Decision Fatigue

Resilience as a Nation
July 6, 2022
Psychological Safety
July 20, 2022
Resilience as a Nation
July 6, 2022
Psychological Safety
July 20, 2022

Decision Fatigue

Don't Make Me Decide!

Decision fatigue – making decision after decision until your brain is foggy and you just can’t anymore. You are more likely to experience this when decisions are critical, stress is high, there are many choices, you don’t have enough information, or when time is limited. 

After a certain threshold, we quit thinking things through and start to make quick choices which are often of a lower quality.  


Weeks after a house fire Ann was telling a friend how exhausted she was. Her housing situation was stable and she was getting a lot of support but she felt like her brain was wading through wet cement.  

Ann: “My neurons are tired! I keep thinking, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t care,’ even though I do care.” 

Friend: “Well, yeah. I imagine you are dealing with decision fatigue.” 

Ann: “Huh?” 

Friend: “You have had to make a ton of decisions over the past month, many of which are about stuff you don’t know anything about. Major insurance claim, legal matters, temporary housing, etc. And then on top of that you are showering, cooking, and living in a new place. All day you are making decisions about routines that are usually automatic. It gets to the point that even little decisions like what to eat becomes too much.” 

Ann: “Yes!!! I have been eating oatmeal every morning and a turkey sub for lunch every day.” 

Friend: “I work in hospice. Families go through this all the time. Big decisions about medical care are followed by what shirt to bring to the hospital. Go easy on yourself. Acknowledge the heavy lifting your brain has been doing. And enjoy that turkey sub until you have the energy to make a different decision about lunch.” 

We have all experienced decision fatigue over the past few years due to COVID and the economic downturn. Decisions about wearing masks, vaccination, attending gatherings, and more were new to everyone. Rising prices of gas, groceries, and housing have forced many families into choosing how to adjust while still coping with day-to-day life. 

When fatigued, you might run out of energy to think things through. This can lead to quick decisions based on what is easiest or what you have done in the past. To make the best decisions for yourself it helps to use a few strategies: 

Dealing With Decision Fatigue

Notice your decision fatigue.

There is power in naming what is going on and in not blaming yourself but recognizing that this is a normal reaction to a high demand situation. 

Take a break if possible.

Tell people, “I need a minute.” Step away and gain some perspective. Doing a simple task you enjoy – walking, a hobby, playing a game – gives your brain a rest. Taking your attention off the situation can result in solutions rising to the surface as your unconscious mind has a chance to mull things over. 

Remember your brain is part of your body.

Your brain is not a separate entity. The basics of sleep, hydration, nutrition, and movement help you feel better and think more clearly. Consider what will help you gain some energy. 

Let people know that you need more information or time.

“I am not sure what the long-term outcome is of that. Can you go over it with me again?” “When do you need an answer on that?” Sometimes decisions can wait until you have had time to rest or learn more. 

Postpone decisions that can wait.

Write it down in your calendar so your brain gets the message that it can take a break. If someone needs an answer in 10 days, write a note to yourself to pop up in 7 days so it doesn’t become another emergency. 

Automate routine decisions.

Eat the same breakfast, wear the same earrings, go to a familiar restaurant and don’t bother with the menu – order what you know you like. Set up a wardrobe plan and wear your decided upon clothes. 

Make broader decisions when possible.

When moving, my friend’s parents took everything they wanted out of the garage then told us “Tools and car books still in the garage can be divided up between the kids. If nobody wants an item put it on the curb on trash day.” 

Delegate decisions to someone else.

While setting up for a wedding the bride told her friends, “The flowers are in the church kitchen and there are a bunch of vases on the table.  Please decorate the lobby and altar.” 

Noticing and managing your decision fatigue allows you to better recover from a stressful event and helps you move forward. Be gentle with yourself and let your neurons get the rest they need. This will improve the quality of your decision making during high stress situations. 

Share this post with that friend of yours who is struggling with decision fatigue.