Suffering Decision Fatigue

The Secret to Better Decision Making

Have you ever felt so exhausted you couldn’t make a proper decision? It’s possible the you suffer from decision fatigue.

You wake up to your kids banging around.

Shoot, you wanted to be up before them!

You put a sweater on and run downstairs to start breakfast. The first thought is, “What to make?”

While you’re grabbing toast and spreads, the kids are bombarding you with questions and you’re turning on your phone to check the weather. “What should they wear today?”

During the loading time of the phone you’re turning on the computer to get some music going, “What do I feel like listening today?”.

Finally the phone loads, and it’s barraging you with 15 WhatsApp messages and a million more notifications from various apps that require your attention – “Do I read them, or leave them for now?”.

In the meantime, your kids are jumping on the couch, shouting they’re hungry, and the baby has got himself stuck in the oven because he was trying to cook his bottle.

Now you have to decide who to respond to first. Of course, the baby, no one wants cooked bottle, or cooked baby for that matter.   Your phone vibrates again. Do you look?


This all happens within 10 minutes of waking up, and your day is filled with 144 of these 10 minute increments.

By the end of the day, you are exhausted. You simply can’t use your brain anymore, the willpower has seemingly been sucked from you. All you want is to sit and veg out in front of your favourite show and eat a bowl of ice cream.


Decision Overload


As a Mom with little kids, I’m inundated with large and small decisions on what seems a per second basis. By the end of the day, the little willpower that is left crumbles to the yearning of chocolate. Yet, mom’s with little kids are just one example. Anyone who goes to the grocery store without a shopping list can empathize. And woe to the person who goes shopping without a list, at the end of the day, accompanied by hunger pangs playing a game of bowling in their stomach. They most likely come back with half the store instead of the necessary milk and bread.


In a World Full of Decisions – How Do We Make Good Ones?


It’s an interesting question isn’t it? I think I’ve tended to rely on the “take it as it comes” mentality.

Decisions are made often made on a whim, or a gut feeling directs the path. Until recently, I actually hadn’t put much thought into what factors cause or influence my decision making – the good and the bad ones.

The Science Behind Decision Making – Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?


I came across this NY Times article last year: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? when my husband had read it.


In it the author discusses a few results of current research and studies on decision making.   Here are a few insights from the article I found interesting:

“Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts”


On poverty and decision making:

Spears and other researchers argue that this sort of decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. In one study, he found that when the poor and the rich go shopping, the poor are much more likely to eat during the shopping trip.
But if a trip to the supermarket induces more decision fatigue in the poor than in the rich — because each purchase requires more mental trade-offs — by the time they reach the cash register, they’ll have less willpower left to resist the Mars bars and Skittles. Not for nothing are these items called impulse purchases.


Decision making and low glucose:


Another study looked at glucoses role in willpower and decision making. Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects.
The discoveries about glucose help explain why dieting is a uniquely difficult test of self-control — and why even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have such a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22: 1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower. 2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.


On the successful:

The results suggested that people spend between three and four hours a day resisting desire. In this experiment, their success was decidedly mixed. They were pretty good at avoiding sleep, sex and the urge to spend money, but not so good at resisting the lure of television or the Web or the general temptation to relax instead of work.

In the studies of Baumeister show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend.


Decision Making Currency

This prompted a discussion between my husband and I about the idea of “decision making currency”. The idea that one has a limited amount of decisions per day. When those decision “coins” have been used up, poorer decisions are made, or decisions are ignored. This revolutionized my thinking.


 Solutions to Start Making Life Easier


Life is complicated. You don’t need me to tell you that. So I’m all about looking at what can be changed to make it easier.

If we start treating our decision making as a currency (something that is limited), we can shift our mentality

Throwing Out the Clothes

I realized one way I waste my decision making currency is the mass of clothing in my drawers and closet.

Morning after morning I would stand there, thinking about what I’d like to wear, and then frustrate over things that didn’t match, or the weather. Little did I realize that there was a

My solution: Get rid of the clothes!


I read a post once from an American woman who visited Paris and stayed with a Parisian couple there. This couple was always well dressed, even at home, and eventually she realized that though they didn’t own a giant wardrobe of clothing, everything they had was beautiful, simple, and matched. It was a simple approach to clothing that resounded with her.

A stark contrast to her giant wardrobe at home, and the piles of luggage she brought with her brimming with selection, but lacking consistency and quality.

It clarified the problem of despite having a large variety of clothing, one still stands in front of the closet and finds “nothing” to wear. What a waste of energy. This inspired me to start picking out pieces that I loved and simplifying my wardrobe.

Less clothes = less choice = less decisions

Which leads to the strength and freedom to make bigger, better and greater decisions later.

Simplified Menu

Another thought waster for me is constantly trying to think of new things to eat.

Naturally, I’m a very creative person and I tend to get bored with the same old, same old. Also, menu planning overwhelms me. It still does.

Just even having an idea beforehand makes my morning free, because I’m not thinking about the ever looming question, “What are we going to eat today?”.

After reading the NY Times article and having the currency discussion, I realized how exhausted I actually get just thinking about what I want to eat.

My solution: Developing the habit of knowing what warm meals we’re eating for the week, and keeping it mainly simple. That means, we eat a lot of simple rice and vegetable dishes, and in the evenings it’s fresh German bread, or oats and milk. It’s easy, my whole family likes it, and thrifty to boot.


Next on the List


Get Rid of More Stuff

This year I’m on the pursuit of getting rid of stuff.  My problem is, with four kids, and a husband who loves free books, stuff keeps on coming! We accumlate so much.

There is a tendancy to overlook the fact that with more stuff comes  more responsibility.

Where should it be stored? Does it need to be cleaned? How often does it need to be dusted? When it breaks we have to decide whether to repair it or where it should be repaired, or how to get rid of it.

In Conclusion


We can make better decisions after eating (so our glucose levels are raised), and before we’ve made too many other ones (ie. before our decision making currency is depleted).

It helps us when we implement structures in our lives to help with simplicity and eliminate options (ie. throw out the clothes!). Therefore, freeing us to be more thoughtful and intentional with the options that lay before us.


Here is an example of my classic brain-drainer – grocery shopping. An intentional and thoughtful approach would be going to the grocery store with a list, and a certain amount of cash is a good structure.

We spend less because there is a monetary limit, and we don’t have to stand there and think about what to buy and waste our decision making resources because of the list. Then we can go home, staying within our budget, and retain the capacity and willpower to choose to do a course on Udemy in the evening instead of binge watching Netflix.


Be mindful this week of your daily routine, where do you feel like you waste a lot of your decision currency?



I’m Dani.

Canadian born, living in Germany, with my very German husband and four rambunctious kiddos.

When I’m not chasing after my 1 1/2 year old so he doesn’t run onto the road,
I’m running a loud homeschool, doing mundane but glorious household tasks, drinking coffee, reading, learning on Udemy and sleeping.

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