We make thousands of choices every day. While having a lot of things to choose from might seem like a luxury, decision fatigue can set in.

What is decision fatigue?

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made after a long session of decision making [1]. We all suffer from decision fatigue, so you are not alone in this. Decision fatigue has a significant influence on how we make choices. It can cause several problems:

Decision fatigue makes us more inclined to give in to temptation

Decision fatigue makes us reluctant to trade-offs. Having to reason why one option is better or worse than its alternative takes up a lot of our energy.

If you went through the whole supermarket making tradeoffs, you might give in to the temptation of having that Snickers bar at the checkout counter.

decision fatigue

Decision fatigue makes us avoid choosing

Making decisions can be extremely hard. Although some people might disagree, I am not talking about the choice of your outfit for a party. I am talking about life-changing decisions in areas like health, money or relationships.

Procrastinating on making choices is called decision avoidance. We all do this, and most of the time we call this keeping our options open. This way we don’t have to make tradeoffs or take action.

Decision fatigue causes impaired self-regulation

At the end of the day, we’ve used up a lot of our willpower. Ego depletion kicks in. You will start to make decisions that probably aren’t the best because you are looking for a way out.

While there is some discussion about the existence of ego depletion, we all experienced this phenomenon. Have you ever entered a supermarket after a long day of work when feeling hungry? You might have noticed that you loaded more unhealthy foods into your cart than you would typically do. This is because when you are hungry foods high in calories may be more tempting than usual.

Add ego depletion that grew throughout your day to the mix, and you can imagine what happens: you can’t resist buying a bar of chocolate or a bag of potato chips. [2]

We also see this problem in court where judges rule more favorable in the morning or after a short break [3].

 

3 ways to deal with decision fatigue

There is no single solution to decision fatigue because it is a multi-faceted problem. There are some simple ways to weapon yourself against it, though.

1. Use routines and preparation

What are the moments you absolutely dread having to make decisions? My guess is in the morning after waking up or at the end of the day when you are tired or hungry.

If you think of it, it is quite strange that we make things so complicated for ourselves. Wouldn’t it be much easier if there was a way not to have to make these decisions Every. Single. Day?

Guess what; there is a way!

And it’s straightforward: just use routines and preparation. Routines and preparation set you up for days of choice free bliss. Let me explain why.

Routines

Your alarm clock beeps, and you catapult yourself out of bed. The decision making starts:

  • What do I want to wear?
  • What am I going to eat?
  • Am I bringing lunch today?
  • Shall I take the train or car to work?

Every morning I asked myself these questions. That is why I started using routines. Use an evening routine to prepare for the next day and use a morning routine to have a quiet morning with decision making so you have more energy for the rest of the day.



2. Limit your options and be prepared

If this isn’t the first article you read on decision fatigue, you probably already read this quote from Barack Obama from a 2012 Vanity Fair interview.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” – Barack Obama

I’ve included it in this article because it illustrates the point of limiting choices perfectly. You don’t want to wake up and start suffering from decision fatigue immediately. There are more critical and challenging decisions to make during the day.

And while we don’t have the same responsibilities as a President, why would we make life more stressful and confusing when we can do things to make it easier?

Always eat the same things (include some variation)

This sounds boring, but it works. Did you know the average adult cooks the same nine dishes in rotation? People are creatures of habit, and while we have access to a gazillion recipes, we choose to prepare the same.

You can apply this to all the things you eat. Have the same breakfast every day, but add different things to it. Cook a lot for one evening so you can eat the same the next evening (preparation!). This not only reduces decision fatigue but will also help you eat healthier because you already prepared a meal.

Prepare what you wear

I get Obama’s point, but hey, I am a woman! I like to dress nice. What I did to make picking an outfit easier is this:

  • Pick your outfits in advance (preparation!)
    When I have a hectic week ahead, I select outfits for my whole workweek on a Sunday evening. I hang everything together on a clothes rack so I can snatch it off the rack in the morning.By picking all your outfits at once, you can easily see the big picture and combine items. Keep the weather report in mind, because you don’t want to head to the office in a t-shirt on a chilly day.
  • Buy things you can mix and match. This saves a lot of time and makes choosing an outfit super easy. Some people even go as far as simplifying their wardrobe by putting together a capsule wardrobe.

decision fatigue

3. Take breaks

Remember the judges I told you about? They rule more favorable during the morning and right after taking short breaks. Judges have to make important decisions with sometimes massive consequences all day. Imagine how that depletes their energy levels.

While you might have a profession that doesn’t require such massive decisions, decision fatigue can still significantly impact your life. In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel H. Pink explains everything about timing but also about taking breaks. You can apply some of his teachings to your life by:

  • Taking regular breaks throughout the day
  • When taking a break, go outside and take a walk with a friend or one of your favorite coworkers

 

Do you have some tips yourself? Share them in the comments.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Share it!