Recently I had lunch with a friend at a new sandwich place and it was just the type of place I love and the sort of place where decision fatigue sets in.
They offered familiar sandwiches and salads with just a bit of a twist that made them interesting. It was busy and there was a big variety of choices. We had to let several regulars order before us because neither one of us could make a quick decision.
We finally got our lunch after about a 30-minute wait. There were so many phone orders ahead of us in addition to the full tables. The conversation turned to both the delicious sandwiches and our decision fatigue.
We were both in the midst of last minute get away plans, not so much an adventurous vacation given we would be doing the same thing, but in a different location – just the realities of pandemic life!
And that lead to us talking about all of the other decisions we make every day. From what to wear, to when to go to the grocery store or place a delivery order, to what’s the topic for the next blog, to giving permission or not for the kid’s sleep-over, to considering charitable giving before the end of the year and on and on. There were a bunch more we identified in the span of about 3 minutes.
We both were at the point of emotional exhaustion listing them, let alone living it.
Decision Fatigue happens when we make too many decisions in one day – or even in one hour – and we feel mentally drained by the process. Sometimes it can make prioritizing tasks, thinking through problems, remembering details and controlling impulses more difficult since the volume of choices made puts a strain on the brain.
Women on a daily basis, more often than men find themselves in the position of not only making decisions for their own needs, but also those of for their families, business and other community commitments such as getting together with friends and family, volunteering, church, major household purchases, etc.
It’s not that women find it harder to make decisions, but rather women make more decisions. In addition, the decisions we make usually have an immediate impact on our lives and those around us as well. Those two factors, volume and speed are a big contributor to decision fatigue.
Here are 3 foolproof ways to ease the burden of decision making, so you can breakout of decision fatigue.
1. Prioritize Tasks
One of the best ways to relieve decision fatigue is by making a list of the tasks that need to be completed – both big and small – and then deciding which of them – big or small – need to be done first.
Here’s an example:
I often make a “master list” of things to do. This could be a DIY home project or even a fun activity like holiday decorating.
I remind myself that the list will be big, but it’s okay since I’ll break it down.
Then next step is to break the “master list” down into bite size chunks that I complete in a shorter amount of time.
When I get things down on paper or in a document the details aren’t swimming around in my head anymore. I’ve done the task “brain dump” and can look at it more objectively from an action taking standpoint. This includes the logical steps to completion and what can I realistically accomplish in the time I have.
The last part about realistically accomplish, is very important since it’s both practical and a self-compassion practice at the same time. Biting off more than you can chew often leads to overwhelm which leads to decision fatigue, so take smaller bits and you’ll be more comfortable and make progress too.
2. Consider What’s Really Needed
Another great way to relieve the burden of decision fatigue is to think about what’s really needed.
When decisions are many there’s a tendency to speed up the process and that’s the fast track to decision fatigue. The faster you make decisions the faster your tension will be relieved, at least that’s the hope. But this perspective only considers short term stress. I’m guessing what you want is longer term relief too.
Here are 3 questions that can help you take a moment to make a better decision:
- Is this an immediate need?
- Is it “nice to do” or it “needs to be done” right now?
- Do I need or want help with this decision?
These 3 simple questions can help you increase your awareness of your needs, the needs of the situation and ultimately leads to more thoughtful decision making.
3. Reacting vs. Responding
So much of the time we react without thinking and this is a big contributor to decision fatigue. Step 1 – prioritizing and Step 2 – focusing on needs both help to slow down that process so you can mindfully choose how you want to respond to what’s being asked of you. This shifts the dynamic.
You get out of the rapid-fire making decision and into a comfortable way of being. When you know what you need (your family too) there just aren’t as many decisions as possible to make.
It’s like you don’t need to consider choices because you already know the answer before the question is asked. This is a major shift from reacting to thoughtfully responding and that’s what being in alignment is all about.
When you move out of what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls, human doing and into human being, it’s a place where day to day decisions no longer seem stressful. The you have a reservoir of calm and well-being you can draw on when your stress level rises and you start do feel the emotional exhaustion of decision fatigue. Your confidence increases as you clearly know what’s in your best interests respond in kind.