Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is a phrase made popular by John Tierney (American Journalist). It refers to the declining quality of choices made by an individual over a long session of decision making. It is one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.  Decision fatigue may also lead to consumers making poor purchase choices.

Decision fatigue is thought to be a result of unconscious, psychobiological processes and is a reaction to prolonged cognitive, emotional or decisional load.  Decision fatigue is an emergent idea, but his does have potential application in fields of industry, psychology and healthcare.

There is an interesting paradox to do with choice. Namely, that if we lack choice we want more choice and may even fight for it. But, people that have too much choice can become stressed and mentally exhausted. In the book The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, by American psychologist Barry Schwartz he argues that eliminating consumer choices can significantly reduce anxiety in shoppers. The book analyses the behaviour of different types of people facing broad choice and concludes that paradoxically choice becomes a problem instead of a solution. This feelings right to me as you can worry that you may not have made the right choice, make decisions more slowly and can quickly become exhausted and “just pick one”.

One solution to this problem, adopted by such people as Barack Obama (Former President of the united States, Steve Jobs (co-founder and former Chairman, and CEO of Apple) and Mark Zuckerberg (co-founding the social media company Facebook), is to reduce their everyday as much as possible. This included having just one or two clothing choices in order to limit the number of decisions they make in a day.

A friend of mine has adopted this approach to low level, unimportant, decisions. He eats the same breakfast and lunch each working day and wears similar suits, shirts and ties. And he reports that eliminating these trivial decisions has meant he is less fatigued and fresher at the end of the day. It’s only at weekends or on his days off that he really lives a vibrant and varied life.

And there is some scientific merit to this idea. It has been suggested that decision fatigue is a symptom, or perhaps a result of ego depletion. This is the idea that your self-control or willpower draws upon a limited amount of mental resources that can become used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired and this would be considered a state of ego depletion.

Interestingly, Salt Bae (Turkish Chef) put is quite well when he said, “Being tired isn’t anything. What’s important is the mind. The body being tired isn’t important. You can get over the body being tired by resting for a half-hour or an hour. What’s important is whether the mind is tired”.

So, in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau (American icon, Author, Environmentalist, and Abolitionist), keep things simple and uncomplicated. Thoreau was an advocate of living simply and wrote a number of books on the subject. He followed the philosophies of simplifying life in both mental and material ways. It’s certainly something to think about.