What if all the little decisions you make on a daily basis are stopping you from really considering the ones that matter? From consciously deciding the deepest most fundamental aspects of your life? Decision making in a complex world is part of modern human life. It also creates a very real human problem – decision fatigue.
The existence of decision fatigue has been known to psychologists for sometime now. The more decisions you make, the more that mental exhaustion affects the quality of your decision making.
Decision fatigue also makes us favour the less-risky status quo because mental exhaustion denies us the energy to properly consider an alternative. For example, research done on judges at parole hearings found them to be much more likely to deny parole (the less risky option) later in the day when they were decision-fatigued.
This problem has been known to our ancestors too. And, probably why the heuristic of “sleeping on it” exists when it comes to making important decisions.
Choice and complexity
The (illusion of?) choice that we have in today’s world means that we can spend precious energy on inconsequential things. On deciding what brand of clothing to buy or what latest gadget to get. And, this is on top of the many decisions you will have to make at work on a daily basis.
Informational complexity also means that we now have to wade through a lot of sh*t when making various decisions. So, if we spend all day at work and then spend our little remaining decision capacity on deciding what new [insert consumable] to get, do we really have energy for what matters?
Decision fatigue can stop us from making the biggest decisions of them all. Those relating to how we live and work. Whether we stay in 9-to-5 or go solo. Whether we say “no” to unhealthy personal and professional relationships. Whether we say “no” to the seductive pull of status seeking consumerism. Whether we say “no” to the deeply conditioned false narratives we often live by.
And, the more difficult or risky the decision feels, the more decision capacity we will require. It is no wonder that we choose the comfort of the status quo so easily. Sometimes, we are just too mentally tired to even consider an alternative. So, we deny ourselves the chance, like the tired judges who chose the safe option of denying the prisoners parole.
Deciding what to decide
Limiting what you spend your precious mental energy on can help. It’s another decision to make, but one that can remove the need to make many other trivial ones. Noticing the volume and quality of information you consume is also important. We are exposed to so much content these days that it is easy to spend hours consuming pseudo scientific journalistic garbage in the media. Unfortunately, the problem is that “noise” is the norm rather than the exception. Limiting this is certainly something I try very hard to do.
Finally, creating the time to deeply consider WHAT really matters to you is crucial. To really go within and self-reflect.
And, this might not feel like it is easy to do with the pressures and demands of daily work and life. Often, holidays and weekends are just a means of recharging for the weekly grind. But, if we make this an excuse, nothing changes.
We might even unconsciously get stuck in a “work-escapism” loop, with leisure time simply serving as an escape to make work more tolerable.
The starting point is always an intention. An intention to really consider what matters. The second step is noticing how you actually spend your time, what decisions you make, and do not make, and why? It is about going within and understanding yourself and your choices more deeply.
The more you become aware of yourself and your own decisions, the more likely you are to be able to change them. And, if you come from such a place of deeper self-reflection, perhaps decision fatigue itself will become a secondary problem, because you will have much more clarity about your internal state. Clarity that will ultimately give you more freedom around what you decide and how you live.
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