Decision-making fatigue – the problem of too much choice

Over the years, I have become a big fan of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website. I am not sure how as I have never set foot in Canada. But the website has some diverse content and I can almost always find something which really interests me. This week, I found a great radio segment by Humble the Poet where he discusses decision-making fatigue and the paradox of choice. Along with offering some excellent insights of his own, Humble includes some very valuable insights from psychologist, Barry Schwartz who has dedicated his career to studying decision making. Decision-making fatigue can be a major contributor to procrastination and stress so I was very happy to have the opportunity to hear this segment.

You can find the interview on the CBC website at the following link:

The Paradox of choice with Humble the Poet and Barry Schwartz.


The following are some insights, I have gleaned from this program which I would like to share with you.

What is decision-making fatigue?

We have so much choice available to us in our everyday lives that we find it hard to make a decision. We are constantly having to make decisions. So much so that before we get through our day, we become mentally fatigued and the quality of our decision making suffers as a consequence. Eventually, we may even get to the point where we are unable to make any decision so things get delayed and we build up a backlog of things which we need to decide and take action on. If this is happening every day, you can see how this could quickly lead to overwhelm and stress.

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What is the paradox of choice?

Apart from being the title of Barry Schwartz’s book, the paradox of choice is a very real phenomenon. We tend to believe that having more choice makes life easier but that is only true up to a certain point.

When we have too many options, it can be incredibly difficult to decide which one to go with. From the time we rise to the time we go to bed, we are constantly needing to make decisions and we are bombarded with choice. When we have options, we tend to feel that we need to assess each option before we can make a proper decision. The more options we have, the more we need to consider and the longer it takes to decide.

Increased choice was supposed to make life easier and initially it did but now that we have so many options in every area of our lives, choice has started to slow us down and cause decision-making fatigue and stress.


The 2 types of people

Schwartz tells us about two types of people who bring different mindsets and attitudes to the decision-making process:

A. Maximisers

These are the people who want and demand the very best in every situation. Sounds great but if you want the best, you must fully consider all the options available. When you have an infinite variety of options this is almost impossible and you end up torturing yourself.

Schwartz argues that those who demand the very best from every situation are susceptible to depression and anxiety due the pressure they place upon themselves to make the right decision. They assume that there is always a right decision which is not necessarily true.


B. Satisfisers

Satisfisers on the other hand are looking for good enough. When they face a decision-making dilemma, they are only looking for an answer which is good enough to solve the problem and allow them to move on. They realise that perfection is neither necessary nor possible. Consequently, they put less pressure on themselves.


4 Ways to avoid decision-making fatigue

There are many things you can do to avoid or, at the very least, reduce the level of decision-making fatigue you experience:

1. Good enough is good enough

Schwartz tells us that the most important thing is to realise that ‘good enough is virtually always good enough.’. You don’t need to be perfect and there rarely is a right answer. When you accept this, you just make the best decision you can in the moment and move on.

I would certainly agree with this and I would also argue that when you take the ‘good enough’ approach to decision-making, you open your life up to the power of feedback. You make the best decision you can, and when you implement it, you will get some feedback as to how well it went. This then provides you with some solid information the next time you are faced with that decision. If you don’t make a decision, you don’t get any feedback.

‘Good enough’ reduces decision-making fatigue because you make decisions quicker without placing unnecessary stress upon yourself and; you get great feedback to improve your future decision making.

Related

You can learn more about why 'good enough' is better than perfectionism with my article - Perfectionism sucks


2. Remember the 80/20 principle

The 80/20 principle teaches us that the majority of our decision are not very important. The consequences of the decisions we make will have no great impact on our lives. So, why would you waste time and energy by making a big deal out of the decision. Think about the time you take to decide what you are going to wear, what you are going to have for lunch, what to do on a night out etc.

Decision-making fatigue can be greatly reduced by making quick decisions when there is no great consequence to the decision. If you have 2 or more options, just choose one and move on. Hell, if you only have 2 options, just toss a coin and go with the winner. When you take the 80/20 approach to decision-making you will realise how much time you wasted thinking about stuff that just doesn’t matter or, doesn’t have any lasting impact.

Related

You can learn more about the 80/20 priniciple with my article - The 80/20 Principle Explained


3. Let others decide

Another suggestion from Barry Schwartz is to let others make some of the decision for you. There are plenty of options in your life to unload some of the decisions onto the shoulders of others. Have you ever noticed how you can see what a friend should do much quicker than you can work out what you should do yourself? Objectivity makes it much easier to make a decision. Examples might include:

  • When you go to a restaurant with a friend, ask them what they recommend.
  • Don’t know where to go on holiday? Ask your friends for recommendations

You can ask friends for recommendations in just about any area of life and, if it is not very important to you, let them make the decision.

Another way to offload the decision onto others is to use review sites when making purchases. But when doing so, follow another piece of advice from Schwartz – limit the number of sites you are going to visit.

Pursuing Excellence

Good decision-making is an essential part of an excellence lifestyle. You can learn more with my FREE eBook - Pursuing Excellence.


Get Your FREE Copy Here


4. Live inside out

What I believe to be the ultimate way to avoid decision-making fatigue is to live your life from the inside out. Know exactly what you want from life:

The clearer you are about what you want, the easier it is to make the right decision. The reason for this is that being clear about what you want limits your choices. If I am deciding where to live and I know I want to live by the beach, I can automatically rule out more towns, cities and countries than I can rule in.

Just as importantly as knowing what you want; you become very clear about what you don’t want. When you are very clear about what you want, there will actually be many more things you don’t want. This allows you to reduce decision-making fatigue by having clear criteria which automatically eliminates options for you.

Clarify your purpose

Clarify and define your purpose so that you can use it to guide your most critical decisions; eliminating the 80% which does not matter so that you can focus on the 20% that does.


To clarify and define your purpose, check out 'Living Purposefully'.


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Conclusion

Having more choice in life is great but only up to a point. When you have too many options it becomes more stressful and difficult to decide. Decision-making fatigue kicks in and you find that the quality of your decision making suffers and eventually, you find that you can’t even make a decision. Decisions are a common and important part of life but that doesn’t mean that all decisions are important. When you stop seeking perfection and start giving the many unimportant decisions the low level of importance they deserve, you can reduce decision-making fatigue, improve the quality of your decision making and have a much happier life in the process.