How to Regain Focus from Decision Fatigue
Do you know how many decisions you make in a day? If your guess is around the hundreds, you’re lowballing yourself. Every single day, people make close to tens of thousands of decisions. You just don’t realize it because most of these decisions have a minimal impact on your everyday life. Nonetheless, this repeated behavior could take its toll on anyone. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue.
Decision Fatigue, Defined
So, what exactly is decision fatigue? As the term suggests, it’s what happens when your mind lets up from all the decisions you have to make in your everyday life. Repetitive decision-making activities are bound to make you feel exhausted and impair the ability to control your behavior—let alone act! Don’t worry, though. Everyone experiences it. And there’s a vast field of research as to why it happens.
Psychology and Decision Fatigue
The leading school of thought among social psychologists is that the average individual could only control their behavior up to a certain threshold. This theory is called is the Strength Model of Self-Control. Self-regulation (or the ability to respond to external stimuli in a matter which is socially tolerated or acceptable), like making important decisions, can affect one’s ability to control themselves.
This theory is better understood through an example:
Imagine a situation where you need to buy a gift for your beloved nine-year-old niece. You might have an easy time making the first few choices, like where to buy it and how much you’re willing to spend. Say you’ve resolved to buy her a doll.
Will you buy her a Barbie? What if she prefers ragdolls? What color should the doll’s hair and eyes be? Now, what about the doll’s outfit? We can assure you that halfway through this nerve-wracking process, it’ll become even more difficult to settle with one choice. This is the Strength Model of Self-Control at work.
Having a variety of options is always a good thing, but considering all of them may drive you up against a wall. If you are faced with a situation where there are simply too many options, you may find yourself completely overwhelmed.
Moreover, the more complicated a decision is, the more it could lead to decision fatigue. For instance, it’s easier to decide whether to drink coffee or fresh juice for breakfast than being put on jury duty and deciding someone’s fate in a robbery case.
The Self-Regulation Factor
Remember what we said about self-regulation? Research also demonstrates that this practice of restraining one’s emotions and actions plays a significant role in decision fatigue. Individuals who are more self-conscious about their behavior are more susceptible to feeling catatonic.
Here’s another example: A person who adheres to a strictly vegan diet can find themselves facing a moral dilemma over which products could be consumed ethically. While we’re all for healthy and life-affirming choices, sometimes it’s simply not worth the trouble to decide what to eat. So, treat yourself to those decadent truffles every once in a while.
Time and Decision-Making
As you may have noticed, time and decision-making go hand-in-hand. A breadth of research in psychology suggests that people make better decisions early in the day compared to later in the afternoon. There’s a reason, among others, why classes are conventionally held in the mornings. People who take standardized tests, for example, make poorer decisions later in the day when they’re exhausted.
Interestingly, this also applies to medical professionals—who we generally perceive to have nerves of steel. Multiple reports have observed that doctors tend to prescribe unnecessary prescriptions past the morning.
Overall, many factors play into decision fatigue. This includes the number of decisions to be made, their complexity, and even the time it takes to make one. If you find yourself paralyzed by this phenomenon, it may serve you well to heed baseball legend Ted Williams’ words:
If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.