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People make thousands of decisions per day. In fact, the average person makes 35,000 choices a day, according to Psychology Today. That equates to one decision every couple of seconds.
Sometimes, people feel bombarded with many decisions at once, especially when they are planning a big move or event. In college, students wear many hats — student, employee, leader, friend, child, adult — and each role comes with critical decisions and responsibilities to juggle.
A phenomenon known as decision fatigue can begin to creep in.
Decision fatigue is a “state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions,” according to the American Medical Association. After making many successive decisions in a day, an individual’s ability to make decisions progressively worsens.
While it can be difficult to quantify, decision fatigue is a concept that encompasses a range of negative mental and emotional states a person experiences after making a series of decisions according to Medical News Today.
Due to the nature of mental processes, decision fatigue is difficult to categorize and measure. The brain functions differently than other parts of the body; thoughts and choices are often invisible to the naked eye.
While it may be difficult to measure, there is observable evidence of its existence. Researchers show the phenomenon of decision fatigue through numerous studies.
For example, researchers found that a parole board is 60% more likely to approve parole earlier in the day — when they have made fewer decisions — than at the end of the day, according to an article from the New York Times Magazine.
Nurses make more expensive and less efficient decisions as the time and number of decisions since their last break increases, according to a study by Allan, Johnston, et al.
When I have had a full day of class, work and meetings, I am not in the right mindset to make sound decisions. Instead of panicking about a decision that needs to be made tomorrow, I go to bed because I know I’ll think more clearly when I’m rested.
These studies show how many mental and emotional conditions need different metrics than physical ailments. Decision fatigue is like an “invisible illness,” a condition that others cannot see from the outside, according to Harvard Health.
Our brains are organs and get tired like other parts of the body. Thinking is hard work.
Mental fatigue can be harder to recognize and occurs when the brain “receives too much stimulation or has to maintain an intense level of activity without rest,” according to Healthline.
The more tired an individual becomes, the more they revert to poor habits or make hasty and easy choices, according to Medical News Today. Fast food and delivery services benefit from a consumer’s lack of willpower.
Amazon, UberEats, GrubHub and vending machines all prey on overtired consumers. Likewise, impulse buys at checkout lines and add-ons at car dealerships all take advantage of a customer’s decision fatigue.
After a day of shopping and making choices about what to purchase — fun but exhausting — I just want food. I don’t search for the healthiest spot, best prices or a new cuisine to try; I choose what is easy, convenient and comfortable. Often, I end up going to In-N-Out.
Recognizing that decision fatigue is a real phenomenon is the first step toward recovery.
While people make many countless choices in a day, individuals only exert a significant amount of effort and energy when making choices that require a “conscious consideration among alternatives,” according to a study by Vohs, et al.
One way to combat the effects of decision fatigue is to remove unnecessary choices, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Prioritize — give critical decisions the attention they deserve. Leaders especially have an enormous decision-making burden, but prioritizing can help relieve some of the weight, according to Harvard Business Review.
Determine what is most significant and pressing, then place these decisions first on the agenda. Tackle them with a fresh mind instead of putting them off.
If that is the case, take a step back. Choices are important, but not all decisions have equal weight.
Let your mind rest by freeing it from superfluous and excessive decision-making, and spend time contemplating only what is meaningful to your life.
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