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Earlier this morning, you were a powerhouse of effective decision making, amazing productivity, boundless energy, and motivation. It’s after four in the afternoon now, and you just had a small, but still quite impressive, nervous breakdown when someone asked you what you wanted in your coffee. You have reached decision fatigue; without consciously being aware of it, your brain has shut down all rational thinking processes and turned off your mental ability to make any more balanced decisions. Now what?
Decision fatigue may seem to happen suddenly and without warning, but your mind’s decision-making capacity had already been slowing down for hours prior to the coffee incident. Your brain’s reaction to long hours of making choices is to slowly lose the ability to use rational thought in making important decisions.
Decision-making fatigue is a well-researched phenomenon that many of us already experienced long before Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist, gave it a name. It’s the reason we signed up for an extended warranty on a product that cost less than the warranty itself, why we chose doughnuts instead of a nutritional snack, and the reason you bought season tickets for a sport you actually don’t like.
When the brain reaches its decision-making limit, it convinces us to take the path of least resistance. These decisions are often the result of not having the mental stamina to argue with anyone, not thinking clearly, and making a careless decision just to get it out of the way.
Decision fatigue is different from physical fatigue, but it may be influenced by exhaustion too. It is characterized by poor choices generally made later in the day, in both business and personal situations. It results in:
Even the simplest decisions we make daily will fuel decision making fatigue, so streamlining less important choices will make a difference in our ability to combat it. Successful entrepreneurs know that choosing an outfit in the morning can drain decision making energies; that’s why many of them wear the same clothing every day. Other ways to combat decision fatigue include:
In a structured work environment, bosses can delegate tasks to all coworkers in the office. As an entrepreneur, it may be just you and your computer throughout the entire working day. A smaller staff certainly doesn’t mean fewer decisions, though. You can expect that at some point during your day, you may experience decision fatigue; don’t be afraid to shut down the computer and call it a day if you do (before you end up with a pony in your apartment).
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