Have you ever wondered how many choices we make in a day? It has been suggested that thousands of decisions are made, ranging from simple to complex. We decide what to wear and eat, where to drive and what lane to be in, how to communicate (by text, email, phone call, face to face), what to read or watch on media.

Things that were simple have become complex. For instance, coffee used to have two choices–regular or decaf; now there are increasing menu options specialty coffee shops that make ordering a simple cup of coffee an involved thinking process, where you almost need a degree in coffee beans to figure out what you want.

According to registered psychotherapist decision fatigue is a phenomenon (as opposed to a diagnosable medical condition) where the more decisions a person makes over the course of a day, the more physically, mentally and emotionally depleted they become. A person experiencing decision fatigue struggles with executive functioning. This can have a wide range of consequences, including impaired judgment.

On top the myriad of daily life choices, there are life changing decisions of where to live, what career to pursue, who to marry, and how to invest and spend money.

This phenomenon, known as decision fatigue, describes the impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making. Evidence suggests that individuals experiencing decision fatigue demonstrate an impaired ability to make trade-offs, prefer a passive role in the decision- making process, and often make choices that seem impulsive or irrational 
Too many choices can lead to  decision fatigue. The year we moved to a different state held more decisions than ever. I felt overwhelmed with all the decisions we had made by August, and still had four months left of decisions before the end of the year. Yikes! Too many decisions wears you down.

Our free will leads us often in determining what we choose, but Scripture urges us to choose carefully. When we are overwhelmed with decision fatigue we can rest in knowing that the Lord is with us and will guide us as we seek Him.

The primary filter for our choices is in this found in Joshua 24:15:

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 NIV

When we seek God, we will gain His perspective. This is a great starting place for choosing God’s ways, but we complete the process by choosing what is right and choosing wise friends through the filter of scripture.

fatigue

Choose what is right and good.

Survey the situation and consider the angles for the best outcome as possible. I’ve found it helpful to make a list of positives and negatives to weigh what is right. Writing them out helps clarify my thinking.

“Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” Job 34:4

Choose friends wisely.

It’s good to consult with others when making a major decision. Their responses can be valuable in presenting new aspects of the decision. When we faced the possibility of relocation, we asked several close friends to join us in prayer. We were grateful for their input and thoughts.

“The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” Proverbs 12:26 NLT

Choose God’s ways.

When many options sound good and right, pray and read the Word for guidance. Consider the choice that best aligns with the Word of God.

“So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.” Deuteronomy 5:32 NIV

The primary filter for decision making for the Christian is the Word of God. We gain the assurance from faith that God will lead us.

Oh, we still will fret or worry because that’s what we do, but we can rest in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty and care for us.

Choices are many. When we are overwhelmed we can find refuge in Him. His grace will lead us in decision making process.

Why does decision fatigue happen?

Anyone can experience decision fatigue, but it’s most likely to occur when:

  • You make a lot of decisions every day. Judges, surgeons and quarterbacks are extreme examples, but many of us have jobs or play roles that require numerous quick decisions every day.
  • Your decisions impact other people. The “other people” in question could be your partner, your children, your employees … the list goes on. Depending on your job, it may even be people you don’t know!
  • You’re in the midst of a difficult life situation. Picking out flowers isn’t usually difficult, but if you’re planning a memorial service for a loved one, it can seem impossible.
  • You’re faced with uncertainty. Duke notes that many people struggled with decision fatigue during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because we didn’t have much information about the virus, and couldn’t know for sure what consequences our choices would have.
  • You have perfectionist tendencies. “When our standard is perfection for everything, and we’re really thinking through everything to the nth degree, that’s exhausting and depleting for our brain,” Duke notes.

Chances are, you fall into at least one of those categories (if not more) on a regular basis. So how can you tell when day-to-day frustrations have spilled over into decision fatigue?

Signs and symptoms of decision fatigue

We’ve compiled eight common symptoms of decision fatigue for your reference.

Remember: Decision fatigue is an acute (short-lived) experience. If you’re experiencing these symptoms every day, then something else more chronic may be going on.

  • Procrastination or decision avoidance. If you forget the vet appointment, you won’t have to decide whether to move forward with that expensive surgery … right? Putting decisions off — or avoiding certain people or situations altogether — is one of the most common responses to decision fatigue. You might be procrastinating without even realizing it!
  • Impulsivity. If you’ve been making complex decisions all day, you could find yourself being less careful about other choices you have to make: Stopping at the drive-thru you usually drive by. Spending way too much money shopping online. Overlooking an obvious cognitive bias. Calling that ex when you absolutely know better. Impulsivity can take a wide range of forms — and have a wide range of consequences.
  • Exhaustion. Decision fatigue can be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. So, it wouldn’t be surprising for a person with decision fatigue to be desperate for a nap or a good cry.
  • Brain fog. Are you suddenly having trouble finishing your … sentences? Has your train of thought left the station? Do you keep forgetting names or get distracted when people are trying to talk to you? Decision fatigue might be causing your brain fog.
  • IrritabilityDid you just bite your best friend’s head off for asking where you want to go for lunch tomorrow? Yeah, you might have decision fatigue.
  • Overwhelmed. Are you starting to feel like there’s no room left in your head — much less your schedule — for everything you’re juggling? Getting overwhelmed is an issue in and of itself, but it can also signal decision fatigue.
  • Regret or dissatisfaction. If you made the choice, but you’re still ruminating about it hours later and questioning the call you made, it could be the result of decision fatigue.
  • Physical discomfort. The stress of making a difficult decision can cause a wide range of physical symptoms, from tension headaches and eye twitching to nausea and other tummy troubles.

How to prevent decision fatigue

Everyone experiences decision fatigue from time to time. And that’s OK. While we can’t always control the situations that cause our decision fatigue, we can build protective measures into our daily lives to make that fatigue less likely and more manageable.

  • Remove choice from some elements of your life. Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and several other famous decision-makers have talked publicly about how they wear essentially the same thing every day. Their rationale: Not having to think about what you wear is one fewer decision to make. Whether it’s what you wear, which podcast you listen to on the way to work or what brand of oatmeal you’re buying at the store, as Duke puts it: “Some things can be automated. Give yourself the ability to not have to have perfection be the standard for everything in your life.”
  • Delegate (if possible). Some decisions are always going to be yours to make. But sometimes — and we’re talking to you, perfectionists — it’s OK to let other people handle things. They may (gasp) make a mistake every once in a while, but so will you! Go ahead: Let the assistant coach decide the starting lineup. Let your spouse-to-be choose the caterer for the big day. It’s going to be OK.
  • Prioritize sleep. What do people say when faced with tough choices? “I’ll sleep on it.” There’s a reason for that. Research shows that we take more time to deliberate — and make better decisions — early in the day. It also shows that not only do sleep-deprived people have poor impulse control and emotional regulation skills, but their morality also takes a hit. If you find yourself in a particularly decision-heavy phase of your life, making the extra effort to get a good night’s sleep may help protect against decision fatigue.
  • Exercise. You’ve probably heard that exercise is good for your brain, especially as you get older. But did you know that it can also help you make better decisions? A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicinefound that coupling 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise with a three-minute walking break every half hour can improve executive function. If that sounds like a lot to you, don’t worry: Any exercise is better than no exercise, and walking for any length of time can do wonders for your overall mental health.
  • Manage stress. Making stress-management activities part of your daily routine can help you feel less overwhelmed and more confident in the face of difficult decisions.
  • Make time for self-care. Caring about your own mental health and well-being isn’t selfish. You can’t do what it takes to help others if you aren’t caring for yourself. Having a self-care routine in place can prevent decision fatigue — and make handling it easier if it does happen.
  • Build downtime into your day. Life can get so busy, we sometimes forget to give our brains a chance to go offline for a while. “It’s a bit of a cliche, but I think it is true,” Duke reflects, “That you need to have some downtime where you don’t have to make decisions, think about things or analyze anything.” Scheduling downtime — whether that means watching reality TV on your phone over your lunch break, meditating for 20 minutes every day or taking the long route when you walk your dog after dinner — can help keep your brain charged and ready to make tough choices.

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