Have you ever found yourself in the shampoo aisle staring at the choices and realized it has taken you 10 minutes just to decide which shampoo you need? If you haven't, why not? Do you always buy the same shampoo? What if that shampoo isn't available?
I faced this seemingly simple issue when I moved overseas and had to decide on new products. For some reason, I feel the need to study each bottle carefully, look at the ingredients, and consider the price and the needs of my hair. Sometimes I even walk away without even picking a bottle up.
Overcoming Indecision Paralysis and Decision Fatigue and
Psychologists refer to this dilemma as indecision paralysis. It is often stated that we make 35,000 decisions every day. Is that hard to believe? Just consider these few: should I press snooze? Which shirt should I wear? Do I want to make eggs or have cereal? When should I brush my teeth? Then consider how each of these decisions has a butterfly effect or series of other decisions that follow it - if you press snooze, how long will you stay in bed? Will you hit snooze again? Will you roll over or just lie there staring at the ceiling?
All mental effort has an opportunity cost. If you're overthinking about unimportant decisions, more consequential ones will fall through the cracks. Folks with anxiety often overthink decisions because they're fearful of making wrong decisions, even when doing so would logically have few consequences. Alyce Boyles
The vast majority of these decisions are made unconsciously. Still, we grow weary of decision-making throughout the day, we develop decision fatigue, and some decisions then overwhelm us, so we have difficulty deciding. However, the fact of not making a decision is in itself a decision, and the state of indecision is stress-inducing. Just consider the relief you feel when you finally pick up that bottle of shampoo in the aisle and commit to it!
Leaders face even more decisions and are particularly prone to burnout if they do not develop strategies to simplify their decision-making. Effective leaders reserve their energy for the most consequential decisions.
Your Decision Personality
We all have different approaches to facing decisions. Some of us live in permanent indecision land, letting others decide for us. Some of us take the oppositive approach and seem to just go decisively with whatever strikes our fancy. Yet others like to carefully analyze all the pros and cons before deciding. No matter your approach to making decisions, you can make some changes to make decision-making easier and alleviate some stress in your life.
Decisions are put in four categories, from Tier 4 being the least consequential up to Tier 1. We want to consider the decision type when we employ different strategies. As much as possible, we want to eliminate energy spent on low-tier decisions so that we can focus more on the consequential decisions.
No matter what type of decision maker you are or what decision type you face, try out some of these strategies to reduce your decision fatigue.
For those repeated decisions, try developing the same routine every time. This strategy is represented by those of you who have no issue in the shampoo aisle because you always buy the same shampoo. You can apply this strategy to every aspect of your life. For example, check your email at the same time every day, go the same way to work every day, wake up at the same time, and do the same things in the same order each day. Our wake-up and going-to-bed routines can save a lot of energy, but think of other places in your day - especially at work where you can develop a routine, or a template to save your decisions later.
Now not later
This is the classic "lay your clothes out the night before". At one point, I planned out my outfits for an entire week (until the weather decided not to cooperate). Obviously, you will still have to decide, but sometimes it is easier the night before than in the morning when you are rushed. In any case, consider that just postponing the decision sometimes creates more stress.
I have used menu planning for years to reduce my decision-making. I can spend 10-20 minutes planning my weekly meals and making my grocery list. Then each night, I simply look at my list and prepare what I had planned. I use the Blue Zones meal planner for healthy foods and Paprika to organize my recipes, meal plans, and grocery lists. No more staring at the fridge and saying, 'What ARE we going to eat tonight?!". At work, I apply this same approach mapping out my year, then months and weeks for each project I work on. That way, each day, I know what I need to focus on and don't lose time and energy on making a decision.
Remove the Decision
Sometimes we must consider that decisions are low-tier and simply not worth our energy. We can delegate that decision to someone else or even the Magic Eightball! Next time you can't decide what restaurant to go to or what shampoo to buy, try asking the magic eight ball (now available on Alexa or as an app). I once read about a fashion designer who came up with a work uniform so she wouldn't have to think about what to wear daily!
OHIO: Only Handle It Once
This method of dealing with email and mail was popularized by Robert C. Pozen in Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. Basically, you do what it says; you go through your mail and deal with it immediately. This method works great for mail that you don't need to do much with. For example, maybe something to delete/throw away or something to quickly read or put in your calendar. The more you can use it, the easier it will be to get to the elusive mailbox zero.
Satisficing has been one of my favorite techniques in recent years. In a nutshell, instead of going for perfect, you go with what is enough for the moment. With my indecision-facing shampoo choices, I could use this technique to simply go with best decision based on what I know instead of my usual research and read every label. We can never know anything, and nothing is perfect, so we need to learn to make decisions with the information we have and be satisfied it is enough.
Go with your gut
For those really big decisions, this is the method I would choose. I know we have been trained to make pro and con lists for the big decisions like jobs to take or moves to make, but in the end, our 'gut' usually knows. Sometimes your con list can outweigh the pros, but you just want the item/activity/job/person, whatever, and it may actually be the best decision for you. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book Blink, in our subconscious, we know a lot more about the decision than we realize, and our 'gut' may simply be all those other factors in our subconscious.
Consider how you can reduce decision fatigue and stress in your own life. Pick one strategy to focus on each day for the next week, and note the relief you feel at having saved your brain from those decisions!
Dr. Joel Hoomans. “35,000 Decisions: The Great Choices of Strategic Leaders.” Roberts.edu, 2015, go.roberts.edu/leadingedge/the-great-choices-of-strategic-leaders.
Pignatiello GA, Martin RJ, Hickman RL Jr. Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis. J Health Psychol. 2020 Jan;25(1):123-135. doi: 10.1177/1359105318763510. Epub 2018 Mar 23. PMID: 29569950; PMCID: PMC6119549.
Alice Boyes, Ph.D.“5 Rules for Making Quicker, Better Decisions.” Psychology Today, 2021, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/202108/5-rules-making-quicker-better-decisions.
“The Challenge of Indecision.” Psychology Today, 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/got-minute/201904/the-challenge-indecision.