Have you wondered why sometimes even the smallest decisions can seem to be such a big deal? We all go through those nights when deciding over what food to order or which movie to watch takes so long that it kills the need to do so.
This age of abundance of options means that we need to make decisions all the time.
The problem is, not all choices are created equal. Endless choices are taking a toll. Millennials are called the Peter Pan generation because of our inability or perhaps unwillingness to grow up. We’re making commitments to careers, to partners and to children later in life than any other generation thus far. Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain.
Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?
Decision fatigue happens every day in your life as well. It is closely related to a phenomenon called ego depletion, which essentially shows that if you have to force yourself to complete an unpleasant task (or to keep from engaging in a pleasurable activity), you will be less able to exert self-control for the next hurdle. If you have a particularly decision-heavy day at work, then you come home feeling drained. You might want to go to the gym and workout, but your brain would rather default to the easy decision: sit on the couch. That’s decision fatigue.The same thing is true if you find it hard to muster up the willpower to work on your side business at night or to cook a healthy meal for dinner.
And while decision fatigue is something that we all deal with, there are a few ways that you can organize your life and design your day to master your willpower.
What you can do about it
Just like Mark Zuckerberg, you can decide to cut your options so you can minimize the amount of decisions you have to take daily. Getting rid of objects is a great way to start, as well as planning your meals in advance or sticking to a diet. Routines and habits are another great way to make sure that there is no choice involved, and you let the automation do the work. This is why I like to go to the gym at the same time every day.
Move important things early in the day
Timing is everything. If you want to make the most out of your day, make sure to put your priority first, when making good choices is easier. This is why the morning is the best time to invest in yourself.
Train your willpower
Once our self-control has depleted, we tend to go for our default setting. So make sure your default setting isn’t a negative one. You can also train your willpower incrementally, and by exposing yourself to inspiring models that support you and show you the next level.
Advance your decisions
Choose your outfit the evening before. Get your running gear at the bottom of your bed before going to sleep. This way, you can move menial decisions to the end of the day, and save tomorrow’s full tank for what really makes a difference.
The Bottom Line
Willpower isn’t something you have or something you lack. It rises and falls. And while it’s impossible to maximize your willpower for every moment of every day, it is possible to make a few changes to your day and your routine so that you can get the most of your decisions and make consistent progress on the things that are important to you.