Is Decision Fatigue Leading To Your Lack of Success?

decision fatigue

Have you heard of decision fatigue before? It’s a really interesting term that I came across whilst studying for my degree (Criminal Psychology – TONS of psychology which I can relate to personal finance a lot) and it fascinated me, because it really does affect how we behave with our money.

As you will know if you have read my blog before, I am very interested in how our brain works and how we can utilise how we think and behave to achieve the best results that we want for our life and our goals.

First up, explaining what decision fatigue is! Decision fatigue is defined on Wikipedia as:

“In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.”

So basically, the more decisions that you have to make, the worse off that you will be throughout the day. If you think about it, when you’re tired at the end of a busy day, how likely are you to just say “oh, I’ll just do that because it’s easier?”.

It is proven that we are more likely to make bad decisions when we have been making a lot of decisions throughout the day. Unfortunately, this cannot only be from yourself, but from others suffering from decision fatigue throughout the day as well. An example of this can be shown in a study that was done to look at if decision fatigue affected judges decisions within a courtroom. They found that as the judge had more and more decisions to make throughout the day, they would be more likely to pass less favourable sentences. This is because it is an easier decision to just sentence them to keep them off the streets.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly after you have started to understand what decision fatigue is) – they found that the more and more decisions that a judge had to make, the less lenient they were with the sentences. One of my work colleagues has to go to court (after he was knocked off his motorbike) and I let him know about the time being an important factor in the outcome!

It is not only the easy choice that you will go for at the end of the day either, but potentially also making decisions that you do not need to make at all. An example of this can be explained further when looking at decision tradeoffs – where a decision can have either positive or negative parts, such as when you are in a car dealership and you end up being so overwhelmed with everything that is being offered to you that you agree to a random add-on purchase.

Unfortunately, decision fatigue appears to affect poorer people more than rich people – due to the need to make constant decisions with their finances. An example of this can be during a supermarket trip where many decisions have to be made throughout the store in regards to prices. At the end of the shopping trip you are more likely to succumb to the expensive snacks at the till (which is the reason that the stores put them there!).

The self’s executive function (getting into some proper Uni lingo now!) is what makes our choices and decisions, and has been proven to require a resource similar to energy. It regulates the self, and our self-regulating refers to things where we have to regulate our inner thoughts such as persisting with a task that will help us achieve a goal,
Decision fatigue can affect self-regulation, and this is can actually be a cause of debt.

There are mainly two choices that our brain makes when it is exhausted from making a bunch of choices – either:

  1. Act impulsively, instead of thinking through what you are going to do.
  2. Don’t act at all.

You may be able to see when reading this, why some things such as resisting the urge to give in to various temptations (e.g. buying various items) when paying off debt or similar, is difficult, and can lead to you falling off the wagon and just buying a bunch of stuff. Your mental resources have been used up at this point.

You can see how poor people remain in poverty – the overwhelm of decisions that have to be made whilst on a tight budget is huge. Do you feel more mentally drained when you have to stick to a certain amount of money when food shopping, or when you are able to spend whatever you want with no repercussions?

Put simply, making decisions over and over throughout the day makes us exhausted. Paradoxically, we believe that we want lots of choices, but lots of choices in fact overwhelm us.

Luckily, there are some ways in which you can combat decision fatigue to give yourself the best results each and every day. Everyone suffers from decision fatigue – but some are better at dealing with it than others. After reading this post, hopefully you will be one of the ones who deals with it well.

Wear the same thing every day

Bear with me here…! If you look at certain famous people, you can see that they do this. Examples include Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and more. When asked why they wear the same kind of thing everyday (e.g Mark Zuckerberg with his many variations of the same grey t-shirt), they say it is because they want to limit the amount of decisions that they make, because they are incredibly busy and do not want to have that to think about as well.

You don’t have to wear the exact same thing every day, but if you are for example going to work in an office every week day, you could wear black trousers and the same style top in different colours. This isn’t necessary of course, but it will help you to reduce the amount of decisions that you make on a daily basis.

After all, if some of the most successful people in the world do this, it’s got to be a good idea, right?!

Have the same breakfast every day

Now your breakfast doesn’t have to be boring – it can be the most delicious fruit salad, cereal, pancakes, waffles etc, but it’s usually one of the first things that you do in the morning. Even the act of having breakfast is good for your brain and body, but by limiting your choices in the morning you will be fighting that decision fatigue!

It’s not meant to be depriving, as you can eat whatever food you like, but just by limiting your options you will be better off throughout the day.

Take breaks

I won’t go into all of the psychology of it again, but there have been studies (including the jury one mentioned above) that breaks help restore your mental reserves, and eating food is also necessary for keeping your glucose levels up.

You may think that you are working really hard by not giving yourself a break or snack time, but you are actually making it harder for yourself to make good decisions throughout the day.

Meal plan

There is a reason why meal planning is such a good idea for saving money – because you have already made the decisions on what you are going to make throughout the week, you are much less likely to reach for the takeaway leaflet if you have previously chosen your (home-made!) meal.

It sounds simple, but if you are at the end of a mentally exhausting day, you will appreciate the decision already being made for you – especially if you have batch cooked as well and only have to eat up your food.

Automate as much as possible

This applies to many aspects of life – but a good example can be to automate your financial transactions. Set up your direct debits, especially towards paying off debt and savings.

When you are your own boss and run your own business, such as blogging, there are a million and one things to do. Successful bloggers will always recommend that you automate as much as you are able to – things that you do every day, over and over again. An example of this myself is that I automate my tweets on Twitter so that my posts go out throughout each day and I don’t have to think about them.

Focus your energy on the important decisions

We can hmm and haa over pretty much every decision, but if we really look at what we are agonising over, there are lots of small things which take up a lot of mental energy when it is not necessary.

We tend to strive for perfection, and in obsessing over which is the right choice to make, we can tend to procrastinate on our decisions. It’s all about working out what it truly important to you, and your life. Which is why the tips in this post can hopefully help you have more mental energy to focus on the important decisions.

Create an effective morning and evening routine

The mornings and evenings are the most important parts of your day in regards to decision fatigue. In the morning your willpower and decision making will be at its strongest, so you need to nourish and utilise it as best you can. In the evening, you will be running low on mental reserves and need to prepare in advance for this so that you do not make any bad decisions.

This may sound boring and repressive to you, but it will have the opposite effect. I’m assuming that you want to use your day the best you can, and make the best decisions for your life and your career.

If you look at incredibly successful people, you will find that they have a morning routine that they do every day in order to set them up for success. They all look very similar as well. It generally consists of waking up before the rest of the family, doing some exercise, taking some time to read and do important tasks, and to eat a good breakfast.

I have written before about how to make time to make more money – where I share my time management hacks and tips for getting stuff done!

If you look back over your days, you can see that you may have made some bad decisions, but that’s ok – by implementing these ways of avoiding decision fatigue, you will be better set up to achieve your goals and have a good day.

What do you think, can you spot decision fatigue in your decisions each day?

decision fatigue