Decision Fatigue: What It Is and How to Avoid It (2023)

Decision Fatigue: What It Is and How to Avoid It (1)Share on Pinterest

We face hundreds of choices everyday — from what to eat for lunch (pasta or sushi?) to more complicated decisions that involve our emotional, financial, and physical well-being.

Regardless of how strong you are, your ability to make the best choices can eventually run out due to decision fatigue. That’s the official term for that feeling when you’re overly stressed by the endless amount of decisions you’ve had to make throughout the day.

“Recognizing it can be tricky because it will often feel like a deep sense of weariness,” says licensed counselor, Joe Martino, who adds that it probably affects us more than we ever realize.

Learning how to manage your decision-making can help you avoid feeling drained and conserve your mental energy. Here’s what you should know.

Coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.

“When humans are overstressed, we become hasty or shut down altogether, and that stress plays a huge role in our behaviors,” says Tonya Hansel, PhD, director of the Doctorate of Social Work at Tulane University.

She explains that this type of fatigue leads to 1 of 2 outcomes: risky decision-making or decision avoidance.

In other words, when your mental energy begins running low, you’re less able to override basic desires and more likely to go for whatever’s easiest.

Decision fatigue can manifest in a range of ways. Here’s a look at 2 common scenarios:

Meal planning

Few things are as stressful as constantly thinking about what to eat every day. This is partly due to the sheer number of decisions involved (thanks, internet).

For example, maybe you scroll through dozens of recipes, waiting for one to stand out. Except… they all look good. Overwhelmed, you randomly select one without taking a close look at what’s involved.

After making your list, you head to the grocery store, only to stare down 20 or more options for milk alone.

You get home and realize you won’t have time to get through that recipe until this weekend. And that milk you bought? It’s not the kind the recipe called for.

Managing decisions at work

“Searching for answers can turn a simple decision tree into a maze of stress and burden,” says Hansel.

Let’s say you’re interviewing people to fill a new role. You get a ton of qualified candidates and find yourself struggling to cut down the list to a manageable number.

By the end of the day, you can’t keep them straight and just select the 3 applicants whose names you remember for an interview. Making your selection this way, you might overlook some of the strongest candidates.

(Video) How to Overcome Decision Fatigue - Avoid Decision Fatigue

How to recognize it

(Video) What Is Decision Fatigue? | Psychological Explanation & Solutions

Remember, decision fatigue isn’t always easy to spot. But Hansel offers some tell-tale signs that might suggest you’re heading for a burnout.

Decision fatigue signs

Classic signs of decision fatigue include:

  • Procrastination. “I’ll tackle this later.”
  • Impulsivity. “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…”
  • Avoidance. “I can’t deal with this right now.”
  • Indecision. “When in doubt, I just say ‘no.'”

Over time, this kind of stress can lead to irritability, increased anxiety, depression, and physical effects, such as tension headaches and digestive issues.

The best way to avoid energy-sapping decision fatigue is by consciously directing your thoughts and actions.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Focus on self-care

“As with any stress response, when the human system becomes overly taxed, self-care is extremely important,” says Hansel.

(Video) Why Decision Fatigue SUCKS and How to Avoid It

Take time to rest by setting aside 10-minute breaks between tasks throughout the day.

Recovering also means making sure you’re getting enough sleep at night, making sure you’re getting some nutrition from your food, and watching your alcohol intake.

Make a list of which decisions have priority

Cut down on needless decision-making by jotting down your top priorities for the day and ensuring you tackle those first. This way, your most important decisions get done when your energy is at its highest.

Have a personal philosophy for major decisions

According to Martino, a good rule of thumb when confronting major decisions is to ask yourself how tired you are in the present situation. Are you making a decision to simply solve the thing in front of you?

“I think the best question to ask is: How much impact on my life will this decision have?” he says.

If the answer is that it’ll have a high impact, develop a philosophy of decision-making that only allows you to make those decisions when you have to make them or when you feel refreshed.

This might mean setting aside a block of time each month to evaluate the pros and cons associated with major decisions.

Minimize low-stakes decisions

Reduce decision drain by planning ahead and taking relatively minor decisions out of the equation. For example, take your lunch to work to avoid having to decide which restaurant to order from. Or lay out your clothes for work the night before.

“What people don’t realize is that things that have very little impact on our lives can actually take a lot of decision energy,” Martino explains. “Try to limit those by choosing them the night before.”

Maintain unchanging routines

Set up your day so that you have to make the fewest decisions possible.

This means having strict and clear rules about certain things, such as:

  • when you’ll go to sleep
  • specific days you’ll hit the gym
  • going grocery shopping

Opt for healthier snacks

Having the right nutrition can help conserve your energy. Research shows that eating a quick, glucose-rich snack improves our self-control and keeps your blood sugar from dipping low.

Not sure what to snack on? Here are 33 on-the-go options.

(Video) How to Avoid Decision Fatigue

Allow others to help

Sharing the mental load of decision-making can help prevent feelings of overwhelm.

Here are a few examples of what you can delegate:

  • If you’re having a hard time meal planning, allow your partner or roommate to come up with a menu. You can help out with the shopping.
  • Ask a close friend to help you decide which plumber to call.
  • Let a colleague choose which images to use on your next work presentation.

Keep tabs on your mental and physical state

“Realize that everyone gets overwhelmed with decisions at times,” says Hansel. Pay attention to your emotional and physical responses.

Are you repeatedly making poor choices because you feel overwhelmed? Do you find yourself making a habit of snacking on junk food to avoid making decisions about dinner?

Keeping track of your reactions can help you understand which habits need improvement.

Celebrate your good decisions

You make so many small decisions during the day without even realizing it. And that’s on top of all the big, noticeable ones.

Hansel recommends purposefully celebrating the work of making a well-informed or good decision.

If you nailed your presentation or managed to fix that leaky faucet, pat yourself on the back and celebrate your ability to problem solve and perform under pressure. Head home 15 minutes early or allow yourself some extra time to unwind when you get home.

If you’re feeling irritable, overwhelmed, or without energy, you might be dealing with decision fatigue.

Take a look at all the big and small decisions you make every day and think about how you can take them out of the equation.

(Video) You May Be Suffering From Decision Fatigue | Think Out Loud With Jay Shetty

By changing your habits and setting up the right routines, you can decrease anxiety and conserve your energy for the decisions that really matter.

Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.

FAQs

Decision Fatigue: What It Is and How to Avoid It? ›

Here's how:
  1. Put sleep on your side. “Sleep is tremendously important for willpower and decision-making,” Baumeister says. ...
  2. Make some choices automatic. People make thousands of decisions each day, Schwartz says. ...
  3. Enlist a choice adviser. ...
  4. Give your expectations a reality check. ...
  5. Pace yourself. ...
  6. Tune into how you're feeling.
Sep 22, 2021

What is decision making fatigue? ›

Decision fatigue is “the idea that after making many decisions, your ability to make more and more decisions over the course of a day becomes worse,” said Dr. MacLean, a psychiatrist. “The more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult it can become.”

What is an example of decision fatigue? ›

Decision fatigue is a cognitive shortcut that causes irrational trade-offs in decision-making. One prominent example is Barack Obama's presidential outfits. He claims to have worn the same colored suits every day so as to limit the number of decisions he has to make.

Is decision fatigue a cognitive bias? ›

A cognitive bias that may affect emergency clinicians is decision fatigue. Making repeated decisions may impair executive function and influence subsequent decision making.

How do you deal with decision overload? ›

Paramar offer these coping strategies:
  1. Limit yourself to making no more than a few (three or four) big choices per day.
  2. Make most of your important decisions early in the day—when you're relatively charged with mental energy—leaving lighter decisions for later in the day, and schedule important meetings in the morning.
Sep 24, 2021

What causes difficulty making decisions? ›

Fear of making the wrong decision is one of the reasons that many people hesitate when faced with a choice. You may be afraid of failure or even the consequences of success. You may worry what other people will think about you. Perfectionism may be getting in your way.

How can I make less decisions? ›

How To Make Fewer Decisions Every Day
  1. Set a “wake-up” time and stick with it. ...
  2. Rotate a few established outfits every week. ...
  3. Treat exercise like an important appointment. ...
  4. Cook in bulk to put your meals on autopilot. ...
  5. Plan the next day of work before bed time. ...
  6. Admit that not all tasks are worth doing.

How do you deal with indecisive people? ›

Alternatives: Walk them through the other options out there. Keep the conversation open and avoid judgment. Use questions to keep the conversation moving forward but set limits based on your deadline. Decision: Let them choose the decision-making style that works for them.

Why is decision-making so stressful? ›

Decision-making can be a hidden source of stress, and being faced with too many choices can ultimately lead to decision fatigue. By doing things to simplify and streamline your life, you'll be able to better manage this stressor and make better choices that will ultimately leave you feeling happier and more satisfied.

Why is making decisions so exhausting? ›

Decision fatigue is thought to be a result of unconscious, psychobiological processes, and is a reaction to sustained cognitive, emotional and decisional load, as opposed to a trait or deficiency.

What are the seven ways to overcome decision fatigue Please provide a brief description of each one? ›

How to beat decision fatigue
  1. Establish routines. Routine helps you get rid of small decisions by turning them into automatism. ...
  2. Make binary decisions. ...
  3. Learn to prioritize. ...
  4. Group together similar tasks. ...
  5. Set deadlines – timely decisions. ...
  6. Don't do it all alone. ...
  7. Prioritize self-care.
Aug 28, 2018

What is it called when a person can no longer make decisions? ›

Mental Capacity Act

Sometimes people have difficulty in making decisions for themselves. The ability to make decisions is called "mental capacity" and there are lots of reasons why someone may lack mental capacity temporarily or all of the time, such as illness, brain injury or mental health.

How can we avoid cognitive bias? ›

10 tips to overcome cognitive biases
  1. Be aware. ...
  2. Consider current factors that may be influencing your decision. ...
  3. Reflect on the past. ...
  4. Be curious. ...
  5. Strive for a growth mindset. ...
  6. Identify what makes you uncomfortable. ...
  7. Embrace the opposite. ...
  8. Seek multiple perspectives.
Jul 6, 2021

What is decision avoidance? ›

Decision avoidance is a choice strategy whereby decision- makers fail to make a decision, postpone a decision, or make a de- cision that does not involve action or change (Beattie et al. 1994; Luce 1998; see Anderson 2003).

How do you make decisions easier? ›

Tips for making decisions
  1. Don't let stress get the better of you. ...
  2. Give yourself some time (if possible). ...
  3. Weigh the pros and cons. ...
  4. Think about your goals and values. ...
  5. Consider all the possibilities. ...
  6. Talk it out. ...
  7. Keep a diary. ...
  8. Plan how you'll tell others.

What is the root cause of indecisiveness? ›

Difficulty in making decisions can be caused by several factors, such as a fear of failure and a lack of confidence or information. Indecisiveness can also be a symptom of mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What personality type is indecisive? ›

Out of the IN personality types, INFPs and INTPs struggle the most with indecisiveness. These types can see endless possibilities, which makes it difficult for them to gain the closure they need to move forward. INPs may struggle to identify a strong sense of purpose and direction.

How do you overcome decision anxiety? ›

To overcome indecision caused by anxiety, try the following strategies:
  1. Avoid choice overload. ...
  2. Avoid perfectionism. ...
  3. Don't catastrophise. ...
  4. Flip a coin. ...
  5. Make a list of pros and cons. ...
  6. 'Ooch' into big decisions. ...
  7. Live with uncertainty.
Sep 17, 2021

How do I limit my choices? ›

To limit your options, try the following techniques:
  1. Filter Options. Eliminate options based on one or more attributes of each option. ...
  2. Divide & Conquer. Split your decision into two decisions by grouping options by a key attribute of your decision. ...
  3. Reduce Overhead. ...
  4. Sort by Importance. ...
  5. Select a Subset.
Sep 18, 2012

How do people make decisions? ›

When making a decision, we form opinions and choose actions via mental processes which are influenced by biases, reason, emotions, and memories. The simple act of deciding supports the notion that we have free will. We weigh the benefits and costs of our choice, and then we cope with the consequences.

What are some decisions we make everyday? ›

9 Everyday Decisions That Will Make or Break Your Career
  • Choosing to Give in to Fear. ...
  • Choosing the Pain of Regret Over the Pain of Discipline. ...
  • Choosing to Not Say “I Will” ...
  • Choosing to Not Take Lots of Small Risks. ...
  • Choosing to Not Move. ...
  • Choosing to Not Let Go. ...
  • Choosing to Not Say You're Sorry.
Jun 19, 2020

Why is making decisions so exhausting? ›

Decision fatigue is thought to be a result of unconscious, psychobiological processes, and is a reaction to sustained cognitive, emotional and decisional load, as opposed to a trait or deficiency.

What causes inability decision-making? ›

Fear of making the wrong decision is one of the reasons that many people hesitate when faced with a choice. You may be afraid of failure or even the consequences of success. You may worry what other people will think about you. Perfectionism may be getting in your way.

What is it called when you have trouble making decisions? ›

Indecision can also stem from anxiety. Fear of making the wrong decision and suffering consequences or remorse inhibits some people. Worry about making a mistake and feeling guilty, remiss, exposed, or ignorant is common. Sometimes, people are paralyzed by a fear of hurting or alienating another.

How do you deal with indecisive people? ›

Alternatives: Walk them through the other options out there. Keep the conversation open and avoid judgment. Use questions to keep the conversation moving forward but set limits based on your deadline. Decision: Let them choose the decision-making style that works for them.

What personality type is indecisive? ›

Out of the IN personality types, INFPs and INTPs struggle the most with indecisiveness. These types can see endless possibilities, which makes it difficult for them to gain the closure they need to move forward. INPs may struggle to identify a strong sense of purpose and direction.

What is the root cause of indecisiveness? ›

Difficulty in making decisions can be caused by several factors, such as a fear of failure and a lack of confidence or information. Indecisiveness can also be a symptom of mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is the 40 70 rule? ›

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had a particular approach when faced with making a quick decision. He called it the 40/70 rule. He would strive to not make a decision with less than 40% of the information needed, then ultimately make the decision when he had at most, 70% of the information.

How do I overcome my fear of decisions? ›

Tips to Help You Cope with Decidophobia
  1. Take Actionable Decisions: It's okay to acknowledge that making a decision is scary. ...
  2. Reduce the Number Of Decisions: ...
  3. Be Curious: ...
  4. Shift Your Point of View: ...
  5. Empower Yourself: ...
  6. Know Your Why: ...
  7. See Both Sides of Risk: ...
  8. Learn from Mistakes:

Videos

1. How To Avoid "Decision Fatigue" | Productivity Hack
(Little Might)
2. [GUIDE] How To Prevent Decision Fatigue
(Coaching Expatriates)
3. The 5 Magical Steps to Prevent Decision Fatigue
(Dan Silvestre)
4. Decision Fatigue: How Making Less Choices Gives You More Freedom
(Marie Forleo)
5. How to Simplify Your Life by Reducing Decision Fatigue
(Courteney Louise)
6. Fighting Decision Fatigue
(Maryland Smith)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated: 12/02/2022

Views: 5868

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.