Are you trying to decide what color to paint your room at the same time you are having to decide when to get to the library and start that research paper, while also deciding how to prepare for the birthday party that you are throwing for a friend or family member?
Feeling the pressure of having to make multiple decisions at once or in sequence can lead to “decision fatigue”, a condition that results from the mental exhaustion that results from having to make too many important decisions at once. These are not the kind of decisions such as what flavor ice cream to eat, but rather, whether or not you should eat the ice cream or not. You may be trying to moderate junk food in your diet and may have the choice of a) eating a small portion of ice cream, b) saving it for another day, thereby delaying gratification and giving you something to look forward to later, or c) giving into the temptation to eat it now, knowing that you will diffuse future cravings by addressing the problem in the immediate moment.
Imagine all of the laborious thought that went into that decision and how it would be if you had to make many decisions that involved the same amount of mental effort in a short time span, like what to take on your vacation in light of unpredictable weather or studying for your exam a month in advance versus 2 weeks in light of the possibility of burning out too quickly. What if you were having family from out of town visiting for 5 days and you had to plan an activity for each? According to researchers, the brain fatigue that results from multiple decision making can lead to making forced choices that might result in poor outcomes. You may decide, “I’m tired of thinking about whether or not I should eat the ice cream, so I’ll just eat it to relieve myself of the mental energy that is required to make this decision."
To avoid the consequences of decision fatigue, try the following strategies:
• When you are trying to make a decision that can have serious consequences, remove yourself from the situation and do nothing. Listen to some relaxing music or go for a walk in an effort to clear your mind completely. This will alleviate the exhaustion and burnout that you may feel that may contribute to excess mental clutter.
• Talk it out. Talk to a friend or a family member about something totally unrelated to the decision as another technique to diffuse the ruminating thoughts about the decision. Then, if you do need a second opinion, you can always call the person (or another friend or relative) to get some constructive advice.
• Write it down. Journal about the thoughts and concerns you have about the decision; getting it out on paper will help to get it off of your mind; write down the pros and cons of the decision. Then, take a brisk walk to get your mind off of it for awhile.