I Don’t Know, Decision Fatigue, Maybe

By Dr. Jon

Every day we have to make decisions and some days we make more decisions than others. Any time we become overwhelmed by the decisions we make we can do some pretty bizarre things. The three most common things that happen are:

1. Frustration or “Going Atomic”

2. Avoidance or “I Don’t Care”

3. Impulse

a. Impaired or “A Just Plain Bad Choice”

I’m going to cover each of these potentials of decision fatigue – But more importantly I’m going to suggest some solutions to keep more balanced and not suffer the consequences of decision fatigue.

In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.
Wikipedia (Decision Fatigue)

Frustration or “Going Atomic”

You’re probably familiar with repetitive motion syndromes. A joint can get injured through a major trauma and it can also be injured through being strained repetitively. Well our ability to make decisions can be very similar. If you have to make a lot of significant decisions in a short period of time it can be exhausting; it will break you down. But having to make even the simplest decisions over and over again can have the same deleterious effect.

When we get mentally run down as a result of our decision making, just about anything can set us off. We find ourselves blowing up over a child asking if they can go outside to play – well maybe not that, but something little, that may only require a yes or no.

BUT that yes or no decision put us over the edge. None of us want that.

You and I know it happens though. The parent white knuckling the steering wheel as the “mostly” well intending child rapid firing question after question. If it were a cartoon smoke would start bellowing out of the parents ears as they say through gritted teeth, “if you ask me one more question…”

Okay that’s an extreme example, but if you have raised your voice with your loved ones you may be suffering from decision fatigue.

Avoidance or “I Don’t Care”

More common then “Going Atomic” is avoidance. Any spouse who goes to a job that requires decision making is keenly familiar with this one.

What would you like for dinner?

A question that is often asked that just as regularly garners the response “I don’t care; whatever”. Throwing the ball back into the court of the other who may very well have had to make just as many decision through the course of the day – Leftovers!

I know that hearing “I don’t care” can be an irritating annoyance, but it may be the best you can expect if decision fatigue is the culprit.

Impulse – Impaired or “A Just Plain Bad Choice”

Oh the impulse purchase. Here is where decision fatigue is exploited. The wise shopper knows what they want and they go prepared to purchase only that which they want. But even the wisest shopper may be suffering from decision fatigue. They go to the grocery store with their list in hand and so they don’t get overwhelmed by the process of preparing for the coming days or week. But the decisions from earlier have worn on them and by the time they reach the check out they end up grabbing a candy bar – they don’t even know why. Those that don’t have a list in hand – their whole cart screams decision fatigue. Now you know why there are potential choices right at the check out. Hey, they been doing this long enough that they know impulse purchases are a real money maker.

It can be much worse than a candy bar…

Impulse purchases can become more and more devastating and even lead to debt if it is not regulated. When a person loses the ability of self-regulation it becomes an impairment of decision making. Debt is awful, but it can be overcome – money is always moving. I have no intention of minimizing debt, however, there is far worse when it comes to the impairment of decision. Fidelity is an example and one that can be the result of decision fatigue.

George Loewenstein wrote in “Time and Decision:” that the disastrous failure of men in high office to control impulses in their private lives may at times be attributed to decision fatigue stemming from the burden of day-to-day decision making. Similarly, Tierney notes in Time magazine that “C.F.O.’s are prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening”, after a long day of decision-making.

Overcome Decision Fatigue

Now that you know what decision fatigue is, you may wonder how to overcome it and avoid the potential negative effects. I will focus on three simple suggestion…

1. Plan the Night Before

It is no mystery that having a plan is the best way to eliminate decision fatigue.

  • Jim Rohn
  • Earl Nightingale
  • Alan Lakein
  • Stephen Covey
Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.
Stephen Covey

The beauty of planning the night before is that decisions are a part of life, they’re going to happen. But, most of the decisions we make are the same over and over again, so if we will take just three minutes the night before to plan out those routine decisions we have eliminated a majority of the decisions we will be faced with the next day.

2. Have a List, Heck, Have Several Lists

The night before you make the routine decisions and chances are you made a list to follow. If you make lists for all the daily and weekly tasks that you will encounter you will only need to remember one thing – check the list!

When your kids ask you what they should be doing next for their morning routine the answer is simple, “check the list”. Not only will this save your decision making opportunities it will empower your children. They will be so accustomed to the answer “check the list” that they will know to just check the list. It works super well with school work also.

Chore assignments will never be spur of the moment, they are set up in a list that is easily checked. And one of the coolest things is that these list can be made creatively. Our chore list is a moving list that looks like a variation of chutes and ladders. The kids have there school check off list that helps them visualize their progress. What a great confidence builder.

3. Eliminate as Many Decisions as Possible

This may seem a difficult thing to do, but it is one that many of the most successful people have done. You may remember the late Steve Jobs black turtle neck and jeans. He wore the same outfit all the time. This decision elimination tool has been adopted by the founder and president of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg.

I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.

But neither of them are the originators. Who knows who was, but Albert Einstein was known for his eccentricity. He regularly wore mismatched socks because of how unimportant he felt that decision would be.

At the end of an interview, a reporter asked if he could have Einstein’s phone number. “Certainly” replied Einstein. He picked up a phone book to look up his phone number, then wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to the reporter.

Dumbfounded, the reporter said, “You are considered to be the smartest man in the world and you can’t remember your own phone number?

Einstein replied, Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?

But you don’t need to be as eccentric, but look for your own ways to eliminate decisions. Check out the homeschool dress code as an example of one simple way to eliminate routine decisions.

Make the Most of Every Moment

You will continue to have decisions to make but by applying simple strategies you will be able to not only avoid decision fatigue, but make the most out of every moment. Your homeschooling experience should be joyful and your children will be empowered by knowing what and how to accomplish all that they need to succeed each and every day.

What are some ways you avoid decision fatigue. I am sure we can all benefit from your experiences – share them in the comments.