Starbucks offers 80,000 drink combinations, making the simple act of ordering a cup of coffee a maze of multiple decisions.
Much as we like having lots of choices, the hundreds of small and large decisions we must make every single day do nothing to improve our decision-making skills. Just the opposite, in fact. The more choices we have to make —almond milk or cream; whether or not to close a million-dollar deal — the more susceptible we are to the dangers of decision fatigue.
Decision-making takes a biological toll on us. It taxes the part of the brain that controls our thoughts and impulses. As a consequence, the prefrontal cortex — our “inner CEO” — looks for shortcuts to conserve its energy. Researchers call this type of mental depletion “decision fatigue.”
In response to decision fatigue, your brain may push you into quick and irresponsible action, just to avoid expending energy on the painstaking act of choosing. Or it may try to reserve its energy with analysis paralysis, and agonize over options to sidestep making any decision at all. Fend off decision fatigue so that your brain can focus on your most crucial choices.
Sidestep Unnecessary Decisions
Consciously choose to use your decision-making energy. Consider the decisions you make each day — even the simple things, like what to have for breakfast or prioritizing your inbox. Use technology to make things easier, or delegate tasks to others. Remember, it’s okay not to make a decision — even when others want you to. You can offer perspective or advice, but if you have no clear preference or choice to make, opt to let other people choose. Next time someone asks where you want to go to lunch, for example, simply say, “You decide.”
Go It Alone When Possible
Begin the decision-making process with the end in mind. It’s great to get feedback from others, but we can’t accommodate everyone’s point of view. Streamline the process to conserve your energy. Separate input sessions from your actual decision-making process to give yourself time to absorb and consolidate all the information. Sketch out your considerations and all salient points, and know your own mind. When it’s time to make the final choice, do so on your own.
Indecision is exhausting; a massive drain on your resources and energy. Decision-making isn’t always linear; you can move forward and then retreat. But each time you waver, it takes more energy to move forward again. Vacillation spikes your fear of the unknown and builds resistance to making a definitive choice. As you tax your brain to evaluate endless options, you’re also straining it to regulate your emotions. Uncertainty leaves you subject to manipulation by outside forces. Make your toughest or most emotionally challenging decisions first, or carve out time to consider them when you’re mentally and emotionally fresh.
It’s great to have options. Use your decision-making skills wisely to stay in control of your energy and your choices. In fact, I just downloaded the apps for my two go-to coffee chains and set them up with my regular drinks. Now when I want to place an order, I just hit favorite. One decision down … a few dozen more to go.
Let me know your techniques for reducing your daily decisions in the comments field below.