How To Deal With Decision Fatigue And Be More Assertive With Your Choices

"Decision fatigue" is a term established by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister involving the idea of "ego depletion," which itself is based on a hypothesis first suggested by Sigmund Freud (via The New York Times). Decision fatigue describes a phenomenon in which the quality of our decisions deteriorates, one after the other, when faced with many decisions to make over a period of time. Decision fatigue can be common in certain professions that require extensive decision-making, for example, emergency responders, whose decisions are often responsible for saving lives and minimizing harm. Perhaps even wedding planners could experience decision fatigue as part of the job. But decision fatigue can happen to anybody over much less pressing circumstances. For example, can you not stand the thought of having to figure out dinner after a long day at work? Where fatigue is often referred to as physical exhaustion, decision fatigue is symptomatic of mental and emotional exhaustion. 

Psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Maclean told the American Medical Association that there are four symptoms of decision fatigue: "procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance and indecision." After making so many decisions, you might simply stop caring what happens next, effectively giving up the will to try and make the best choice. As such, decision fatigue has real consequences. It can cause someone to neglect their responsibilities to themselves and others, make poor financial choices, or make choices that could negatively impact their health. Where the demands of modern daily life feel never-ending, consider giving yourself compassion, and learn to lower the stakes of your decision-making when you can.

Give yourself compassion

Someone with decision fatigue might feel completely depleted. It feels rather ironic, then, that looking into solutions for decision fatigue often entails making more decisions, sifting through lists of advice, choosing which to take and which to not, and deciding when to implement it. What if, instead of pushing yourself harder, you took some time to give yourself compassion? Instead of worrying about being "right" or "wrong" when it comes to decision-making, remember that you are a human being, not a robot making computations. And as a human being, taking care of yourself is paramount to both leading a fulfilling life and meeting your responsibilities. For example, research shows that an inadequate amount of sleep can impair our decision-making skills. A study also showed that can hunger can influence decision-making, which is why it is not advised to make important decisions without being satiated. For those with busy schedules, having a full night of rest and making time for meals can be a challenge. But prioritizing your needs such as sleeping and eating is not just essential for your health, it is also an act of kindness; you deserve to feel replenished, and feeling replenished will help you sustain your energy throughout the day. 

Remember that facing decision fatigue does not make you an indecisive person, but should you be prone to indecision, you might also be prone to decision fatigue. Reflect on whether or not you are looking for the "perfect" choice, as this can hinder your ability to decide. Make the best choice you can, and feel confident that you did the best you could in that moment.

Lower the stakes

Decision fatigue could also be an effect of setting your expectations too high. Are you trying to do too many things throughout the day? And when you fail to get all of your tasks done, do you blame yourself for not working harder to do so? No wonder, then, that you are tired of making decisions when punishment always awaits you. Rather than setting yourself up to fail, consider setting yourself up to succeed. Evaluate your routines to see if they're helping or hindering you — are there any ways in which you can simplify?

Being proactive about your time can be an excellent way to fight decision fatigue; perhaps even write your tasks down in the form of a list so you can externalize them. First, prioritize making decisions that meet immediate needs. Do you need to get groceries to make dinner tonight? Do you need to call the pharmacy to refill a prescription? Make sure these decisions are prioritized.

Then, consider the decisions you want to make, but are less urgent. Do you want to book a flight for an upcoming trip? Do you want to purchase a new pair of shoes? These decisions can wait until you have more time to consider them. When each decision feels increasingly stressful, consider lowering the stakes. Remind yourself that no harm will come if you simply cannot check every box on your list. Take care of your needs first, and take each decision you make one step at a time.