On decision fatigue

It seems so obvious now that I’m about to say it, but it hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.

Here’s the reason I think we humans are bent toward a slower, simpler approach to life: decision fatigue.

Think about those moments in life where things just feel… right. You’re enjoying a quiet Saturday morning reading a book while your kids are out playing, agenda-free. You’re roadtripping with your family, and you’ve got nothing but time to kill for the day. The square on the calendar for today is blessedly empty.

Those are our favorite.

The reason we love those chill moments is because we hardly have to make any decisions. Our souls may not realize it in the moment, but our bodies and brains sure do: most of our days are spent making tons of decisions. Most of them little.

In fact, some studies say we make 35,000 decisions a day. Should I turn left or right as I drive to the store? Where should I put this pile of clutter in the living room? Should I let my kid watch one show or two? When should I ask that question to my boss?

calendar

Without our permission, we’re bombarded with decisions we have to make all day long, mostly unconscious. So when the time comes when we have to make conscious decisions—Which toothpaste should I buy out of the 37 I’m staring at? Should my kid really sign up for that sport this year?—and we’re already tired from all the little decisions we’ve been making, we can start to lose it.

(Or maybe this is just me.)

We crave simple because it limits our need to make decisions.

When we have a smaller house, we have to live with fewer things. Our limited square footage forces us to.

When we choose to shop the farmer’s market first, we’re forcing ourselves to imagine a weekly menu with the limited offerings found in the booths.

When we limit our spending to only the cash we actually have, we force ourselves to tap our ingenuity to afford what we need.

When we draw a line in the sand with “only X commitments on the calendar per week,” we limit our freedom to say yes to requests for the greater good—our family’s sanity.

farmers market

If you’re feeling tired from life, first use the HALT method on yourself. Then, ask yourself whether you’ve got decision fatigue. Maybe you’re being asked to make more decisions than your body and soul are capable of.

And if that’s the case, self-impose a limitation or two in your life, and see how it feels.

Dedicate only one bathroom shelf for bottles and potions. Declare a limit of one sport per kid at a time for the rest of the year. Withdraw a set amount of cash and put it in an envelope labeled “eating out,” and use those funds to limit your spending. Declare a screen sabbath.

See how it feels. It might feel worse than better at first. It might feel like grounding yourself.

But then, remind yourself that you’re the boss of you. And that you’re limiting yourself so that decision fatigue doesn’t get the best of your soul. It’s so you can approach your days rested and not overwhelmed.

You’re only capable of so many decisions in a given day. Save your energy for the ones that really matter.

p.s. – A few more thoughts on self-imposed limitations.

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