Until recently I hadn't heard this term much, and I was probably one of the people who thought that people who made bad choices with their health and fitness just needed to exhibit a bit more 'willpower'. I can now consider myself educated about the phenomenon known as 'decision fatigue'. This fatigue can strike us all, but is more common in those who have trouble creating routines and regular habits.
Think of willpower like a muscle, each decision you make being like another rep at the gym. Just like your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower can fade as you make more decisions throughout the day.
Does your day look something like this?
We all know this scenario. It's the end of a hard day at work, and we've been telling ourselves all day that we're going to hit the gym and then grab something healthy for dinner on the way home. This has been said with best intentions and the knowledge that we have good willpower and therefore will definitely do this thing.
But unbeknownst to us, the sheer volume of decisions we've been making all day, along with not having a few firm habits in place have caused 5pm to roll around with us feeling exhausted, mentally drained, unable to think straight, and starving (because we also skipped lunch or an afternoon snack).
Now some may say that living with a lot of routines or habits is boring, but I would say that this allows human beings to make the best decisions, and therefore affect their own lives in the most positive way.
By creating automated routines in our day, we remove the need to make a decision about every little thing. Thus leaving a little more 'decision making power' in the bank for when an important decision comes up that we really need to act on. By having most of our decision making happen this way we can reduce stress and anxiety levels, while freeing up more time for those high-level decisions.
4 Habits to avoid decision fatigue
- Do the most important tasks first. Whatever this is to you, get it done when you're at your most able. Get your workout in before work, the big job at work done before you clear emails, or meet with the boss about that important proposal.
- Stop making decisions and start making commitments. Hope is not a strategy, and hoping that you'll get things done is mostly not going to work. Schedule those things that are important and commit to them. Ensure you only commit to things that you value, as you will need this overriding belief in why you are doing something when times get tough.
- Cut less important decisions. Don't spend time fussing over things that aren't actually imporatnt to you. Resign them to your 'mental trash'. This will free up an amazing amount of decision making capacity.
- If you have to make hard decisions late in the day, eat something first. Studies show best decision making is made after healthy meals when the brain and the body have been fed. Better food equals better decisions.
A few examples of those daily decisions that we could automate follow here. If you currently spend time deciding on these every day, build them into a regualr routine that will simplify things and help them become automatic.
- what to eat for breakfast
- the kids morning routine
- how to get to work
- what type of coffee to drink
- what tasks to do first at work
- where to go for morning tea
- what to eat for lunch
- scheduling gym time
- picking up the kids
- to cook dinner or go out
- family time
Really important decisions
We should reserve our decision making functions for these types of important issues.
- setting our goals
- specific work deadlines
- family matters
- catching up with friends
- after work social engagements
- life changing events