No time? Listen to it instead
For the past hour or so, I’ve been lying down to decide on this article, the points in it, and what beverage I need as I write. If I were to take a guess, the number of decisions I’ve made in the past hour have been over ten.
That’s not including things like phone notifications that are inherent decisions in itself: to open, swipe or ignore. Overall, I’m surrounded by decisions, and so are you.
This overwhelm of decisions in the contemporary world leads to what almost everyone now refers to as Decision Fatigue.
Willpower Is A Lie
Your willpower is as good as the amount of glucose in your body. Your willpower is what you feed yourself, literally.
Todd Heatherton’s research on self-regulation failure proved that we have most of it backwards. For example, dieting is an arduous process because to resist temptation, people need to make decisions.
To make decisions, people need to expend energy. To expend energy, people need to have energy. To have energy, people need to eat.
Let’s Define Decision Fatigue
Currently, Wikipedia sums Decision Fatigue up with the following.
In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.
In simpler words, the more decisions you make in a day, the terrible your control over yourself, the more you make worse ones.
Check Your Phone
Now, do something for me, check your phone. If you have an app that sums the total number of notifications you received today, check its count. Else, check the current notifications you have on it or receive within the next hour.
That’s how many decisions you’ve made with just your phone today. These are the decisions that were forced down your throat. Add to that the usual “should I call them or text them?” or “I don’t want to watch another video, Youtube!” and it goes off the charts.
That’s just your phone, by the way!
What clothes to wear? Which route to take? Which café to go to for a date? Which Starbucks drink, which add-on, which roast?
It’s a stimulus overload out there.
Ever wondered why your 9:00 PM Netflix sessions turns into an overnight binge?
That’s probably because they’ve made the decision easier and automatic. Wait for five seconds, and the next episode begins. Hover over the Play button, and the episode or movie starts playing in the background. They decide for you.
By 9:00 PM, if you’re like most people, you’re already exhausted to make any for yourself. This also explains why most people are seemingly jolly when they leave for the day and come back home arguing with the cabbie or hating the traffic.
They’ve lost all rationality by that point.
Make Fewer Decisions
Our ancestors had it better that way; they had to make fewer decisions; they felt less fatigued. How then can we counter decision fatigue, though?
The idea is simple: make fewer decisions. But that’s not possible. But it is. The solution is in restructuring your life to add default answers to most questions.
Over time, the questions disappear. Make decisions for your life so that your everyday decisions are already made.
Here’s How I Do It
I won’t share some one-size-fits-all idea here, though. Instead, I’ll share what I do, and I hope it’ll give you a direction to figure your system out. Some of my examples may seem extreme or boring to you, but they work for me. It’s up to you to pick something directly, be inspired or ignore it altogether. Remember though, that’s another decision upon your mental list.
Build A Routine
This is a bit of age-old advice for the only reason that it works. It works because a routine automatically answers the looming question that most people have throughout the day: what should I do now?
Plan A Day Ahead
If you have to go to the salon or the doctor, or have to get repairs done, get an appointment in advance. Learn to schedule things better. Always plan a day ahead wherever possible. It’s not always possible, but when it is, you’re already building your day before it arrives. That day should have fewer decisions because past you has made them for future you.
Own Similar Clothing
A lot of people do not like this idea, and their reasoning is correct. It seems boring. To me, however, this has worked wonders.
I have similar looking T-shirts and shirts, so I barely think when I’m deciding what to wear. I own more than one of each piece of clothing I like. So, if I like a particular blue T-shirt, I’ll usually have two of them.
Once it’s all similar, the question of “what should I wear today?” disappears altogether. An added benefit is that you get a definition for how you dress.
Also, you learn to go beyond appearances and brand names since they’re not necessary anymore.
First Good Decision Wins
When I face a choice, which seems like a fork in the road, like which café to go to for working or hanging out, I choose the first reasonable option. When I’m buying something and researching for it, I stop searching at the first suitable option. The reason is simple. If it’s good enough now, I can live with the regret of losing out on some trivial quality I discover in another one later. My headspace is more valuable.
Don’t Think Twice
This is an extension of the previous one but for more long-term decisions. This could be going for a course to study or taking a leap of faith in life. The idea is simple: once you have all the information, stop thinking and do it. It’s that simple, and it works, and you’ll make the decision anyway. Save yourself the time and headspace.
Find Your Regular Order
If you eat outside or order in from the same place a lot, make sure you have a set of rotating orders that you prefer. In that case, your order is your standard order. Nothing changes, no decision is made, and the best part is that they usually remember it.
Liars waste a lot of time spinning stories and covering their asses. I know because I was a liar as a kid. I thought it made me look cool, but it only added turmoil, and also, they were pretty see-through. Radical honesty in all things leaves fewer things for you to decide. All you must choose is how to say something; the rest is up to other people. This doesn’t mean you get to be rude; just honesty should do.
Build A Golden Path
This is more about planning your space, and not for everyone. I try to be a bit extra particular in placing things around in my room.
The reason: Steve Jobs and the first iPhone. When the first iPhone was demoed, it wasn’t functional at all. Steve Jobs was given a golden path.
It was a string of operations dictating where to go from and how. This ensured the demo would be a success. It worked!
That’s the idea of a golden path.
When you live in a space, arrange it in such a way that you make the fewest possible decisions, and everything starts to fit.
A little thought goes a long way when you’re crafting your space. Where should you keep a pack of pocket tissues to make the minimum steps to reach it when you’re getting your usual sneezy allergies?
We’re continually making decisions throughout the day, especially in the age of the smartphone. Often, our attention is wasted on poor, unimportant decisions. By the time we reach an important one, we’ve already lost all willpower to comprehend it. This results in dejection and turmoil. To avoid that, we need to manage our decision fatigue.
- This article from the New York Times Magazine, originally published in 2011, is even more relevant today.
- The Wikipedia page for Decision Fatigue.
- This Quora answer talks about some of the obvious advantages of wearing similar clothes everyday.
- The Four by Scott Galloway talks about Apple and other tech giants in detail. That’s where I found the golden path.
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