Yes, no, I don’t know. How to outsmart decision fatigue.
Supposedly, every one of us takes about 35,000 decisions a day. That’s a lot. And it’s only the average. If you happen to run a company or a large family or a country, this number may even be higher. No wonder that not all of our decisions are great! I would say, considering that number we can be happy that any of our decisions actually feel—and turn out to be—right. But plenty of decisions aren’t, and that’s because the quality of our decision-making decreases over the course of the day and decision fatigue hits.
So what does that mean? It means that you may come home from work and miraculously all your resolve to go to the gym or prepare a healthy meal has evaporated and you find yourself on the couch, binge-watching your favorite show while munching Cheetos. Yep, that’s decision fatigue, and it’s pretty normal. But there are things you can do to prevent or minimize it. So, let’s look at a few small changes that can be super helpful:
Take decisions when you’re fresh
Plenty of studies show that we take our best decisions when we are well rested, which translates to the morning or after a break with a meal. So maybe sitting down with your partner when you come home from work and decide whether to quit your jobs and move to the beach is not ideal. How about postponing that potentially life-changing decision to the weekend brunch? Or at least take a break and enjoy a nice dinner together before diving right in.
This finding may also make you want to rethink your morning routine because mornings are hands-down the best time of day for your most important decisions and whatever is high on your priority list, no matter if you are an early bird or not. (See here for more on morning routines.)
Plan certain decisions ahead of time
Let’s go back once more to the example of the gym visit that turned into a couch session. It may be normal, but it’s also among the easier things to get back on your schedule. Actually, that’s the hack: It has to be on your schedule, full stop. If exercising is what you do at certain times on certain days (and your calendar says so), it’s not a decision to be made but an activity to be carried out. I’m not saying this little trick will turn you into a gym rat or you’ll never bail again—but your chances of going are much higher.
Personally, I put tons of things on my calendar on Sunday nights to make sure they get done and to save myself the decision of what to do next or what to do when during the week. It’s a bit of a rigorous system, so it’s probably not right for everybody but I recommend you give it a shot and see how you fare with it.
Don’t take certain decisions at all
Lots of successful people spare themselves the daily decision of what to wear by having a kind of uniform (just think Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg). That may not be the right approach for you, but there are plenty of decisions you could skip: what to eat for breakfast, what music to listen to, where and when to take the dog for a walk. You get my point, pretty much anything can be standardized to a certain extent. It is helpful, though, if it’s not an area in which you like to make decisions.
For example, if you love rummaging through your closet but don’t care much for variety on your plate, simplify your life by doing meal prep. Granted, it’s a lot of work, but only once a week and then you’re set. On a smaller scale, I recommend ordering the same dish at the same restaurant until you are fed up with it. Then choose the next one until you feel it’s getting old. I’ve done that for years and it has taken a lot of stress out of restaurant visits. Because at dinner time, I am usually so far in decision fatigue land I can’t even tell you if I want Thai or Italian, and choosing a particular dish is basically out of the question. Evidently, this works for me because I am not a foodie—probably to the same extent Mark Zuckerberg is not a fashionista (an assumption on my part, of course).
No matter what you decide to do—and make it a good decision!—don’t listen to anybody who tells you how boring it is to always wear the same outfit or eat the same stuff or take the same walk at the same time every day, even if that somebody is yourself. Yes, variety is a nice thing but we don’t all need the same amount of it, and certainly not in the same areas of life. So make the decisions you’ll have to make because, life—and the ones you enjoy and skip or schedule or standardize the rest. I promise you (because science totally supports this), it’ll improve the quality of decisions you make—and therefore your peace of mind. And that’s what it’s all about, right?