Tired of deciding – NRC

Entrepreneurs who make one decision after another. Parliamentarians debating for hours on end. Negotiators who only reach a compromise at dawn. I often look at it with respect. But research shows that those who work for a long time and who make a lot of decisions are likely to make increasingly poor decisions.

Get out or snooze? What am I wearing? What do I take for breakfast? Do I answer to that app now or later? From the moment the alarm goes off, you have to decide. Just as you become physically tired from exercise, you become mentally tired from making decisions. The more decisions you make in a row, the worse their quality becomes. Decision fatiguePsychologists call it decision fatigue.

The more decisions you have to make, the more complex they are and the more impact they have, the faster you reach your limit as a person. And once we are decision tired, it can have different consequences: we take longer to make decisions, we postpone them, we make impulsive decisions, we stick to the status quo, or we walk away from decisions: Sorry, not right now.”

What can you practically do to combat decision fatigue? Four tips.

1) Ask yourself if a decision is worth your energy. Perhaps you might as well leave some decisions to someone else. Examples? Let your kids decide what to wear to school; follow the online weekly menu of your favorite supermarket; and give your colleagues something of your choice stress.

2) Opt for fixed appointments and routines. I know people who only wear one color of clothes, just to avoid difficult decisions. Many people reserve a fixed evening for sports in their agenda. By making up a routine, you cut a lot of future knots in one go.

3) Estimate how decision-tired you are before making an important decision. Rate your fatigue from 0 to 10 and choose to make the decision later if necessary. Preferably at a time when you are decisively fit again.

4) Use these insights to formulate your personal decision-making approach. For example, determine that you make important decisions at the beginning of the day or after a break. Make a checklist with points for attention for good decisions. I don’t make any important decisions after ten o’clock in the evening. Experience shows that otherwise I have to email and call too often the next morning to repair the damage.

Some cultures see making decisions not as exhausting, but as invigorating

And then there’s something else. You can also try to think differently about making decisions. In some cultures, making decisions is not seen as exhausting, but as refreshing. In a recent study, Indian subjects, in contrast to Western participants, actually made better decisions after they first had to make another complex decision.

Previous research shows something similar. Those who don’t believe that they get tired of cognitive work are less likely to make mistakes. And vice versa.

Funny how that works. It’s just a shame that it’s not that easy to just start to believe something else about yourself and your ability to make good decisions. Especially not when you’re tired.

Ben Tiggelaar writes weekly about personal leadership, work and management.

Tired of deciding – NRC
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