To work out or not to work out, that is the question. Decisions are not all created equal; they vary in subtlety and difficulty. Whether complex, simple, obvious or subtle, any decision can be made easier through habits.
Every day you make thousands of decisions. Making these is taxing and can easily lead to making the wrong ones. Every decision you make has the potential to become a habit. Changing your approach increases your chances of making the right ones.
Every decision you make represents the person you are. Are you voting for the person you want to be? If not, don’t worry. We all make the wrong choice sometimes; the key is to limit how frequently it happens.
Later on, I will walk you through four methods you can use to minimize this occurrence. First, I want to elaborate on why it is crucial to optimize your decision-making so that you don’t fall into the feedback loop of bad decisions.
The creeping effect of decision fatigue
It is theorized that an average person makes 35 000 decisions from the time they wake up to when they go to bed – most of these are automatic responses to stimuli – habits. Still, if you are not careful, these decisions can leave you decision fatigued.
Once you start being fatigued, you are more likely to take shortcuts that manifest in procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance, and indecision. The more fatigued you are, the more likely to make whichever one requires the least effort.
Decisions made using the least effort tend to be the wrong decision. These bad decisions can spiral downwards into a feed loop of bad decisions because your bad decisions make you bad, which causes you to make more bad decisions, perpetually compounding the effects of your bad choices.
The feedback loop of bad decisions
Here’s an example:
- You get home from a day at the office and feel a bit tired, so you decide to relax by watching a show before starting to cook.
- When you decide to cook something, you are already hungry and go scavenging for the easiest dinner solution available.
- Overwhelmed by the options, you choose to eat a bag of chips to stave off the hunger.
- You feel bad about eating the chips but are now too lazy to cook, so you order take-out.
- You’re no longer hungry, but the greasy food hasn’t given you the energy to do anything, so you stay in front of the tv until it’s time for bed.
I have lived out this very night many times, but by learning to mitigate decision fatigue, you can take charge of your evenings and start living your life.
The four methods
- Time them appropriately
- Minimize them
- Make them faster
- Delegate them to others
Time your decisions appropriately
We have already covered that your decision-making abilities will decrease throughout the day. Therefore, it is crucial to make the most important decisions early in the day and have them get easier as the day progresses. By front-loading your difficult decisions and leaving easier ones for later in the day, you are making the best use of your energy.
You can achieve this by developing a nighttime routine and a morning routine. You have the most decision-making power in the morning so take advantage of it. One way to do this is with meal planning – choosing what to cook is often the most challenging part of any meal preparation.
Make your life easier by deciding what you will eat throughout the day first thing in the morning. Then, when you get home, all you need to do is make it. Organizing your day in such a way will also let you know if you need to stop by the store on the way home or not.
Avoid making complicated decisions when you are tired. Instead, as part of your evening routine, write down any hard decisions you need to make and make them in the morning when your energy returns, but avoid becoming overwhelmed by minimizing your choices.
Simplify your decisions
There are two ways to simplify your decisions: have fewer options or make the answer a habit. Deciding what to wear is one of the first things most people do when they wake up, but this can be draining if you have too many options.
Although it would be the simplest solution, I won’t ask you to downsize your wardrobe. Instead, I would recommend setting up a couple of options for that week, allowing for variations in the weather and your mood. Then, in the morning, your choice is between those pre-selected outfits rather than from all possible options.
The best time to do this is Sunday night when you haven’t had as many hard choices that day. Making this a habit will decrease the number of options you have in the morning, thus decreasing your chance of becoming decision fatigued.
Anything that can be made habitual should be made habitual. Habits are your brain’s way of operating on autopilot. Therefore, anything complicated will be more accessible by turning it into a habit.
In How to be happy and accomplish almost anything, I outline how you can develop difficult habits by tying them to easy ones. Making complex things simple is the power of habits and can be used to simplify your decisions.
If you’ve decided to get into shape, make putting your shoes on a habit. It takes a lot less energy to decide to put your shoes on than it does to go for a run. Then, when you have developed the habit of putting on your running shoes, you can start going for walks.
Eventually, you will be running as many miles as you want. It’s easy to put your shoes on, making it easier to develop a running habit. James Clear mentions this habit hack in Atomic Habits, calling it the 2-minute rule.
This habit hack can work for any habit; all you need to do is break it down. Do a small part of your desired habit and grow it so that it is always somewhat of a challenge. Eventually, you will get to a point where you are comfortable doing the entire activity. Or, in the case of cold showers, you will get to a point where you accept the discomfort.
Breakfast is one thing that can easily be made simpler. Make these decisions weekly instead of daily to minimize their impact on your life. You don’t need to eat the same thing every day. But your life becomes a lot easier when your choices are within a category rather than across them.
It is easier to decide what to put into your oats than it is to decide between oats, bread, cereal, etc. Simplifying these decisions will allow you to make them faster, which brings us to our next point.
How to decide faster
Indecision is the enemy of productivity. Hard decisions such as: what to do with your life, whether or not to propose to your partner or which car to buy can be tough. But just because they are tough doesn’t mean you should ponder on them for years.
The most satisfying decisions in life are those made quickly. The longer you spend weighing the pros and cons of any decision – pondering the best option – the less satisfied you will be with your choice.
Here is the logic:
- The longer you ponder, the more you think you made the right choice.
- The more you think you made the right choice, the more disappointed you will be at any difficulties arising from that choice.
Whereas when you make the decision quickly. You know that there might have been better options, but this is the one you chose and accept that you are stuck with it and move on with your life much more quickly.
“Make decisions fast and change them slowly”Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich
My boss loves to say: “less thinking, more doing.” Planning is instrumental whenever you are trying to accomplish something; planning can also hinder when there are too many unknown variables.
When you try to make all the decisions ahead of time, things will come up to prevent you, or more accessible routes will become evident as you progress. It’s essential to get some momentum and keep it going; complicated decisions often get in the way of progress.
In The motivation myth, Jeff Haden says to start with the smallest when deciding which debt to pay first. Financially, it would be better to pay off whichever has the highest interest rates. However, paying off the smallest one will make you feel good and motivate you to pay off another.
Making a budget is another long, tedious task that requires a lot of decisions. Instead of trying to imagine every possible expense, make the answer obvious. Make it a habit to record all of your expenses.
After a month or so, go through your expenses, and it will become evident to you where you should curb your spending. Developing this habit will make your later decision of where you should cut spending much more apparent – thus – faster.
In the words of the now controversial Will Smith from his book Will:
“I might break a promise to you, but I will not break a promise to me.”Will Smith – Will
Once you have made a decision – stick to it – you have promised yourself something and must do everything in your power to accomplish it. That’s it; that is the solution, and if it doesn’t work, get someone else to make the decision.
Not all decisions are yours to make
No one likes a micromanager. Whether you are a boss, parent, partner, friend, etc., you need to trust the people in your life to make decisions. When you take on too much responsibility, you exhaust yourself and become unable to make good choices.
The remedy for this is staying in your lane at work. If it is not your job to make those decisions, then stay out of it; your life will be easier. If you are the supervisor, trust your staff to make the right decision. Teach them to make the right decision and leave them to it.
Observing the consequences of your decisions
Lastly, observe the effects that your decisions have. Be it on you or those around you. Paying attention to the consequences of your choices can help you to stay out of the feedback loop of bad decisions.
Practicing mindfulness meditation, as I have described here, can help you pay attention to what is driving your decisions and help you to make the right one.
It is impossible always to make the right choice, but you will improve your chances and continually improve your habits by preventing decision fatigue. Keep going; you’re almost here.