Decision Fatigue

Photo: National Library of Scotland
Photo: National Library of Scotland

Some might wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of minimizing their wardrobe, simplifying wants, and doing away with the mundane. They might even ask if such notions represent an affront to personal freedom of choice.

Lack of choice, however, isn’t a problem; it’s the abundance of it that is. We’re forced to make so many decisions that we’re failing to cope.

Decision fatigue is the notion that you can only make a finite number of choices well, in any given day. With time, our brains turn to goop, leaving us paralyzed to act, and doing stupid/impulsive things. You can familiarize yourself with decision fatigue in John Tierney’s article, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?

If this principle holds up, we might be wise to look upon our decisions like currency. Given the limited supply, we should use them wisely. Why waste mental energy on matching socks, when we can save it for bigger things? (If you love matching socks, this is an altogether different discussion.)

What few of us like to admit, is that most choices come at the cost of others. Furthermore, little things often become much bigger once collected. It’s like that latte you pick up every day. Even though it’s only $4, by year’s end, that stacks up to around $1,500 of milk, water, and burnt beans. We’re awfully quick to dismiss small decisions as being inconsequential; looking upon them in their entirety can change this.

Every seemingly insignificant decision during your day, adds up. Meanwhile, our lives are increasingly about making one small decision after another: Read this post or the next? Save a dollar, or pick the environmentally-friendly option? Reply to the email or respond by phone? Upgrade the car, or see if it can go for another year? Deal with task, or put off until later? Tweet or post on Facebook? Order the low-fat option or indulge?

This is the stuff that results in us realizing that it’s 5:00… and we still haven’t tackled the thing we intended to get to when we arrived.

For some of us, this isn’t acceptable. We want to make things happen during our time at the office. We aren’t in love with the torrent of email that hits us. We also don’t particularly like the notion of life rushing past while we’re stuck scrambling in one spot.

As a young man, I spent time thinking about things I no longer believe important. Perhaps that’s just how life unfolds. Being with my family is incredibly important to me; meanwhile, running a business takes a lot of time, as does my interest in making things. This leaves few spare moments. As such, I want to save every moment I can for doing things I like. This requires me to make certain decisions now, in order to limit the need to make more choices later.

Sure, some will think it mad to wear only one thing. Maybe they’re right. A few of us will see it as a reasonable concession for gaining more control of our days. We’ll simplify routine tasks. We’ll find ways to silence distractions. A lucky few of us might even bow out and do something a little less perpetually frenetic.

Of course, these are personal decisions. They are also ones you should make deliberately.


  1. Making decisions deliberately is just like living with purpose…and you’re right, being faced with a multitude of choices is 1. fatiguing 2. disheartening 3. you almost always pick the wrong choice and 4. time-wasting.

  2. Oh how I’ve struggled with choice – agonizing over each minute detail of a decision trying to make the best choice. It plagued me to no end while traveling; always trying to find the best hostel, best hotel, best deal. Then we came up with the ‘criteria decision making plan’ – we developed the criteria for a good hostel, good meal, good deal etc and looked for a candidate until we found one that met all the criteria. Done. No more looking. If it meets the criteria then why look any further? I’ve read that the paradox of choice paralyzes many university students – too much choice and great fear over making the wrong one. I much prefer to keep it simple.

  3. I’m learning to rely on intuition. Often when you just quiet the mind and take a few deliberate breaths, the right choice will just pop up.
    I also hate wasting my time, where it could be saved, so I have all my daily tasks down to the most efficient way of fulfilling them. (Just so I can go and waste 2 hrs surfing the net…)

  4. Amen, amen, amen! We have a handful of waking hours in a day. We have a limited number of days in a lifetime. Do we want to spend them matching socks or watching tv?? We have the choice to create life just as we want it. Why waste a minute with erroneous stuff? Love this post.

  5. I have become so overwhelmed just shopping for shampoo that I’ve started making my own body/hair care products out of baking soda, apple cider vinegar, shea and cocoa butter, coconut oil, etc. It’s just insane, really…do we need gels, waxes, mousses, sprays, pastes, and putties to look nice? Really? I’m enjoying your blog; thanks for contacting me about it!

  6. One of the hardest conversations around our house is “what are we going to eat for dinner?”

    But I feel like when I was a kid we ate the same five things over and over again.

  7. My wife just sent me a link to this post – wondering if you had my number..;)

    It’s been about a year since I developed a personal uniform – .

    My one-year review? I love it. I don’t miss for one second all those little what to wear decisions (plus it’s easy to fit everything in the RV we live in).

    I just mentioned to my wife yesterday that we should again try to standardize our menu. Yes, we’ll vary it and sample local cuisine but overall I think a 2-week menu would go a long time before getting old.

    I will say the full-time traveling lifestyle does add a whole new set of daily decisions to be made..:(

    1. Funny—I wrote a post about the “uniform” approach last spring. While a few folks seemed to like the idea, some seemed outright angry by the notion. (I’ll repost this one in the next few days, and you can see the reactions for yourself.)

      Happy trails!

  8. Love this post! Especially the part about
    not caring about matching sox, because you might have something more important to spend your waking hours thinking about. I have found that there used to be more understanding of the eccentricities of inventors and brilliant genius type people, particularly if they were men, because society innately understood that with great thought, one must minimize the occupation with other trivial matters, such as matching sox. As a woman, I am still looking for a great story about a female genius who was supported in her quirkiness and eccentricity because the people around her understood innately that she was onto something big. Remember that Einstein never drove himself around( if my memory serves corrrectly) Einstein saved those precious waking hours for bigger fish to fry. May we all be so blessed and understood.
    In Christ,

  9. We always have this tendency to make poor decisions because of abundant choices. If we try to plan things prior making a decision then we can make things simple and avoid mental exhaustion.

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