision-making capabilities.
  • Use your diary to lock in every appointment from dinners with friends to daily exercises (studies show committing to this means you’re less likely to deliberate and more likely to follow through).

If you’ve got young children at home, get ahead of the lunchbox game with these make ahead meal ideas for kids – or better yet, develop a meal plan the whole family will love.

Written by Dilvin Yasa