Making decisions, even small ones, can wear us down over time. Every day we make endless decisions about what we eat and wear, what we work on, what we do with our spare time. By bedtime, the average person has made 35,000 decisions! Every decision requires time and energy, and depletes our willpower. Add to that our addiction to fill our days being busy for the sake of being busy, and you my friend have got a great recipe for disaster. Regardless of how strong you are, your ability to make the best choices can eventually run out.
When many of the business leaders come to me initially, they talk about feeling drained, stressed, scattered, irritable, having physical fatigue, increased anxiety, tension headaches and even digestive issues, which makes them feel unproductive and overwhelmed for the majority of their day, even though they try to eat healthy, excercise and sleep well. If that’s you, I dare say you may not actually have physical fatigue, what you may have is called decision fatigue, and it affects us way more than you realise.
With decision 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. This may cause you to become reckless in your decision-making, acting impulsively instead of thinking things through. Or you may simply do nothing, which can create bigger problems in the long run.
Over the last few months I have witnessed so many of my clients having to completely adapt and reinvent who they are, what they do and how they go about moving forward, trying to set themselves up for success amid a global pandemic which gives little signs to ease up. The level of unpredictable complexity we are now facing has made many of us re-evaluate our options, explore new avenues, and try to come up with new pathways to help us stay afloat in today’s volatile environment.
For some, the prospect of a stable job or business has been taken away, with nearly half the global workforce at risk of losing income due to COVID 19 alone, according to the International Labour Organization.
For those who remain employed or in business, comes a period of intense evaluation of business practices, reinventing the wheel, entire new ways of creating value in the marketplace and never thought of ways in which to lead people to deliver results.
Today, we are faced by a world where millions of businesses globally are barely breathing. These are the real faces of the world of work. If we don’t learn to adapt and make critical decisions to help us navigate through this period of unprecedented history, many will simply perish.
Millions of tiny decisions throughout our day can drain our willpower and mental resources – if we let them.
Here’s something you need to know. Decision fatigue is caused by being forced to make too many decisions over a fixed period of time. There comes a point where good choices and thoughtful decision making cannot be expected from the depleted brain. This relates to all kinds of decisions, and the exhaustion leaves people open to making poor decisions, whether in their business, their health or their relationships, making us hasty or stopping us from making decisions all together.
But fear not, by changing your habits and setting up the right routines, you can decrease anxiety and conserve your energy for the decisions that really matter. Learning how to manage your decision-making can help you avoid feeling drained and conserve your mental capacities, much needed at a time like this!
Some signs of decision fatigue include procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance and indecision. If this sounds like you, take notice. It is a great concern what happens to our capacity to make good decisions when our brains are out of fuel.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can keep this from happening. Learn how you can combat decision fatigue, replenish your willpower and boost your productivity during a decision-heavy day with these simple steps:
- Make less decisions.
Making too many decisions will stress you out. Take minor decisions off your plate, which take a lot of decision energy. If you get overwhelmed by lunch menus, take your lunch to work. Prepare your work clothes the night before.
By making fewer decisions, you’ll be giving your brain a standing chance to recharge and recover. Many laugh at my schedules, to-do lists, weekly food menus and shopping lists, but I’m the one laughing – they keep me on track, streamline my choices, which helps me stay ahead of my week and what happens in it, taking the guess out of how I run my days and weeks. Scale back and find ways to simplify your life as much as possible.
Hobbies, activities and volunteering are all great and wonderful things to do, but if you’ve reached the point where you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to drop the excess commitments in your life. Self-care must come first.
- Delegate decisions.
I see many struggle with delegating – whether tasks or decisions to others. Many of us feel we must do it all to get it done properly or because we don’t have time to train others to do it as well as us, but at what cost? You can delegate decisions the same way you delegate tasks. If you keep complaining about how much you have on your plate, it’s tme to give responsibility to others for some decision-making. Stop micromanaging and do yourself a favour – you’re not the only person that can get things done, have confidence that others will also deliver.
Pass some decision-making to employees, spouses, children, friends and family members. Others can pick good options too. And it doesn’t always have to be perfect. There are way more important things in life, like knowing what decisions to pass on. 🙂 Letting others be part of the decision making can be very empowering for others and shows that you trust them. So help them help you!
- Follow a process.
Being systematic about important or difficutlt decisions can help you become more decisive. This will help you analyze your choices by understanding options available, potential obstacles, and evidence to back up your decision. Having a consistent model to follow can also help you clear up confusion and keep your emotions at bay, so you can objectively weigh in options. For instance, a simple example would be:
- Identify problem
- gather information
- identify opportunities
- identify potential obstacles
- weigh the evidence
- choose best option
- take action
- review decision.
“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” – Mark Twain
- Make priority decisions in the morning.
We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, constantly thinking about what needs to be done. Do yourself a favour and write all that’s pending inside your head down in paper, where it can kept safe and can be tackled accordingly. Once you’ve written them down, put them in order of priority and tackle the most pressing ones first. That way, your most important decisions will be done when your energy it still at its highest.
For most of us – even night owls – the best time of day is in the morning — that’s when we make accurate and thoughtful decisions. By afternoon, most people hit a plateau, and as the day wears on decision fatigue sets in, and we start making riskier decisions.
Don’t risk making snappy decisions. If you are feeling overwhelmed about making a decision, create micro-deadlines that force you to act early and not keep pondering your choices. Better to space out decisions over time than to make critical decisions at the eleventh hour.
- Avoid analysis-paralysis.
Stop second-guessing yourself. We often get trapped in the mindset that everything we do needs to be perfect, and this puts a lot of pressure on us to make the “right” choice, because a “wrong” choice could somehow ruin something. The truth is, in most cases, there is no right or wrong choice, you can only go with the information you have at the time and hope for the best.
The most important aspect in decision making is to review your decision early to confirm whether it was the right one, or to recalibrate as needed if it wasn’t. So stop wasting time trying to come up with the perfect solution. It simply doesn’t exist. The more decisions you make, the more experienced and comfortable you’ll get at it.
You cannot make progress without making decisions.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION EVERY TIME?
If you’re feeling torn about making a decision ask yourself: do I feel expansive when I think about this or contracted? pay attention to the answer. If you feel an instant sense of dread or heaviness or something in your body just going “no”, or you actually notice your body subtly moving back, those can all fall under the umbrella of feeling contracted. On the other hand, you might ask yourself do I want to do this, and all of a sudden inside you notice a very subtle shift where something feels lighter, something feels brighter, even a sense of excitement. Perhaps your physical body actually moves forward. Or even if it sounds a little scary, something in you just feels bigger. That would be an example of something that is expansive. These are all clues that your intuitive intelligence give you. Learn to notice to those clues if you want to feel at peace with the decisions you make. Contraction for me is a big no and expansion is a big yes. Try it for yourself.
Beyond tapping into your intuitive intelligence, you can also ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that can happen if I do this? You’d be surprised how many people don’t take the time to really drill down into the worst case scenario. Once you do, ask yourself: How exactly, specifically, would I deal with it? Is it a matter of losing some money, could you lose your job or your business? You know, sometimes the worst thing that could happen is that you’d be embarrassed by making a mistake. If it’s beyond what you’re willing to risk, then there’s your answer. Don’t do it.
If still in doubt, move onto the next step, which is looking on the flipside and imagining what could be the best case scenario. Think through what are all the possible payoffs that might come from saying yes to this decision? Will you learn a tremendous amount about yourself? Are there financial / creative / freedom upsides that can only come if you take a chance and say yes?
Finally, if after considering the above steps you still find yourself unsure about which decision to make, it’s time to move into action. Because for certain decisions to become clear, you must first experience them.
You have to find a way to experience it. So I want you to ask yourself, is there some way that I can test drive this opportunity? Can I take a first step? Can I take a class? Can I do a test run in some way? Can I try it on a small scale, even if it’s just an experiment?
So for example, the first time I considered running marathons, I could hardly run 100 meters without tripping my back. It seemed impossible, and yet I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. Before committing to getting myself through the process of training for long distance running, I experimented with smaller milestones. My first kilometre, my fastest 5 km time, ways to keep my back strong through the pounding on the road, etc. By the time I committed to the full process, I knew it was the right decision, and having experienced my growth, there was no resistance to the process at all, no matter how hard or scary it was. Trying something out before you go all in will help you get clear quickly and effectively.
On a final note, let me add a different perspective about decision making. Nothing is permanent. Most things you can stop, evolve or reverse. Even if the decision you make is wrong, or is not working out the way you thought it would, you can always catch it and change it.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Tell me: Do you have a decision you’ve been avoiding making lately? What’s your favourite method for decision making? How do you distinguish what the right decisions are for you? Post your answers in the comments below.
Isabel is an experienced Peak Performance Strategist with over 20 years of international work experience holding senior positions within the hospitality industry in countries around the world, as well as Executive and Leadership coaching, mentoring and training.
She specializes in high performance strategy, leadership development and building organizational culture to help leaders and their teams learn, grow and succeed.
Isabel is passionate about helping empower business leaders with the mindset, performance, skills and strategies that they need to get ahead.
More available on www.isabelvalle.com