“Information overload is a symptom of our desire to not focus on what’s important. It is a choice.” (Brian Solis)
As 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 U.S. 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
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” (Herbert A. Simon)
We all understand the importance of making good decisions. Unfortunately, the ability to make the right decision matters little when overwhelmed with too many 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. 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 and the television in the evening.
- Families struggle with finances after habitually impulsive decisions.
- Great men and 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 and 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.
We must find ways to prevent decision fatigue and to make better decisions if we hope to overcome this cultural pandemic.