Have you ever started your day full of hope and healthy plans only to have it end in a pile of take-out? This is typically after a very frustrating “I don’t care, what do you feel like eating” conversation. Ultimately resulting in post meal shame and annoyance that it wasn’t even worth it.
If this sounds at all familiar, decision fatigue is probably to blame.
Decision fatigue is the concept that the quality of our decisions deteriorates after long periods of decision making. If you think about it, we make hundreds of decisions each and every day. Most of them we hardly even notice.
If you are a parent or in a leadership position, this number is compounded because you are not only making decisions for yourself but also those around you. Each of these decisions deteriorate your ability and that is why the example above tends to happen at the end of the day, at the end of the week, or after big projects or events.
Decision fatigue usually leads to irrational trade-offs or decision avoidance.
Some decisions are easy and don’t take much effort: “Should I wear pants to work or just go commando?”
Other decisions have both pros and cons, so they take a bit more effort. “Should I eat this chocolate chip cookie in the break-room?”
|Eating the Cookie||Not Eating the Cookie|
|Pro||I like cookies.||I don’t need it and skipping it will get me closer to my goals.|
|Con||It’s not helping my health goals and I’m not really hungry.||I might be sad.|
As decision fatigue sets in, our ability to rationally weigh these trade-offs reduces. At this point we may irrationally amplify some of the trade-offs (i.e. this cookie will change my life) or become susceptible to food pushers or sales claims (i.e. “I can supersize for how much? Wow, giving you more money than I wanted to for more food than I need seems like an opportunity I can’t pass up!”).
The other result is decision avoidance. In our Doordash, fast food, convenient society we can have anything we want within minutes. This level of decision making can sometimes lead to overwhelm and make us want to avoid it until we just can’t anymore. When you are this hungry you will either surrender the decision to someone else (“I don’t care just pick something!”) and/or pick that what is familiar and requires no thinking.
What to do with this information
Decision fatigue is especially rampant during the holiday season. It is a busier time of year with a lot more tasks and things to think about. It also has more temptations so we are in a constant state of “Should I resist or indulge?”…which can be draining.
Finally, it is when we abandon a lot of our preventative skills that cut down on decisions such as grocery shopping, meal planning, scheduling exercise, etc.
Make Meal Planning a Priority – the purpose of meal planning is not to contain you, but rather free up your mind so you don’t have to decide what to eat 3-5 times per day. It is also important to remember that meal prep and meal planning are not the same thing. Cooking may not be realistic this time of year, but you can still proactively think through your day/week and decide where your food will be coming from.
Automate When Possible – oftentimes the act of getting to the grocery store or cooking becomes the bottleneck. Consider using things like grocery delivery (Amazon Fresh is now free!) or meal delivery (places like Thistle or Model Meals). This might not be a long-term solution for you, but even having a few groceries in the house or a few pre-made options may have a powerful ripple effect on your day.
Simplify in Other Areas – food is one of the MANY decisions we make so you may be able to find other areas to simplify. If you leave shopping to the last minute and it stresses you out, consider getting some of the easy ones done this week to free up mental space in December. Or schedule your workouts now so you don’t have to go through the mental battle when things get busier. This one is more unique to you but think outside of the box and you might find ways you can free up your brain over the holiday season.