3 Simple Strategies to Avoid “Decision Fatigue”

Guest post by Janice Torres

I was at my wits’ end. I had just enough room to plant my forearms on my desk between two teetering piles of folders, a long-cold cup of coffee, and ringing phone. I had a productivity report to finish typing and send off, and all I wanted to do was grab my coat and get out of there. Instead, I let out a deep, frustrated sigh, choosing to stay and do the best I could with what I had.

Choice is one of the most powerful things we possess, yet we often hand it over to someone else. How many times have you said, “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” when asked where we want to eat?

We choose to listen to the alarm in the morning, we choose an outfit, we choose our outlook. You’re reading this because you’ve made the choice to do so (thanks, by the way!). But choices can become overwhelming and exhausting, and there’s a very real thing called “Decision Fatigue” that can manifest itself in a couple different ways:

  • Loss of self-control. The more decisions we have to make, the less self-control we tend to have. Stress at work means we’re more likely to grab the doughnut instead of the healthy snack we brought. Making tough decisions all day might make us feel like skipping the gym and parking in front of the TV for the night.
  • Shutting down. When you’re overwhelmed with decisions, you may get stuck. There’s so much to put into action that you opt for inaction. Some will sleep, some will numb out, others will just go along with the majority decision.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat these feelings before they begin. Here are a few strategies to try when you’re feeling the pressure.

Strategy #1: Remember your “why”

This is one of my favorite phrases, and I use it as a mantra on particularly stressful days. It’s a great way to remind yourself of your purpose. Did you start a new training plan to improve your strength? Did you move your workouts to the morning so you could spend more time in the evenings with your family? Did you adopt a nutrition plan to improve your health and feel better? Remember your “why” when things get tough.

Strategy #2: Use automation

Find a way to automate some of your daily decision making. If your goal is a healthier, more balanced diet, take a few hours on the weekend to meal plan and prep food. Then, when you’re in the thick of the week and a coworker asks for lunch orders, you’re covered. You don’t have to remind yourself to brush your teeth or put on deodorant, and once you develop some additional habits, they become automatic.

Strategy #3: Weigh the pros and cons

Our intestinal tract is lined with the same types of cells we have in our brains, to the extent that scientists have dubbed the enteric system our “second brain”:

The second brain informs our state of mind in other more obscure ways, as well. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” Emeran Mayer says. Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response…is but one example. Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one’s moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. – Adam Hadhazy

That “gut feeling” you have about a decision? Maybe it’s time to trust it. Close your eyes and think about the decision you plan to make. Does your stomach clench? Are you scared? Does it make you feel relaxed or exhilarated? Will the decision bring you closer to or farther away from your goals? Open your eyes and make your choice.


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