Apr 14

Decision Fatigue: Decide less, succeed more

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Decision Fatigue: Decide less, succeed more

Do you ever wonder why President Obama always wears the same suit? In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2014, President Obama said:

“You’ll see I wear only gray 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.”

Think about all the decisions that you have to make in a day. There are the personal ones – what to wear? what to eat? what to do after work?. There are the ones around social life, partners or family. There are the life choice decisions that periodically arise – what do I want to do this weekend? where do I want to go on holiday? should I buy a new car? All of these things we encounter without even considering the work and career related decisions that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

Why should we be concerned?

Psychologists are increasingly of the view that we only have a finite capacity for decision making. The brain does not have infinite cognitive processing power. Consequently in busy lives it is more than likely that you will suffer from decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is defined as the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.
The challenge that this creates is that the ‘important’ decisions get lost in the sheer volume of other things that we have to make decisions about. The unexpected result is that though we don’t set out to make bad decisions, the quality of our decisions deteriorate as we go through the day, because the level and quality of our thinking declines.
By the time most people have got to work in the morning, they will already have made myriad decisions about huge amounts of things.

It doesn’t happen to me

You may disagree, but ask yourself this. Have you ever planned to go to the gym (or some other event) after work and when it came down to it you didn’t go because you just didn’t feel like it? Whilst some of this will be tiredness after a day at work, it is also likely to be the sheer mental exhaustion of the seemingly never ending number of decisions you have had to make during the day. We know that being a couch potato is not healthy. We know that sport and going to the gym is intrinsically good for our overall health and well being. However when the cognitive energy meter hits zero, that is when decision fatigue trumps logic and we make poor choices.

What can we do about it?

The two most obvious things are:

  1. Reduce the number of unnecessary decisions that you have to make each day. So, like President Obama, you can choose what to wear a ‘policy’ or you can simply choose what to wear the night before. Developing a routine is also good for eliminating the more routine decisions that might cumulatively impact the quality of those ‘big’ decisions that you have to make.
  2. Make your most important decisions first – make critical decisions when you have the most cognitive resources available and before you have exhausted your decision making energy on the mundane.

You will always have unexpected decisions to make. However, in preserving your decision making resources by eliminating the unnecessary decisions you might otherwise have to make, you stand a higher chance of making better decisions than you might have done otherwise.

Think of it this way; do you want the CEO of your company wearing out his decision making resources on day to day living, or do you want him or her focused on that new investment that the business needs, or indeed giving 100% towards running the business? Obama phrases it perfectly – “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” I would expect these ‘other decisions’ are a little more important than what suit should I wear!

If you realise that you might have issues with decision fatigue, but don’t know where to start, please get in touch. We can #Changesomething that is not working or #Startsomething that you need to be doing to become more successful with your goals.
If you want to read a more extensive article on Obama’s approach to decisions, which first appeared in Fast Company, use the following link:

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