BY AMY (GUEST POST)
WHAT IS DECISION FATIGUE?
In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual.
“Do you want this salmon?” asked my husband, from the fridge.
I do not know if I want the salmon.
Our toddler is howling from his highchair because he’s not just not up for breakfast today. I have been splattered with yoghurt. I have been poked in the eye with a tiny fork. The cat is screeching and grappling with my ankles because she can see a small gap between the biscuits in her food bowl, and my phone just pinged. My own breakfast is cooling rapidly on the table, I cannot think whether or not I want salmon with it. My brain is out of storage.
I have reached my decision-making capacity and it’s not even 9am.
“Erm, I don’t know,” I say. The fridge slams. He is angry. He thinks I’m being funny with him.
I have long been aware that my decision-making capacity has a limit, and that my threshold is low. I find it stressful to have to make decisions that don’t matter to me. Which parking space, which coffee shop, which side of the hotel room bed, what kind of toothpaste, what we have for dinner. I am happy to hand over 90% of choices to others, as long as I retain influence for the things I do have a strong opinion on. I don’t much care what cars we have, I want absolute sign off on the carpets.
“What do you want from the shop?”
“Oh! Surprise me” (I don’t care).
Since producing another human, I have found the number of decisions I face in a day increased at least twofold. I must decide what two people will wear (after first deciding which weather forecast to believe), what two people will eat, where to go on our morning walk, how we will spend our time in the afternoon. Overarching all of this, I have to choose a parenting style, a set of boundaries, a school. I have to choose from a panoply of potential child-related purchases and decide whether or not to let him eat chips or have a rock for a pet.
We know that there is such a thing as ‘decision fatigue’, which is not only emotionally draining, but can lead to decreased productivity, lack of motivation, impulsive behaviour, and poor choices. Perhaps most worryingly, it even affects our ability to perceive risk and anticipate consequences.
For me, it has been necessary to find a strategy to limit the daily demand of decision making. The following five things seem minor but their cumulative impact is significant.
- I have a ‘uniform’ of two outfits for each weather eventuality. This has increased from one outfit, bought three times, with or without a cardigan, which I wore for my entire first year of motherhood. All my decision making regarding clothing is now focused on my child.
- My default is now ‘no makeup’, an inversion of my former childless days.
- We have a solid morning routine. The exact same thing happens for at least the first 4 hours of the day.
- Sometimes (but not often enough) I prep food to avoid having to decide what to have for lunch.
- I seize opportunities to allocate planning time – nearly all my best decisions happen whilst walking or in the bath.
I’ll end with a quote from one of my favourite ever leaders…
“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make” – Barack Obama. 44th President of the United States.
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