Whether you realize it or not, every single day we are all making hundreds, if not thousands of decisions. From the moment you wake up, you're tasked with deciding what to eat, what to wear and where to go — and that's just the beginning.
Sometimes those decisions can feel endless. And if you've ever felt drained by making so many choices, there's an actual name for that feeling — it's called decision fatigue.
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Here's how a psychologist recommends handling it.
What Is Decision Fatigue?
Think of decision fatigue as "decision overload" for your brain. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), decision fatigue is a state of mental overload that can lessen a person's ability to continue making decisions. The more decisions you have to make, the more mental energy it takes to keep up, often leading to mental exhaustion.
"As we make more decisions throughout the day or week, especially more consequential decisions, it becomes more difficult to make good decisions, so we therefore may shut down or make impulsive or irrational decisions," says Jeff Temple, PhD, a licensed psychologist.
"You can also compare decision fatigue to muscle fatigue," Temple explains. "After running a marathon, we're not going to have much capacity or energy to walk the dog later that evening."
What Are the Symptoms?
Knowing when you've reached the point of mental exhaustion is important so you can understand your triggers and when you've reached your limit.
Signs of decision fatigue include the following, according to Temple and the AMA:
- Avoiding or procrastinating on making decisions
- Making impulsive or "easy" decisions
- Feeling burned out
- Brain fog
"Another sign is that you may rely more on shortcuts than you typically would, which could result in confirmation bias and on decisions that lead to less-than-preferred outcomes," Temple says.
How to Prevent Decision Fatigue
While there is no way to avoid making decisions altogether, there are strategies that can help you make better choices and prevent exhaustion. The AMA suggests making big decisions in the morning in order to make the most thoughtful and accurate decision in the beginning of the day. Delegating decisions is another prevention strategy to take a mental load off yourself and allow someone else to decide for you.
Certain lifestyle habits can also improve your mental energy, Temple explains: "Getting the suggested amount of sleep, exercising regularly and eating healthy and at regular intervals can bolster your decision endurance."
"Beyond that, it's being aware of your tendency to be fatigued and, if possible, holding off on making a decision until the next day." Temple says.
Ways to Manage Decision Fatigue
If decision fatigue sets in, there are ways to manage it without having a total breakdown or calling it quits for the day.
Temple suggests slowing yourself down in that moment in order to make an informed decision. "This may mean taking a deep breath, consulting colleagues or breaking down the decision into smaller parts."
You can also overcome decision fatigue by streamlining choices and giving yourself fewer options. And once you've made a decision, move on without second-guessing yourself.
If you don't see improvement and continue feeling mentally exhausted on the daily, there's no shame in seeking help.
"Decision fatigue is a legit concern," Temple says. "Being able to identify when it's happening, triggers, and adjusting for it before, during and after making a decision can go a long way toward improving your performance, health and happiness."
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.