[This IFOD is guest-written by my friend Jill Gaither, brilliant polymath and autodidact. She lives in St. Louis and is the Regional Business Manager for Aadi Bioscience. She has a love for reading and a degree in journalism. You can reach her at email@example.com.]
Barack Obama is an impressive man, with a laundry list of accomplishments attesting to that fact. Interestingly, whenever I think about the former President, neither his health care bill, his Nobel Prize, nor his rescuing of the American economy are the first things I think about. I, in fact, almost immediately think about his closet.
As Michael Lewis reported in Vanity Fair in 2012, Barack Obama stocks his closet with copies of the same two suits: one blue and one grey. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said in the Vanity Fair piece. “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.”
This was the first time I was introduced to the concept of Decision Fatigue–a state of mental overload that can impede our ability to make additional decisions. If you haven’t heard of decision fatigue, by now, after managing two-plus years of a pandemic, you definitely have suffered from it.
Research suggests that the average person makes 35,000 decisions each day. In addition to the burden of that number of decisions, the type of decisions being made also adds to the exhaustion. As decisions get more complicated, we get more fatigued. One of the key components of a complicated decision is the possibility of multiple answers. Binary decisions are much easier—picking between the blue and the gray is infinitely easier than picking among a dozen color options. Choosing flat water or sparkling water is a cakewalk compared to paging through a spiral-bound, laminated menu like the type provided at a Cheesecake Factory.
And that’s how the pandemic has thrown us for yet another loop. In the beginning, we were all navigating the same uncharted waters. But those waters came with strict, unambiguous rules. Stay home. Wear a mask. Avoid gatherings. As we have progressed through the era those rules have become less rigid, leaving us with weighing the consequences of a multitude of potential actions. There are decisions to be made about how many vaccines, which type of vaccine, and how to space them. Going to dinner with friends is no longer about just picking a place to meet. Now we consider whether we should eat only at places with outdoor seating, or risk the higher infection potential present indoors. Once we decide to go indoors, we might want to consider the restaurant’s ventilation system, table spacing, and staff masking requirements. Before the menu even hits the table, we’ve likely already made multiple decisions about the meal.
Why the building number of decisions placed in front of us on a daily basis matter is because as the fatigue sets in, just like everything else in life, the results suffer. The glut of decision-making wears us down and causes us to just start phoning it in. At the end of the day, we are more likely to make poorer, less educated decisions that could ultimately cost us in the long run. While it may be easy to decide to go the healthy route at breakfast and lunch, our decision to opt for nachos and beer at the end of a long day may be due in part to wearing down our rational thought-making mind and just going with what sounds good and easy, consequences and waist-line be damned.
So what can we do to keep ourselves in tip-top decision-making mode? Experts site a few tips that can help:
- Get plenty of sleep. The decision that is difficult at night may look easier in the morning when our decision-making minds are fresh.
- Pare down your options. Like Barack Obama, simplify the easy things so you have energy for the harder things.
- Take a break. If you are in a situation where you are having to make multiple decisions in rapid succession, step away. Even better, step away without your phone and just take in the quiet.
- Enlist a decision buddy. Asking others for input can help you make a compelling argument to yourself while you explain your options.
While we will never be able to eliminate decision-making from our lives, we can take steps to mitigate the inevitable fatigue. And making decisions that turn out to be the right ones can act as our reward. I hope you have found the decision to read this IFOD a good one.