The very act of making decisions depletes our ability to make them well. So how do we navigate a world of endless choice?
It seems that studies have shown that we can suffer from a mental fatigue that impairs our ability to make rational decisions. We can suffer from decision fatigue. The more decisions we have to make and the more stressful those decisions are the less rational our decisions are at the end of the day. After a day of shopping and making decisions about color and fabric and size and electronic features and pixels and dots per inch we get worn down and at the end of the day when confronted with a choice between the red one and the blue one we say Oh just take the blue one’ or we just buy both of them. We get tired of the mental effort of deciding. That’s not so bad for clothes or where to eat but we can suffer in more important decisions too, like buying a car or a house or whant to do with our 401K. We get tired and we just want it to be over.
That may not be a problem for me. If I get the blue one home and I don’t like it I can hang it in the back of the closet and never think about it again. Not the case for someone on a short leash financially. He’ll have to wear the blue one a couple of times a week. He has to live with his bad decisions. For a poor person every aisle of WalMart can have two or three heart rending decisions. When he gets to checkout he’s easy pickings for the impulse items that have been strategically placed in easy reach.
So what’s this study do for us? Do we blame WalMart for putting the candy bars where they know we’ll be weak? Do we blame mortgage companies for offering too good to be true financing? Do we blame car dealers for putting those blow up monsters on the roof to suck us in? Or do we use this to make us aware of our danger zones?
When I read this article I thought about NFL quarterbacks who must make split second decisions that can mean victory or defeat. I thought about soldiers who are at the point of exhaustion but must make decisions that can mean the difference between like and death. How do they do it? How are they not affected by decision fatigue? The difference is training and discipline. Training, discipline, and not making excuses.
Fabric and color and that bag of M&Ms at checkout are small things. But what about that third or fourth beer? What about going home with that guy or girl? What about that relationship at work that’s getting too familiar? It’s your decision and decision fatigue is no excuse.