What is Decision Fatigue? and How Do I Beat It?

decision fatigue factor 75

Stop beating yourself up after that Twix bar or side of fries. It’s not your fault.

Science is finding that willpower alone doesn’t work. Giving in to temptation isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of fatigue.

“Decision fatigue” is real. And it’s kind of a big deal.

Willpower is a limited resource.

Psychologists have found that as we make decisions over the course of the day, we drain our reserve of “decision power.” E

very choice – from determining stock options to deciding what’s for dinner – deducts from your willpower “budget.”

That’s why when we have especially demanding days we’re more likely to skip the gym or order a pizza. There’s just no “decision power” left.

That’s why dieting makes you dumber and shoppers do terribly on math tests.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

A 2011 study of one million people across the globe found that we believe our biggest weakness is “lack of self-control.” But, guys, willpower isn’t a character trait, it’s a resource.

The secret to making smart decisions is to keep your willpower budget out of the red. Stop depleting your reserves with the routine decisions: You’ve got far more important choices to make than “quinoa or rice?” and “cook or order in?”

How to conserve decision power:

So, how can we unload the decisions that are running us down?

In this awesome INC article, reporters Drake Baer and Aimee Groth outline ways to conserve brain bandwidth. Here’s a rundown of the best places to start:

Develop a routine


“The most successful people don’t use their willpower as a last-ditch defense to stop themselves from disaster. Rather, they conserve willpower by developing effective habits and routines in school and at work so that they reduce the amount of stress in their lives. They use their self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. They give themselves enough time to finish a project; they take the car to the shop before it breaks down.”


Get more sleep


Studies have found sleep deprivation has the same cognitive effects as being drunk. Crazy, right?

Kelly_McGonigalAs Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, sleep deprivation messes with the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision making. When you’re sleep deprived, “the prefrontal cortex is especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response,” she says. “Unchecked, the brain overreacts to ordinary, everyday stress and temptation.”

So the more you skimp on sleep, the less equipped you are to make solid decisions.


Let yourself cheat


Occasionally giving in to your desires can reinvigorate you, so you don’t feel completely deprived all the time, according to the Times. It helps you stay on track for the long-term.

Thus, the psychology of the cheat meal. Hallelujah.


Delegate the Time Sucks


Like we mentioned last week: you gotta outsource.

The easiest place to start? Your food.

Instacart your groceries or Factor 75 your dinner. That way, the healthy eating decisions are automated. You won’t deplete decision power by calculating calories or analyzing food groups.

More on Decision Fatigue

Click here to read the full New York Times cover story on decision fatigue.

featured image courtesy of LifeHacker.