Short circuit decision fatigue by jumping in a shark tank

Short circuit decision fatigue by jumping in a shark tank

There are two lifestyle impacts with decision fatigue – a short term and long term impact. The way we spend each individual day impacts our mental health and can bring about decision fatigue on a daily basis (because we have constant decision loading); but the way we live our life as a result of consistent habits and decisions made weeks or maybe months ago, can also lead to daily decision fatigue.


I want to focus on the decisions we make today and tomorrow, which create a cumulative effect, and impact the day we will have in two or maybe three months' time.  It has been said that we often commit today in haste to doing something future dated (tomorrow) because that tomorrow feels so far away and the burden isn’t real.

It could also be that we are saying yes or no today, to the wrong things, because we are too busy and too deep in a state of decision fatigue. We may not be processing all the necessary information to make the best choice right now.  Decision fatigue is the zapping of our energy that results from repetitive decision making.  After making many decisions, our concentration and ability to weigh up the options is less effective.  When we are in decision fatigue mode, we fall back into known patterns or old habits, that may not really serve us, but we are comfortable to use those habits when responding under pressure because it takes less effort and feels less risky.

If we are time poor, decision fatigued or health challenged; when presented with a decision we may:

  1. Ignore it, and put off deciding what to do;

  2. Respond with a decision which pleases someone else rather than doing what is best for us;

  3. If it’s a new opportunity, we might...

    1. Reject it without looking into it further because of potential risk; or

    2. Say yes because it feels good (it’s interesting; it will be fun; it’s a challenge; it’s different; it’s helpful; we can’t think why we should say no) – and worry about the time commitment later.

Sometimes our response will be the right one, but sometimes we will have agreed to one too many committee meetings, car pools or collaborations.  Why do we get it wrong? Because when we are in decision fatigue mode, putting off the painful decision making process (delayed gratification) feels so much better than stopping and jumping in a shark tank (a metaphor for going through the complicated process of working out what will be the best way forward right now). While this may sound really sensible (weighing up the long term ramifications of our decisions before we make them), it has been found that when we are in decision fatigue mode, we aren’t at our most sensible.

We have to find a way to stop being wary of the shark tank and move the making of the best decision closer to today. This only happens if we are willing to get in the shark tank.

HOW CAN THIS HELP YOU?  We know that the most useful thing to do when in decision fatigue mode is to learn to recognise that you are in it.  Start being aware of how you are responding to decisions throughout your day.  Reflect back on previous day's decisions to see if you would still make the same choice.  If you have responded too quickly, don’t feel shy about going back and saying, ‘I’ve thought about it some more…’. 

Secondly, create a system or habit that lets you put off till tomorrow some complicated decisions until you will have time to examine them more closely.  Remember it’s not the best time to make decisions when you are in decision fatigue mode, but if you can put off till tomorrow any tough decision, you will end up with a more considered outcome. If you don’t like saying no, maybe something more along the lines of ‘That sounds like something I’d be really interested in, but I’ll have to check and get back to you’ could work for you. 

Finally, it’s time to jump in the shark tank. Establish a regular time in your week, when you review these decisions. You need to keep this time carefully guarded in your diary so that when you are delaying a decision in the moment, you can be confident that you will come back to it. During this review time, think about the reasons for saying yes or no, and consider what is driving your response; think about your schedule (Would you want to do this if you had to make time tomorrow?).  Instead of relying on old habits, be a little uncomfortable and start delaying your complicated decisions until a specific time each week (when you are fresh and have time to think).

This process will help to stem the tide of commitment decisions that you have been making when in decision fatigue mode which may have led to burdened schedules or missed opportunities in future months. It may take a while before you actually start to see the benefit of a more purposeful day by carefully considering your future decisions, but the benefits will start to flow.

ARE THERE HEALTH FACTORS HERE? People who have major health challenges often experience significant physical and/or mental fatigue.  This means that daily activity time is more precious as it may be more limited. In addition, there may be less capacity to leave tasks to be completed close to deadlines, as there is the potential for periods of illness to make meeting commitments more difficult.  This means planning is even more important, and so is access to free time for relaxation to reduce stress (don't let it be stolen away with too many commitments).

People with chronic illness or other health challenges can benefit from the process of reviewing their diary and recent decisions with a view to future impact. 

A WAY FORWARD.  If you find that your days are always too busy and you are not achieving what you would like to achieve, consider –

  • You may need to put off till tomorrow some complicated decisions.

  • Find a time each week to reflect on your calendar.

  • With decisions that impact your longer term calendar, take time to think about why you are saying yes or no; before committing.

It may be challenging to make time tomorrow to think through a calendar-impacting decision, but it will be significantly less painful than living with the wrong decision in a few months' time.

Photo Credit

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash