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Decision Fatigue

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.

Irrational Trade-offs

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 CookieNot Eating the Cookie
ProI like cookies.I don’t need it and skipping it will get me closer to my goals.
ConIt’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!”).

Decision Avoidance

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.

6 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue

  1. So funny and so true! I don’t know, going commando for some people might be a harder decision than we think! Thanks for the inspiration and help saying no to those donuts that somehow always seem to make it to the work common room.

    1. Haha! That is very true;) I had originally wrote “wearing pj’s” but decided that was actually really hard not to do every day!!

  2. I become overwhelmed with the amount of “stuff” in my house. I tell myself I cannot do ANYTHING else before I get rid of the stuff! So I began the difficult task of going through everything and MAKING DECISIONS on every item!! Talk about fatigue!!! I found myself needing to take a week or two just to accomplish this clearing task in addition to taking care of the family. Now I’m down to the last of the stuff and it’s even harder! So, I DID subscribe to a meal delivery system so I don’t have to cook healthy 3 days a week! So helpful and freeing! I’ve considered grocery delivery as well. So easy during stressful times to just say, “forget it! I don’t have the time or energy to eat well!” Thank you for your suggestions and support!

    1. Wow! I am so proud that you were able to find a solution! I think that sometimes we can just think “I should be able to handle everything!” (especially if you are also in charge of a family!!) It is a real skill to be honest about our capacity at different times and look for things that will take a little off our plate – both literally and figuratively 😉 Please keep me updated!

  3. Tara – I teach high school, and let me tell you that you could not have hit the nail more squarely on the head. Lots has been written about teaching and decision fatigue. I usually try to make one big healthy meal Sunday or Monday evening that I can eat for dinners the rest of the week. SO I was extremely grateful for your single-tray ideas and for all of your easy to understand, practical advice. A friend turned me onto your blog this past spring, and it’s truly one of the things I’m grateful for this year. THANK YOU!

    1. Miranda – this absolutely made my day! I’m so happy it was helpful. I think that as a teacher, decision fatigue applies to you more than anyone. I’ll keep doing my best to provide useful information but please feel free to reach out if there is anything that you want me to tackle. I’m here to help <3

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