What is decision fatigue and how can you avoid it?

(CNN) — Do I want to exercise today? Should I go to the gym? Do I have to go to a class? Do I have time to exercise? More than a year ago, what seemed like a simple decision for RenĂ©e Fishman turned into an overwhelming series of questions.

“All these questions came up. And before I knew it, I didn’t have time to exercise anymore,” says Fishman, a New York resident.

According to Eva Krockow, a professor at the University of Leicester, UK, the brain makes more than 35,000 decisions a day, whether it’s preparing breakfast or deciding what to wear in the morning. At night, you are exhausted, but you don’t know why.

Chances are you are experiencing decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue occurs when you feel overwhelmed when faced with decisions, no matter how big or small, said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for policy and practice research at the American Psychological Association.

“I don’t think many of us have necessarily thought about the effort behind thinking and being in the world, but the pandemic has perhaps prompted us to do so because we’ve had to incorporate a lot of new, constantly changing information,” he said.

In the last two years, people have been told that they don’t need to wear masks, then they do need to wear them, and then what types of masks are best, that’s a lot to keep up with, Bufka said.

“Trying to reconcile all of that requires considerable effort, which makes it difficult to make other types of decisions,” he explains.

When you experience decision fatigue, it can impair judgment and encourage you to make a hasty decision or avoid decision making altogether, said Grant Pignatiello, an instructor and KL2 clinical research fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. .

“What people worry about is that they’re going to make decisions they end up regretting simply because they didn’t think through all the options and chose impulsively, or because they chose the default option,” he said.

Scientists detect that stress can change your brain 0:46

Do you have decision fatigue?

Decision fatigue can be hard to spot because it builds up over time, but there are some warning signs, Bufka said.

If you feel more irritable and have a hard time coping with certain situations that you wouldn’t normally struggle with, you may be experiencing decision fatigue, he said.

Plus, you might have trouble processing incoming information, like phone notifications or breaking news, Bufka said.

You may also regret decisions you wouldn’t normally think twice about, Pignatiello said.

“If you feel more emotionally overwhelmed or overwhelmed by life, that could be a sign that your internal resources are depleted, and you could be at higher risk (of decision fatigue) as a result,” he said.

Automation is the answer

One of the best ways to reduce decision fatigue is to automate the number of choices made each day, says Pignatiello.

There’s a reason some tech CEOs wear the same kind of clothes every day, he said.

“When you’re making a lot of decisions every day that affect a lot of people, you want to make sure you have all the resources available to make those decisions,” Pignatiello said.

That’s how Fishman eliminated his morning Q&A session. Instead of contemplating whether he is going to exercise or not, he already knows that he is going to go to the gym after he gets up in the morning.

“I’ve been doing this for over a year and haven’t missed a workout,” says Fishman.

This strategy can be applied to other areas of life, such as mealtimes, Bufka said.

“If you have a breakfast that you know you like, is nutritious and meets your basic needs, stick with it,” he said.

divide and conquer

Another strategy is to try to anticipate the moments of greatest emotional and cognitive load to reduce the number of decisions that have to be made during that time, Bufka said.

Make whatever decisions you can ahead of time or assign them to someone else, he explained.

If you live with someone else, split some of the decision-making responsibilities
decisions so you don’t have to think about certain tasks, which reduces the load on your brain, Bufka said.

And remember to be patient: take these steps gradually to reduce decision fatigue, one step at a time.