Decision Fatigue

Choice Overload

Choice 1As my least favorite domestic activity, grocery shopping looms on the horizon of my schedule like an approaching storm during a picnic. Never finished, I almost always start a new list before the bags get unpacked and the kitchen storage filled. Add to that the usual dissatisfaction with items both purchased and forgotten, the tempest continually stirs.

Worse than its constant, unfinished state is the vast number of choices that come with the endeavor. All these elements combine to make grocery shopping the bane of my domestic duties.

Maybe grocery shopping doesn’t pique your anxiety like it does mine, but I’m guessing you relate in some way to the reality of decision overload. In fact, the United States exists as a culture of choices with so many options that we get stressed out simply by the sheer number of decisions coming at us almost nonstop in almost every aspect of life.

The Impact of Overwhelm

Choices 2We all understand the importance of making good decisions. Unfortunately, the ability to make the right decision matters little when overwhelmed with too may choices. Research proves that the more decisions made and the more options within those decisions, the less able a person becomes to make good decisions of any size.

In other words, as we make more and more decisions, we also make poorer and poorer decisions. And often, much of our decision-making energy goes toward a lot of small, often trivial, decisions, and this serves to increase the chances of the bigger decisions becoming epic failures.

Our ability to make decisions works much like a muscle that gets fatigued with use. Think of it this way, “decision fatigue” or “choice overload” is why…

  • Coaches and quarterbacks often make poor decisions late in games.
  • Judges grant parole less often as the day goes on.
  • Parents give in to their kids incessant pestering.
  • People make unhealthy dinner choices after a long day at work.
  • Exercise gets nixed for the couch & the television in the evening.
  • Families struggle with finances after habitually impulsive decisions.
  • Great men & women of God make worldly choices in their personal lives.

Decision fatigue also explains why many people become easily frustrated and irritable since a person’s brain becomes less able to regulate behavior the more decisions made. Thus, this fatigue also affects how we love others.

The Outcomes of Decision Fatigue

One of two outcomes generally results from decision fatigue. First, a person becomes reckless & impulsive and simply fails to expend the energy to think before making decisions. This creates a pattern of destructiveness that ends up making most problems worse.

The second result is doing nothing. Initially, this appears simply as the easy way out; eventually though, this route makes a person resistant to almost any kind of change since continuing unhealthy habits is simply easier than changing. When we suffer from decision fatigue, satisfying immediate needs is easier than developing the self control needed to make healthy choices.

The spiritual impact of decision fatigue comes when we just don’t have the energy left over for the bigger decisions or for seeking God’s will rather than simply following the feelings of the flesh. Instead, we spend our decision-making energy on temporal matters and either just don’t get around to deciding about eternal matters or simply don’t even consider the difference between decisions that are only important in this life and ones extending into eternity.

How does decision overload/fatigue impacts you on a regular basis.

After taking some time to analyze the existence of decision fatigue in your life, take the next step and being Preventing Decision Fatigue from happening in the first place.

10 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue

  1. There are times I just want to do something where I don't have to or need to make a decision except where do I want to ride today or what music do I want to listen to. I look forward to reading more Kari.
    My recent post Chosen

    • Me too! One reason I like to watch the same movies over and over is because I don't have to try and figure anything out, and there are no surprises. Gives my brain a rest.

  2. I'm with you on the grocery store. It doesn't help that we have a local grocery store across the street from our neighborhood and two new Walmart Neighborhood Markets within 5 minutes either direction. It seems like I end up at one of these store on most days, purchasing something necessary for dinner. Combine this with using coupons and trying to get the most bang for our buck, and the choices are nearly limitless. It's a struggle just to get make decisions about dinner, which often leads to unwise choices of spending more money by going out to eat.
    My recent post The Tension Between Adventure & Planting Roots

    • Exactly my point. Too many choices, and too many options within those choices. It's overwhelming. No wonder we make dumb choices all to often (at least I do).

  3. Decision fatigue….hummm…don't think I have ever read it laid out the way you have…great job Kari. Going to re-post this on my fb. We have been home 31/2 years and I still get overwhelmed shopping…absolutely too many choices. It really is less stressful to see less and have less. Also I think most people don't even realize that the abundant of choices stresses them out, it so cultural here. With development comes more stuff, more choice. Trust me in the remote villages there is no stress over this kind of thing, of course they have other stresses but not because of an abundant of choices. Again great post .

    • Thanks, Betty. Yes, I definitely realize the cultural relevance of decision fatigue. Personally, I long for a much simpler way, but I at the same time know I am called to this one at least for the time being. Perhaps creating awareness like this can have some impact that helps people simplify and focus on what truly matters, which is what I get at in the follow-up post. Thanks again!

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  5. I think it is important to try to understand which decisions don't really matter much and those that have long term affects. We do need to make sure we understand the difference in decisions. We need to know with a lot of choice there is not a "perfect " choice. We have a lot of freedom in choosing but we should not let that freedom become a burden. Think through what choices don't really matter and make sure you feel free to do whatever with them and move on and never think about them again. It does not matter if I wear black socks or white socks… pick one and move on.
    A lot of times we are choosing between all good choices and we should not burden ourselves with trying to make sure we get the perfect one.
    Those things that we have determined are choices that are important we should make sure we know what they are; when they most likely will come up and then what process are we going to go through to make the decision. We should know when we make our best decision and make it at that time.. be that early in the day or week or late.
    We also need to avoid thinking we must figure out what God wants us to do. If it is not a moral decision(With those we know what to do) then God gives us a lot of freedom to make choices. We should trust he shall hear our prayers and lead us and feel free to make the choice we want.
    I am also a firm believer that one does not need to make a decision until it is time to make it. That gives us more time to gather all the information we can before making the decision.

    • Very well said, Mark! We need to think more about our decision making in the ways you mentioned. This doesn't serve to make decision making more difficult but to help assess where we are in our thinking habits. All great points!

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