yes and no signs indicating decision fatigue

Decision Fatigue: A Modern Malady


multiple options causing decision fatigue

“Keep your options open.”

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

“Explore all other avenues!”

“Think of all the possible scenarios!”

You are constantly bombarded by this kind of advice from parents, teachers, counselors, media persons; anyone and everyone you interact with. This conditions you to believe that a wide range of choice or diverse options are a good thing, rather, an essential thing.

Take your breakfast egg for instance. You can have it boiled, half-boiled, poached or scrambled. You can add it to an omelette or French Toast. If you want to be fancy you can go for Eggs Benedict. Maybe you want to keep things simple: a plain old fried egg will do. Beware, here you are faced with another dilemma: will your fried egg be “sunny side up” or “over easy”?

Let’s come to the toast accompanying your egg. What kind of bread will you have? When you buy your bread at the supermarket you are again presented with many choices: white bread, brown bread, whole wheat or multi-grain. If you have settled for bran bread, will it be 40% bran, 60% or 80%? There are so many choices of bread available that listing them all would probably take a whole article. You always have the option of doing away with bread altogether. How about waffles or bagels or croissants or even pancakes (let’s not go there).

What are you going to drink with your breakfast? Tea or coffee? TEA, you say decisively! Wait a minute, green tea or black? With milk or without?  With sugar or lemon?

On and on it goes. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning to the time you go to bed, you are faced with hundreds of decisions. Modern life provides you with a bewildering array of choices and options. Sometimes there are so many alternatives that the real reason why you began to explore those choices becomes blurred.

You can become so overwhelmed with alternatives that you lose focus. High school students who are bright are told to have a diverse array of subjects. This will “keep their options open” allowing them to pursue whatever higher education they want. Sometimes this backfires, a student can become so spoilt for choice that he can waste time dithering between different degrees.

Be it mundane things like grocery shopping or life-altering choices like a career or migrating to another country, modern life requires you to make decisions every waking moment. A decision, any decision requires considerable thought. Although we don’t realize it, we are constantly weighing pros and cons. Yes, even when we are debating whether to buy the small pack of detergent or the economy size.

Every decision costs us energy. The split second decision about when it’s safe to cross the road. The mind boggling issue that has kept you awake for the past several nights (e.g. whether you should quit your day job to pursue your dream of writing full time).

girl weighing yes and no in either hand indicatting decision fatigue

Since every decision costs us energy, every decision is exhausting. This mental exhaustion (aka Decision Fatigue) can keep adding up over the course of the day. This is why the decisions our tired self makes at 9 pm are usually not very good ones. This explains why you sometimes binge eat carbs at dinner even though you have faithfully stuck to your keto/paleo diet the whole day long. It can also explain why disastrous online shopping sprees often happen at the end of the day.

How can one avoid disastrous decisions? How does one overcome decision fatigue? The answer is to come up with countermeasures. Forewarned is fore armed; you must have heard your granny say this. Having good strategies and practicing them so much that they become reflexes/second nature: this is the solution.

Wait for my next post Avoiding Decision Fatigue where I will chalk out techniques for you and me to practice.

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13 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue: A Modern Malady

  1. Love this!
    Made me analyse all of my bad decisions
    (especially in terms of binge eating and questionable shopping sprees!)



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