How to Prevent Decision Fatigue

It’s both a wonderful privilege and a hidden stressor that so many of us have such a wide variety of opportunities to choose what we want in life. Decision fatigue—the exhaustion you experience from having too many decisions to make in a day—can build in subtle ways and create stress that can sneak up on you. By minimizing the number of non-essential decisions you have to make each day, you can cut down on the level of decision fatigue you face, and lower your overall stress levels at the same time.  Here are some of the most effective strategies in reducing the stress caused by decision fatigue.


Build Habits Into Your Schedule

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You already have several things you do each day without thinking—like getting out of bed, taking a shower (I assume), and eating breakfast.  You probably don’t think too much about how to get these things done; you just do them. If you can attach other decisions to your already-established routine, making them a habit, you won’t have to think about them, either. If you can have the same thing for breakfast every day, perhaps you can schedule what work you’ll do on which days, where you’ll get your exercise each day, what day you’ll do your laundry, and a multitude of other choices that you may or may not have already automated. Whatever you can work into your schedule becomes one less thing you have to decide upon later!


Make a Choice and Decide It's the Right One

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One of the really fatiguing aspects of decision-making is the feeling that the decision you made may not be the right one, and perhaps you should revisit it. Second-guessing yourself can take a much larger toll than you may realize. Rather than beating yourself up over making a wrong decision, just decide the choice is made and move on. There are pros and cons with every decision, so once your choice is made, focus mainly on the benefits, and don’t even think about the cons—there are drawbacks to every situation, and if the negatives of your choice were truly that bad, you probably would have made a different decision in the first place.


Keep Decisions That Bring You Joy, Cut What You Can

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You don't have to sacrifice fashion--unless you want to!. John Lund/ Getty Images

Some people (like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg) wear roughly the same outfit every day. They’ve made the decision to put as little effort as possible into choosing what to wear so they can save their decision-making energy for the choices that really matter. Dr. Oz recommends that you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, and have a rotation for meals each night of the week, so you don’t have to think about what healthy meals to cook.

For fashionistas or foodies, these choices would feel extremely stifling, but for the average person, they can be effective and low-stress ways to cut down on the number of choices one must make day in, and day out. So, think about the daily choices you make, and if you don’t really love making those choices (I really like to dress for my mood each day, but am happy to automate my meal plan), then just make a choice that repeats, and move on to the choices that matter more. 


Choose a Role Model and Utilize “Expert Friends”

Confidence and solution-focused coping can relieve stress.
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You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are people out there who, in most cases, are doing what you’d like to be doing, and they’re doing it successfully. You may as well watch them and learn. Follow their success model if you think it will work for you. Many people are more than happy to share what works for them, and even feel honored when you ask, so if you’re starting something new (or wondering if there’s a better way to do something), find out people’s best tips, implement the ones that seem like they would work, adjust if necessary, and repeat.  This works with studying, job strategies, fitness plans, and even stress management.


Get Comfortable With “No”

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Sometimes it’s a struggle to decide what you want to do and what you don’t. Other times, you know what you do and don’t want, but you also have to factor in the consequences of saying yes and no to everyone else’s list of wants and needs. Particularly for parents, the juggle of decision-making is multiplied greatly by the number of members in the family, and even the number of friends in their network, to an extent.

When reluctance to turn down other people’s requests comes into play, you can have a planned-out week turn into a week that involves a cascade of new decisions that must be made based on last-minute changes or a too-full schedule.

You can make this easier by getting comfortable with the process of saying no. It’s easier said than done, but once you have a clear idea in your head what you can and can’t say yes to, the decision of whether or not to say no gets easier, and everything else can fall into place more easily as well.

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