Inside: Do you feel exhausted and overwhelmed by all the decisions that you face? Learn how to beat decision fatigue and live a less stressful life.

It’s 6:30 p.m. You’ve had a long, stressful day at work scrambling through a blitz of meetings and e-mails. You got stuck in an hour-long traffic jam on the way home. You’ve been up since 4 a.m. because your kids woke up with a cough and runny nose. It’s been nonstop go-go-go.

Remembering that there’s nothing but expired milk in the fridge, you want to dart into the nearest grocery store. Instead, you succumb to ordering take-out food because your mind is too tired to say no to your stomach. (Who has time to cook and eat healthy nowadays, anyways?)

You’re not alone. You’ve probably made hundreds of little decisions already today: what to wear, who to cc on that last e-mail, what you can whip up for dinner, and which detour to take around the traffic jam.

By now, your glucose-starved brain has a bad case of decision fatigue. Here’s how to beat decision fatigue before it beats you.

What Causes Decision Fatigue? 

Everywhere we go, we are faced with a plethora of bewildering information to process and choices clamoring for our attention. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister first coined the phrase decision fatigue, the well-documented mental exhaustion that we get after making numerous decisions. 

In his book Willpower, Baumeister argues that our willpower and self-control are limited and decrease as the day goes on. Our willpower at the end of the day is not as strong as it is in the morning.

(If you are familiar with the “eat the frog” productivity principle, it comes from this concept. “Eat the frog” simply means that you prioritize your hardest task first thing in the morning when your willpower is the strongest.)

In an increasingly complex world filled with tiny decisions, decision fatigue is one reason that we feel mentally exhausted by the end of the day, even on days when we don’t get much done.

The number of choices and options available to us in modern society has exploded beyond our ability to process them systematically. And the unending barrage of online advertisements has not helped.

How Many Decisions Do We Make in a Day?

Studies show that the average American makes approximately 35,000 decisions in a day. One study at Cornell University found that Americans make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. Keep in mind that the decision not to eat (or buy) something is a choice, too.

It’s no wonder that choice overload can contribute to stress and overwhelm.

Former President Barack Obama once said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.” 

Perhaps he had a point. By simplifying his daily decisions, he made room for more important presidential duties. And we, too, can do the same as Christians, but for an even greater reason—for God and His work.

Why It Matters to You

Because nonstop decision-making wears us down mentally, choice overload makes it more difficult to live in a wise, self-controlled manner as Christians.

According to an interview with psychiatrist Lisa MacLean, when people have decision fatigue, it negatively affects the choices that they make. They are more likely to do the following:

  • Become unable to make decisions due to indecision
  • Make poor decisions without enough information
  • Make impulsive decisions they wouldn’t normally make
  • Put off important decisions or ignore decisions altogether

If you can relate, you’re not alone.

We can all think of more than one poor decision we’ve made due to being too tired to make any more decisions. Or due to running out of willpower (I’m looking at you, box of cookies sitting in the pantry).

The Ugly Truth About Choice Overload

More important, choice overload distracts our focus from God and entangles us with the world.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (NIV). 

The NLT version puts it this way: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up (emphases mine).”

While choice overload is not a sin, it can become a hinderance, impeding our ability to live a single-minded Christian life. Rejecting choice overload not only helps us run with less distractions, but it also gives us more energy to run well.

In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul uses another analogy. He writes that a Christian who aims to please God will avoid excessive entanglement with the affairs of daily living: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer (2 Timothy 2:4 NIV).

Simplifying our daily choices is one way to reduce entanglements with the world so that we can walk more faithfully with Him. It helps us be “in” the world while not being “of” the world (John 17:14-19).

Here’s The Good News

The good news is that we can learn how to beat decision fatigue by making some basic lifestyle changes.

In substance abuse recovery circles, people are taught to avoid poor decision-making by using the acronym HALT to check in with themselves first. HALT refers to the four vulnerable states of being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired

Interestingly, decision fatigue can contribute to these emotional states, which in turn also worsen decision fatigue.

To make better decisions, we can proactively reduce decision fatigue by avoiding the HALT states when possible. (The added benefit is that our decision-making skills will improve as a result.)

The other way to beat decision fatigue is to lessen the number of decisions we make in a day. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the amount of time we spend asking, “Should I do X, Y, or Z?” 

How to Beat Decision Fatigue

Here are 12 ideas to streamline your day-to-day life. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to implement them all at once. Pick one or two to get started today.

1. Proactively avoid the 4 HALT states (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired).

By avoiding the HALT emotional states, you can make yourself less vulnerable to decision fatigue and poor decision-making in general. So get enough sleep. Don’t skimp on meals. Eat snacks when you need. Avoid grocery shopping when you are hungry.

Take short breaks in the day. Ensure enough margin between your appointments and tasks. Spend time with your family and friends. Take note of any other personal triggers and avoid them when possible.

2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Unless you work a variable shift, you should not waste any energy calculating what time you need to go to bed and wake up every day. Put your sleep schedule on autopilot. Use the Sleep app on your phone if necessary.

3. Plan your day the night before and develop a routine.

Write down a simple plan for each day the night before, even if you aren’t a planning-type person. Give yourself a head start every day by having one less thing to figure out in the morning. Plus, it will help you sleep better at night.

Develop a personal morning and evening routine. By doing so, you reduce time spent figuring out what you need to do next.

4. Minimize your clothing options.

Lay out your clothes for the next morning the night before. This allows the morning to be a time to enjoy your coffee, not scramble to figure out your outfit.

Reduce the number of choices by setting aside a Frequently Worn Clothes section in your closet.

Some people opt to have a capsule wardrobe of a small number of clothes that can be used to generate a variety of looks. A more drastic approach would be to wear mostly similar clothes every day, like Barack Obama did.

5. Plan and simplify your meals.

Plan out your meals for the week when you jot down your grocery list. Buy a cookbook with simple recipes under 30 minutes. Cook for several meals at a time. Create a list of go-to emergency meals for when you’re in a pinch. Freeze extra meals for the future.

6. Create master lists and checklists.

Use a master grocery list with repeated items for each week. Make a checklist for processes that you repeat so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Don’t count on your memory. Write it all down in a planner, notebook, or phone.

7. Designate specific days of the week for household chores. 

You might designate Wednesdays for vacuuming and Saturdays for grocery shopping, for example. Set up a routine so that you don’t have to figure out when the last time you cleaned the toilet was.

8. Automate bills and other repeating tasks.

Pay your bills online on auto-pay when it makes sense. It’s one less thing to remember. Review all your finances once at the end of the month.

Use the Reminders app on your phone to remind you of your mother-in-law’s birthday and when to give the dog his monthly flea pill. Get it all out of your head.

9. Declutter physical and digital spaces.

Cancel unused subscriptions, delete unused apps on your phone, organize your desk, clear your counters, and clean out your closet. Less stuff means fewer decisions later.

10. Delegate or outsource.

If you’re in a position to do so, delegate and outsource when it makes sense. Be grateful (not guilty) for the ability to do so. Sometimes, delegating and outsourcing is the best way to be good stewards of our time, talents, and treasure.

11. Stop micromanaging.

Don’t micromanage other people—or God Himself. If you find yourself doing so, take a breath and surrender the details to God. Micromanaging is a surefire way to becoming burdened with decision fatigue. Once you delegate or outsource, trust the other person to do their part.

12. Purposefully limit your choices.

Whether it comes to shopping or making mundane decisions, limit your options. Avoid the trap of scouring the internet in a comprehensive search for the optimal choice.

As yourself if the decision you are trying to make matters from an eternal perspective. Aim for the option that is “good enough,” rather than perfect.

Saying No to Choice Overload

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae and complications of everyday life. Fortunately, we have control over the number of decisions that we deal with. By limiting our mundane choices and simplifying our lives, we free up time and energy for our top priorities.

Let’s reject choice overload so that we can run a tight, focused Christian race. Our souls will thank us for it.

Recap: How to Beat Decision Fatigue

1. Proactively avoid the 4 HALT states (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). 

2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

3. Plan your day the night before and develop a routine. 

4. Minimize your clothing options.

5. Plan and simplify your meals.

6. Create master lists and checklists. 

7. Designate specific days of the week for household chores. 

8. Automate bills and other repeating tasks. 

9. Declutter physical and digital spaces.

10. Delegate or outsource.

11. Stop micromanaging.

12. Purposefully limit your choices.

Do you have an area of your life where excessive decision-making has bogged you down? What can you do to change that?

For more on decision-making:
Why “good enough” is better than perfect
How to make better decisions

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Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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