Modern life is overwhelming. Almost every part of our day is loaded with decisions, and many of the decisions have to be made quickly with limited information.

This is the one area where loving your job, and loving your family is a burden. The outcomes are important to you, and therefore the decisions you make become more stressful.

Decision making is hardcore

It doesn’t sound hard. It’s not like you’re running a marathon or performing brain surgery. In reality, as Psychology Today’s Debby Stier reminds us, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — instead you find yourself low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain.

It’s NOT you

The world is different from your parents’ world. There’s more information, more options, and more choices made outside our “comfort zone”. Stier confirms  – “When there were fewer decisions, there was less decision fatigue. Today we feel overwhelmed because there are so many choices” – it’s not you, it’s the amount of choices you’re asked to make each day.

The awful consequences

Impaired decision making is the worst thing to bring to planning, life choices, and money management. A 2011 paper showed the biggest factor influencing judges’ decisions to either convict or exonerate was… whether the judge had had a rest from decision making!

Just as those judges may have ruined lives due to decision fatigue, you risk making poor decisions “in other important sequential decisions or judgments, such as legislative decisions, medical decisions, and financial decisions” if your mind is clouded by decision fatigue.

Fixing it

The key is understanding that all decisions count. Yes, all. Structure your day in advance so you know what you’re wearing, what you’re eating for breakfast, and where you’re parking the car. Every decision avoided reduces your fatigue. The Maryland School of business has a neat four-part remedy for decision fatigue, which they call VARI:

  • Values: determine what’s important to you.
  • Automation: think about what you can and can’t automate. Bill Butler can automate away the repetitive money management chores that often need to be done when you’re already fatigued.
  • Rationality: Make your decisions by consciously listing and weighting relevant criteria.
  • Intuition: Harness your gut instinct. This does not mean throwing out your rational conclusions – it means including holistic patterns, emotions, and sensible assumptions, because in a complex world, feelings and facts are both required.

Jay Headshot-01Jay Stephens
Lead Thought Provoker
Jay began his career in London with Rabobank, CLS bank and a Lloyd’s of London syndicate. Jay’s work has spanned corporate communications, content editing, newspaper articles, courseware, blogging, policy drafting, technical writing, and a regular crossword. He is passionate about 8-bit tunes, self-improvement, and the Oxford comma.