Overcome the debilitation of decision fatigue

Modern life involves too many anxiety-causing decisions. Deal with it now. Photo: uncredited

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 – As we move forward in the 21st century, the one constant that most of us face is the fact that we’re forced to deal with an ever-increasing number of decisions. Whether in personal life or in business, as the need for this critical decision and that critical decision relentlessly stacking up, we often experience a kind of anxiety overload that’s summed up most distinctly in the term “decision fatigue.” It describes a depletion of one’s mental energy caused by being forced to make too many decisions throughout each day. 

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, a relatively new book by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (The Penguin Press HC, 2011) explores the new theory of decision fatigue, and it’s well worth the read if you find yourself trapped in this mental snare. 

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Decision fatigue grinds you down and wears you out. But it’s not really physical tiredness, although such a feeling can be one symptom of this phenomenon. In reality, decision fatigue is, quite simply, a depletion of one’s mental energy from having to make too many decisions throughout the day.

Decision fatigue weakens self-control. Trade-offs become impossible. “Once you’re mentally depleted,” author Tierney observes, “you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making.” Ordinary decision-making skills lock up, and impulse drives action. 

Even having to choose among many luxuries while you’re on a cruise can cause decision fatigue. In fact, one response to decision fatigue is impulsive behavior, which doesn’t feel so bad when you’re having fun.

People tend to respond to decision fatigue in one of two ways. If they’re not making rash decisions, they may avoid making them at all (“I think I’ll just lounge by the pool … “)

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In the context of grief, however, the effects of decision fatigue (which is already taxing in and of itself), can incur serious long-term financial and relationship consequences. 

Perhaps the there’s a way to relieve some of the exhaustion associated with decision-making. There are no perfect answers. Individuals have different preferences, and some people would rather invest their energy in sustaining anxiety rather than exhaust it in decision-making. If you’re trapped in this kind of dilemma, here are some ideas that may help: 

  • Don’t confuse your fear of decision-making pain with actual pain. 
  • Decide whatever you can in advance of worrying about it. 
  • Delegate decisions if possible. What you can’t delegate, defer until a more tranquil time.
  • Ask someone you trust to pre-select a limited set of options for you. Then select from those. 
  • When financial or emotional decisions are required from you, look for bottom lines and verify these decisions, perhaps even aloud and in the presence of those who may be involved. 
  • Accept that some of your decisions won’t make sense to other people. 

Finally: answer “Why do you” or “Why don’t you” questions with “Because that’s what I want,” or “I’ll tell you later.” Few people will remember to ask again, and by then you’ll likely be composed enough to respond they way you want to. This may seem like a cop out, but it can often reduce anxiety. For you. Which is key to getting your life back, and your business once again on the success track. 

Frances Ponick, founder of “Leadership English™,” coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert at AllExperts. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and will soon be available online. Connect with Frances at Twitter,Facebook, and/or LinkedIn


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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from Amazon.com.


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