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.

“Maybe I should move to Alaska.”


Recently, within a 1/2 hour, two different retail workers treated me quite disrespectfully. One was outright rude. Both, like I was insignificant.

Initially, I reacted. My flesh wanted to walk out and explain why I was doing so. But, fortunately, the Holy Spirit kept me from reacting, kept my emotions from taking control.

As I met with a friend – a blessing of accountability – I also observed the two individuals & talked about what happened to me and realized not just why they personally struggled but also why so many struggle with existing in out-of-control lives. This situation brought to light the following realizations:

  1. People often try to control others when their lives feel out of control.
  2. Overwhelming busyness often causes us to take the easy way out, to react.
  3. Many people do not realize they are too busy and overwhelmed.
  4. Feeling trapped in a busy life is all too common.
  5. When people are habitually rude or impersonal, the root cause is usually being overwhelmed.

What does this all have to do with Alaska?

When many people become overwhelmed with life, they say something like, “Maybe I should move to Alaska.” Interpretation: “I want a simpler life.” People recognize their lives are too busy, and they desire permanent escape. This desire to escape teaches us several valuable lessons:

  1. We desire a  clean slate. We want out from under overwhelmed and busy lives.
  2. We recognize lack of balance. We know simplicity helps bring balance.
  3. We want simpler lives. A simpler life is a less chaotic life.

On a more personal level, and this is where the experience gets really painful, I realized that as much as I have grown from treating others the way I was treated and from reacting when being treated this way, I also see the habit still in me. For example, when I am stressed and overwhelmed, I try to control my life by controlling my kids. And controlling 12-year-old and a 14-year-old boys is, well, impossible, resulting in more frustration and a ride none of us enjoy.

gateWhy did the rudeness really bother me?

When the rubber meets the road to Alaska, I must admit that these situations brought out a part of me I thought dead. They brought out feelings and emotions I thought no longer controlled me. They made me realize that I too let busyness and stress control me. I too choose the broad path of either letting emotions rule and reign or fantasizing escape, wiping the slate clean rather than choosing the narrow path of a simpler life (Matthew 7:13-14).

When I allow my life to get complicated, even just slightly, my choices begin to reflect finding an easy way. How can I check tasks off my list in the quickest, easiest fashion? When my life stays simple, when I walk in the agenda God created for me (Ephesians 2:10), my choices reflect His will and my life becomes fulfilled through simple depth of tremendous purpose.

When I’m overwhelmed and live a too-busy life, I treat others based on feelings. I react to their emotions colliding with mine. When complications increase, I treat others based on my own definition of right and wrong, based on reactions to the emotions of life. But when my life is simple, I treat others based on The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), based on showing love regardless of feelings and emotions.

Acting on God’s greatest commands happens more easily the simpler my life. Simpler means choosing the narrow way, choosing to prefer and love others because God wants me to. Letting busyness overrun my life means going through the wide gate, making easy choices, choices that go with the flow of culture.

DISCUSSION: Do you act or react when you are overwhelmed or stressed? When do you hear the call for simplicity most in your life? What do you do when you hear it?