On decision fatigue

It seems so obvious now that I’m about to say it, but it hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.

Here’s the reason I think we humans are bent toward a slower, simpler approach to life: decision fatigue.

Think about those moments in life where things just feel… right. You’re enjoying a quiet Saturday morning reading a book while your kids are out playing, agenda-free. You’re roadtripping with your family, and you’ve got nothing but time to kill for the day. The square on the calendar for today is blessedly empty.

Those are our favorite.

The reason we love those chill moments is because we hardly have to make any decisions. Our souls may not realize it in the moment, but our bodies and brains sure do: most of our days are spent making tons of decisions. Most of them little.

In fact, some studies say we make 35,000 decisions a day. Should I turn left or right as I drive to the store? Where should I put this pile of clutter in the living room? Should I let my kid watch one show or two? When should I ask that question to my boss?

calendar

Without our permission, we’re bombarded with decisions we have to make all day long, mostly unconscious. So when the time comes when we have to make conscious decisions—Which toothpaste should I buy out of the 37 I’m staring at? Should my kid really sign up for that sport this year?—and we’re already tired from all the little decisions we’ve been making, we can start to lose it.

(Or maybe this is just me.)

We crave simple because it limits our need to make decisions.

When we have a smaller house, we have to live with fewer things. Our limited square footage forces us to.

When we choose to shop the farmer’s market first, we’re forcing ourselves to imagine a weekly menu with the limited offerings found in the booths.

When we limit our spending to only the cash we actually have, we force ourselves to tap our ingenuity to afford what we need.

When we draw a line in the sand with “only X commitments on the calendar per week,” we limit our freedom to say yes to requests for the greater good—our family’s sanity.

farmers market

If you’re feeling tired from life, first use the HALT method on yourself. Then, ask yourself whether you’ve got decision fatigue. Maybe you’re being asked to make more decisions than your body and soul are capable of.

And if that’s the case, self-impose a limitation or two in your life, and see how it feels.

Dedicate only one bathroom shelf for bottles and potions. Declare a limit of one sport per kid at a time for the rest of the year. Withdraw a set amount of cash and put it in an envelope labeled “eating out,” and use those funds to limit your spending. Declare a screen sabbath.

See how it feels. It might feel worse than better at first. It might feel like grounding yourself.

But then, remind yourself that you’re the boss of you. And that you’re limiting yourself so that decision fatigue doesn’t get the best of your soul. It’s so you can approach your days rested and not overwhelmed.

You’re only capable of so many decisions in a given day. Save your energy for the ones that really matter.

p.s. – A few more thoughts on self-imposed limitations.

Have a good day,
again and again.

If you feel in your bones the need to simplify so you can live the life you're meant to live...

↓ This is for you.

12 Comments

  1. Amanda Espinoza

    This post articulates why I love having a sabbath day. We go to church on Saturday evenings and then spend Sundays at home resting. I have to decide ahead of time what we will eat on Sunday and ensure we have those groceries. Your post reminded me that I need to have a day where I don’t have to coordinate plans and events. My Monday morning self is always grateful I rested on Sunday.

  2. caroline

    I suffer from fatigue at times. Sometimes I don’t know where I find the strength to carry on from. But I do! I always make sure that Sunday is family time, but sometimes that can be more stressful than going to work!

  3. Seana Turner

    35,000 decisions? That is a LOT of decisions. I have definitely experienced this fatigue on even simple things like “which shampoo to buy?” or “which ink cartridge?” Less is less… fewer moving parts in your life, fewer choices you have to make.

  4. Bettina

    That’s exactly why I have capsule wardrobe: much easier to know what I’m going to wear everyday. And I enjoy every single piece of it, much more than if I had a whole large cupboard full of clothes.

  5. Becky

    This is how I felt today trying to pick out toilet paper. There are so many kinds..quilted, double roll etc.

  6. Linda Sand

    This is where the concept of “good enough” comes into play for me–I don’t have to pick the perfect toothpaste; just one that’s good enough–which they all are!

  7. M

    Thanks for the post, I agree. I had no idea until we lived for a couple of years in a small town in New Zealand where the selection of everything was very limited compared to the cities we had lived in, in the US. Occasionally it was frustrating when we couldn’t find exactly what we wanted /were used to, but the vast majority of the time it was freeing and efficient. Both my husband and I noticed how good it felt to not be overwhelmed by so many small but time-consuming and energy-sucking choices. We still laugh about how our two choices of cheese at the grocery store were “tasty” and “mild”.

  8. Nina

    Great ideas! We limit the sports a ton and I do feel a lot less frazzled than some of my friends. I think that is the reason!

  9. Alicia Eichmann

    Thanks for putting words to what I’ve been feeling and doing. I know I have decision fatigue. In order to simplify and make positive changes I’ve recently tried a spending freeze, serious decluttering, and restrictions in diet and time commitments.
    As you said I’m adding limits which we need because our bodies aren’t meant for the current bombardment of — everything. So thanks!

  10. Colleen

    The first time I moved back from overseas, as a 20-something, I’d missed having choices in sweet treats and was anxious to stock up on sour patch kids and black licorice. I went to Walmart, where candy towered two feet above me and the full length of the aisle. I was so completely overwhelmed, I walked out without buying a thing.
    Yes, fewer choices overseas highlights the absurd amount of selection we are used to in North America.
    Moving overseas comes with its own myriad decisions. Where do I even put the plates in this kitchen layout? Can I use this thing taking up half my counter as a bread box? (In Korea, it was a super sonic vegetable washer.) 🙂
    Every change in location and season comes with extra decisions, but also the chance to start with a clean slate. That is both refreshing and tiring.

  11. Natalie Meyer

    I came across your 5-year plan post fro 2012 and am really curious to see how it turned out. Did you follow it? Did you achieve more, less, about the same?

  12. Deb

    I’m learning thats why habits are so important. It seems habits are decisions already 50% made, and that is why they are so powerful in shaping our lives.

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