I suffer from decision fatigue big time. It occurred to me that it was time to write about this as I contemplated my semi-annual move to lose the ten pounds I put on during most years. It may not sound like significant weight gain, but ever since I lost 50 pounds 8 years ago, I’ve been a fanatic about not letting my weight get out of control again. Trust me, this post is about more than dieting.
Here’s what happens. At some point during the year, I quit exercising and dive into the not so tidy whities – white flour, white sugar, and my personal nemesis, potatoes. It all tastes so good, and I’ve missed it, and, boom, there it is, 10 pounds.
Soooo many decisions!
Don’t worry, this post isn’t about dieting; it’s about making sooo many decisions that we find ourselves making bad ones. Since I find it really hard to regain control of my eating, I use a strict, effective diet that also works quickly – which is critical for me. I have no patience. It also works well for me because it limits my choices, and by extension, the decisions I have to make during the day.
Limited choices? You might wonder if that’s boring. On the contrary, the limited choices are critical to my success because, while I use the diet to lose weight, I also use it to get back in control of my life in general.
Oh, how I’ve come to love the phrase limited choices! I don’t know about you, but as an entrepreneur and a widow, the only person who makes decisions about my work and my life is me. Every deadline is self-imposed, every mistake is mine, every single decision is made by me.
And, it’s exhausting! Maybe you’ve heard of decision fatigue, the insidious syndrome where we make increasingly poor decisions after we’ve made a huge number of decisions. It creeps up on us, then we’re hit by a virtual landslide of bad decisions – like eating a whole bag of potato chips for 3 days in a row.
Here’s how it goes for me. Like everyone else, I start making decisions from the second I hit the snooze button when my alarm goes off in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night. Do I hit snooze again? Am I really going to exercise this morning? Why do I put myself through this? What shall I have for breakfast? What do I wear today?
Am I going to check my emails now? Am I going to work from my to-do list, or ignore it? Do I answer that call? Which email do I respond to first? Wait, isn’t today supposed to be “work on marketing plan day?” Can I really put it off again? What am I going to call my new coaching program? How will I find people to attend? What if it doesn’t work?
All those questions before 10:00am! It’s exhausting, literally. My brain is overloaded. I’ve used up all of my cognitive stamina – the number of decisions I can make and how much new stuff I can learn in any given day.
It’s not only exhausting; it’s insane. It’s also no wonder that the first two things to go out the door are eating decent meals and taking time to exercise – activities that I spend a lot of time making decisions around. Even though I know they are the two of the three most critical things I can do each day. In case you’re wondering, the third is to get enough sleep.
Here’s what trips me up. One of the hallmarks of my personality is that I move through life quickly and have very little patience with process of any sort. That is, unless that process gives me fast results. To me, fast results indicate it’s a process I can trust (and stick to). You can see why a diet that works quickly is critical for me. Yeah. Unfortunately, not much in life or business works that way.
Habits and Routines
My other problem is that I’m not good at maintaining habits or routines. I create a routine or develop a habit, then I ditch them like they’re on fire! And habit and routines are critical to warding off decision fatigue! So, I look for opportunities to perform a reset. Like surrendering total control of what I eat to an incredibly strict diet. That surrender allows me to give control over to the process. The process makes the decisions, not me.
The diet is only one of the strategies I use to manage the distractions that lead to extra decisions which lead to decision fatigue. I’ve also created the habit of capturing everything that’s on my mind – whether it’s business or personal – in Nozbe, a productivity app I came across several years ago. It’s much easier for me to silence an idea that’s flying around in my head if I capture it in a medium where it can be retrieved anytime and anywhere because I know I can find it again.
Let habits limit your decisions
Creating those very habits and routines that are so hard for me to honor is critical to avoiding (and curing) decision fatigue. Some people avoid decision fatigue by creating a standard uniform that they wear everywhere. The two most famous examples are Steve Jobs and his black turtlenecks and Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodies. Then there’s Grace Coddington, fashion editor of Vogue, who always wears black. Their habits remove the decision making component from getting dressed.
Here’s the thing. Although I rebel against routine and habits, I can tell the difference when I follow them. I even have a very productive routine for my mornings, and, when I follow it, my day goes beautifully. I keep this taped to the mirror below the routine, “I will honor my program because I created it!” Sometimes I even do it.
Live life ferociously,
PS: After I wrote this, I printed out a new routine and wrote this at the bottom “I trust my program because I created it for me!”