Decision Fatigue: What is it? How do we overcome it?

Decision Fatigue can be defined as the inability to make quality decisions as a result of mental tiredness related to repeated decision making during preceding hours.

The idea of Decision Fatigue is a relatively new concept that has emerged through the studies of social psychology and in particular, the work of Roy F. Baumeister (Social Psychologist) who has largely studied the self, will power and how we as humans view ourselves. Decision fatigue or ego depletion can be described as unconscious tiredness, low mental energy, the inability to make a decision, making rapid decisions all at the potential trade off that these decisions will have less than ideal consequences.

There have been a number of experiments conducted in the judicial system (in particular 1100 parole cases in Israeli prisons) demonstrating that after extended periods of decision making by judges or panels, or when blood glucose levels are depleted, decisions are poorly made and are often also inconsistent with decisions made earlier in the day or within the immediate hours of a meal. Such experiments have concluded that as humans, we have limited stores of mental energy for exerting self control, namely will power being a form of energy that can be exhausted.

Within our current social and working environments we are faced with an array of decisions that need to be made throughout our day and this can ultimately lead to decision fatigue when it comes to making decisions that require further energy exertion i.e. making the decision to go to the gym or making the decision to pass up that second slice of cake. In addition, when we are mentally depleted or our glucose is low, our brain responds more positively to immediate rewards and less likely to consider entering into decisions leading to long-term prospects. We seek immediate gratification, we seek ways to replenish our glucose levels and often leads to increased cravings for sugar.

Willpower is not something that some people have and some people do not have however, the more we ‘practice’ our willpower or make behavioural changes to maximise on our decision making the more likely we are to make positive and long-term based decisions.

Practically, behavioural changes can be made to assist in overcoming decision fatigue;

1.     Planning

Plan out your day the night before. Plan your outfit, plan or prepare your food, get organised to the best of your ability to assist in reducing how many decisions you need to make first thing in the morning.

2.     Prioritising

Prioritise important decisions to earlier in the day when our glucose levels are generally higher, we are well rested, and have made less decisions.

3.     Commit to a set of behaviours

This will require a change in thinking patterns, rather than making a decision to go to that gym class 3 x per week, make the commitment to improve your health and fitness, make the commitment to go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it is simply what you do.

By taking the ‘decision’ factor out of our thinking patterns our brain will no longer have to engage in the back and forth decision making game.

4.     Fuel up

We need to be properly fuelled to make quality decisions, in the case of dieters who have strongly reduced their calorie intake glucose levels generally sit low therefore, making it that much harder to adhere to a strict diet long term.

How do we overcome this? Stay fuelled with proper nutrition, a small caloric deficit (if fat loss is a goal) and make sure big decisions are made when you are properly fuelled.

5.     Simplify

Simplify your tasks, make a clear list of what is and what is not a priority, make a list of what you are going to address first and what can be put aside.

There are so many apps we can easily download onto our smart phones that will enable us to do this and to keep track of our progress therefore, eliminating that ‘too many tabs open’ feeling we so often become consumed by.  

 

Decision fatigue is something that is so common in our current lives due to social, work, family demands as well as making sure we are healthy physically and mentally. Overwhelming ? Yes, if we allow it to be however, remembering that we are human, being aware of our strengths, weaknesses and abilities will bring self awareness and knowledge that can assist in managing decision fatigue on a day to day basis.

 

 

References

Baumeister, R.F. ‘Self Control and Decision Making’, http://www.roybaumeister.com [accessed 5th July 2018]

Clear, James. Online Blog, https://jamesclear.com/willpower-decision-fatigue [accessed 5th July 2018]

Stier, Debbie. (2011). ‘Suffering from Psychology Today’ available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-perfect-score-project/201109/suffering-decision-fatigue [accessed 5th July 2018)

Leland, Karen. (2012). ‘Your Small Business Brain and Decision Fatigue’ https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-perfect-blend/201201/your-small-business-brain-and-decision-fatigue [accessed 5th July 2018]

Tierney, John. (August 17, 2011) ‘Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue’ https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html [accessed 5th July 2018]

Peak Wellbeing (2016) ‘ Stop Buying into Decision Fatigue’ https://medium.com/peak-wellbeing/stop-buying-into-decision-fatigue-fd63e9a2ff17 [accessed 5th July 2018]