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 5 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 dart into the nearest grocery store, and toss a pile of half-appealing frozen junk food in your cart. (Who has time to cook and eat healthy nowadays, anyways?) Or you succumb to ordering greasy take-out food through Grubhub—yet again.

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, which plumber to call on Yelp for the leaking toilet, and which detour to take in the traffic jam. Now your glucose-starved brain has a bad case of decision fatigue. 

Exhausted by 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 we become more fatigued. Decision fatigue can lead to shortcuts and other forms of poor decision-making, such as procrastination, indecision, impulse buying, and impaired self-regulation.

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. The number of choices and options available to us in modern society has simply exploded beyond our ability to process them systematically. 

While it is difficult to calculate precisely, it is believed that the average American makes about 35,000 decisions in a day. One study at Cornell University found that Americans make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. It’s no wonder that choice overload can contribute to overwhelm and burnout.

Former President 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—God and His Kingdom.

Simplifying Options to Run a Better Race

Choice overload can contribute to entanglement with the world and detract from our focus on God. 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 NKJV version puts it this way: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” And the NLT version says, “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 better please God. It helps us be “in” the world, but not “of” the world (John 17:14-19).

Guarding Against Decision Fatigue

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 three out of four of these states.

A steady stream of decision-making wears us down mentally over time. According to an interview with psychiatrist Lisa MacLean, when people have decision fatigue, 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

The good news is that we can proactively protect ourselves from these patterns by taking steps to prevent the state of decision fatigue in the first place. 

12 Ways to Simplify Life

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

Below I share 12 ideas to streamline your day-to-day life. It’s not necessary to implement them all. Pick one or two to get started today.

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

2. Follow an established daily routine. Make an approximate plan for each day the night before, even if you aren’t a planning-type person.

3. Make a Frequently Worn area in your closet. Lay out your clothes the night before.

4. Meal plan for the week (or day). Buy a cookbook with simple recipes under 30 minutes. Cook for several meals at a time. Create a list of go-to emergency meals.

5. Create master lists. For example, use a Master Grocery list with repeated items for each week.

6. Designate specific days of the week to do certain household chores. 

7. Follow a GPS when driving, even to familiar places.

8. Automate bills and other repeating tasks. Use the Reminders feature on your phone to remind yourself of repeating deadlines.

9. Declutter when possible. Cancel unused subscriptions, delete unused apps on your phone, organize your desk, clear your counters, and clean out your closet.

10. Delegate, if possible, and don’t micromanage.

11. When shopping, limit your options. Aim to choose what is “good enough,” rather than perfect. (Read why “good enough” really is good enough here.)

12. Proactively prevent the HALT states (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). Get enough sleep. Don’t skimp on meals. Avoid grocery shopping when you are hungry. Take short breaks in the day. Ensure enough margin between your appointments and tasks. Take note of your personal triggers.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae and complication of everyday life. Fortunately, we have control over the number of decisions that we deal with. By limiting our mundane choices, we free up time and energy for our top priorities instead. Let’s simplify our lives today so that we can run a tight, focused Christian race. Our souls will thank us for it.

What weights are hindering your ability to run the Christian race? Do you have an area of your life where excessive decision-making has bogged you down? What can you do to change that?

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on decision-making. Don’t miss Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.

Reflection

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2 (NIV)

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Share this: