Do you ever feel that making a decision, no matter what it is, is a struggle? Do you find it difficult to take charge of your responsibilities? Has procrastination become a regular habit of yours?
If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be suffering from decision fatigue. It’s nothing serious, but these are signals your body is sending to you. It’s important to listen to the signals because they can help you avoid feeling tired and fatigued. This article will help you find out what decision fatigue is, and how to identify and avoid it.
- Decision fatigue is a result of the prolonged decisions a person has to make.
- The causes of decision fatigue are stress, exhaustion and poor mental health.
- There are solutions to decision fatigue. Some of them are a delegation of responsibilities, reducing the number of decisions to be made, avoiding distractions, etc.
What you should know about decision fatigue
Decision fatigue is a consequence of the prolonged decisions a person must make throughout the day. This is well-defined in the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. It usually occurs after a rather prolonged period of decision-making.
The paralysis of choice defines the sense of dissatisfaction and fatigue that a subject suffers from when more choices are available regarding a topic. The more alternatives there are, the higher the burden of searching for information to make a wise decision and the greater the potential guilt of having made the wrong decision (1).
Differences between fatigue and anxiety
So, what is the difference between fatigue and anxiety? Fatigue can be defined as discomfort caused by a more or less prolonged effort or by other causes, which sometimes results in physical problems (2). On the other hand, anxiety is defined as the distress that often accompanies various illnesses, in particular neuroses, and it keeps a person’s mind unsettled (3).
Thus, we can understand that fatigue is one of the multiple signals of your body. It warns you before an anxiety condition develops. So it is extremely important to listen to your body and work towards eliminating decision fatigue.
Causes of decision fatigue
Once you know what decision fatigue is, it is important to understand other issues. Among them, what are the stressors that cause your body and mind to feel fatigued enough for you to struggle to make a simple decision?
Despite what we tend to think, stress is a natural reaction of your body to keep you alert to threats. It sharpens your senses and sharpens your concentration. It doesn’t affect health, as it helps to prepare the body to defend itself against a dangerous situation, and is therefore considered an adaptive response (4).
There are different types of stress that lead us to feel fatigued on a daily basis, and it is important to identify them.
- Work stress: It is the one that develops in our work due to the rhythm and pressure we feel when we are working. This type of stress is most related to decision fatigue.
- Emotional stress: It develops with any type of physical or emotional stress. It comes from any nervous situation or thought.
- Social stress: It develops when we face an uncomfortable social situation.
Mental health problems
A person with mental health problems is a biased decision-maker.
Normally, people make decisions for gaining rewards and avoiding losses. But for people with mental health disorders, the nature of the risks and rewards and the way they activate the brain are biased (5).
The decision-making, which is compromised for them, is a challenge, the challenge of overcoming problems such as depression, anxiety, or anorexia.
Mental exhaustion is not the only culprit in decision fatigue. Lack of sleep is probably one of the most important causes of fatigue. The optimal sleeping time for an adult person is 7 hours per day (6). Any amount of sleep less than that will cause our brain not to work at its optimal capacity. In addition, this makes it more difficult for us to make a decision and decision fatigue occurs earlier than it would otherwise.
On the other hand, being overloaded with responsibilities and more decisions causes the brain to be increasingly exhausted and therefore decision fatigue creeps in. Also, it makes our brain wonder about the decisions it has to make, especially in the work environment, even affecting our rest, as we will try to solve those problems while we sleep.
Signs of decision fatigue
We have already learned what decision fatigue is, what are the agents that cause it and how to differentiate it from anxiety. It is time to identify small or large signals that your body and brain emit so that you know you are fatigued.
Inability to concentrate or focus
If when it comes to making a decision or performing a task you find it impossible to concentrate, you are distracted by other things, or even your own thoughts, you are probably experiencing decision fatigue. On the other hand, if you have a hard time finding a solution to the problem in front of you, even if it seemed simple enough, you are suffering from concentration fatigue.
Have you never had a lot of work to do, but you just look for any excuse not to do it? Even if that excuse lasts only for 10 minutes, and then you can get on with your duties. This is even worse if you are not a person who procrastinates excessively, remembering that procrastination is a normal part of being human.
Normally, when people face a problem, they should consider the pros and cons of their decision. What you can lose and what you can gain, especially if your decision is going to affect other people. But, if instead, you start to act impulsively, without thinking about the potential issues involved, you probably have decision fatigue.
If, when faced with any problem or situation, you feel overwhelmed or unsure whether you can deal with it, you are experiencing decision fatigue. This feeling is the easiest to identify, since we all know what it’s like to be overwhelmed.
Spending too much time making decisions, especially small ones, can make you feel overwhelmed
If we take important decisions, which do take a lot of time to make, out of this context, it is normal not to spend too much time on easy decisions. That’s why, if you take a long time to make any decision, especially if they didn’t take you any time at all before, you are experiencing decision fatigue.
Dissatisfied once you make the decision
If, once you have made the decision, you question whether it was a good or right decision, this is also a sign of decision fatigue.
Don’t get it wrong, it is normal to question a decision you make, but up to a certain level. When that questioning of the decision turns into long-lasting dissatisfaction, that is a sign of decision fatigue.
How to avoid decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue does not appear suddenly overnight, it is the result of prolonged exposure to a lot of decision-making that eventually exhausts our mind because we have limited energy. It is important to understand when we are becoming fatigued and the reasons that lead to it. But it is also critical to know how to avoid this feeling whatsoever.
So let’s discuss a few tips that can help us to avoid decision fatigue, or, if we already suffer from it, how to stop it.
One of the reasons why we suffer from decision fatigue is because we get distracted from the main tasks we have to accomplish. Either due to other less important tasks, which attract our attention, or because of poor planning, the priority tasks are not accomplished.
Make the most important decisions first thing in the morning
The most important decisions should be made first thing in the morning, when your body and mind are more rested. If you try to solve important problems in the afternoon, or at the end of your working day, you will probably not have the necessary energy and taking such a decision will seem like a lifetime. Read about the most important decision-making skills.
Let’s imagine our mind as a mobile phone, and our bed as our charger. Just unplugged from the bed we have 100% battery power, and it will be easier to solve problems. On the contrary, at the end of our working day, our battery is less than 10%, and we are more focused on plugging into the battery than on solving problems.
Sometimes, more often than we would like to admit, we are unable to delegate tasks to other people because we believe that no one can do it better than ourselves, or because we don’t trust other people. However, this kind of behavior is actually destroying you from the inside. That’s why we offer you three cores you can rely on and empower yourself to delegate.
Quite often, we tend not to tell our family members about our problems, not to burden them with it. In reality, we should do the opposite, your family loves and supports you and will be happy to share your worries.
Small decisions such as what to eat or everyday choices can be shared with the person next to you, so that you are relieved of those responsibilities.
They are just as qualified as you and work in the same industry. If it is a task that only you know how to do, surely you can explain it to a colleague and do it together or ask them to do it.
It is important to understand that delegating can significantly reduce stress, exhaustion, and fatigue you may be feeling (7).
As we can see, decision-making is the main cause of decision fatigue. We make many decisions that accumulate stress or exhaustion in our bodies every day. Simple decisions such as what to have for breakfast or what to wear are decisions we have to make from the moment we wake up.
That is why it is important to automate. By automating we mean transforming all those usual daily decisions into a routine. For example, what to eat. One solution for this is to prepare all the meals you are going to eat during the week on Sunday, or to create a diet to follow every day.
By automating all the decisions that we know we are going to face regularly, we turn them into a routine, so we don’t have to think about them. The brain automates them and knows what has to be done. This prevents decision fatigue.
Reduce the number of decisions you have to make
People make thousands of decisions every day. This generates stress in the body, which leads to decision fatigue. Not all decisions we make are important, that is why we must learn which decisions to make.
A way to avoid decision fatigue is to learn which decisions are really important and should be taken, and which ones can be delegated or resolved at another time.
Avoid making decisions that affect third parties
As part of reducing the number of decisions we have to make, it is important to discard those that you know will affect others, as long as you can avoid making a decision. Being your responsibility, taking an action or a decision that is going to influence someone else, creates more stress and decision fatigue in our body.
Prioritize your well-being
How often do you hear the phrase, “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will take care of you for you”? Far from being a cliché, this phrase has a lot of truth in it. If we don’t prioritize ourselves by focusing on our well-being, it doesn’t matter what we try to do because we won’t be able to do it. In order to be efficient, we must be rested and de-stressed. Read more about work-life balance.
Work on your inner self
For this, we need to do some important personal work. Knowing ourselves, understanding ourselves and listening to ourselves are three vital actions that we must do to avoid fatigue or stress. If a person understands their body and mind, they know when to stop. When they are suffering from decision fatigue, they know that if they stop, they will be doing themselves a favor and will be able to be efficient again, not that they are being lazy and irresponsible.
Work with a coach or expert
Working with a coach is a form of working with a subject-matter expert, like going to a personal trainer when you want to get stronger at the gym. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of working with one.
- Helps to know oneself better
- Increases mental flexibility
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Seeks our emotional well-being
- Financial outlay
- Not all coaches are right for our personality
- If you do not want to be helped, no matter how much you go to an expert you will not get any results
Decision fatigue is not something to be taken lightly. Understanding what it is, how it occurs and what its symptoms are can help you deal with it before it escalates into anxiety or severe stress disorders.
It is important to understand that everyone is different and that not everyone works with the same methods. In other words, automating responsibilities may work perfectly for one person, while delegating decisions may be more helpful for another. Always remember that decision fatigue is solved little by little and not all at once, trying to make it go away at once will cause you more stress.
1. Rojas A. The paradox of choice. Albertorojo.com [October 5, 2022].
2. Rae.es. Fatigue. [cited October 2022].
3. Rae.es. Stress. [cited October 2022].
4. Gobiernodecanarias.org. Control of stress rest [cited October 2022].
5. Adams A. How mental health alters decision making [Internet]. Stanford.edu. 2015 [accessed October 2022].
6. BBC News World. What the latest studies reveal about how many hours of sleep you need to think and feel your best. BBC [Internet]. may 6, 2022 [consutadoctober 2022]
7. Miles M. Decision fatigue: 6 ways to defog your brain [Internet]. Betterup.com. [accessed October 2022].