Do you have decision fatigue?

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I have decision fatigue. Do you have it too? This is the age of personalized-everything…from half-caf soy lattes with two pumps of white chocolate and whip, to craft-your-own sandwich shops, online build-your-own car options, and shoe websites sort-able by size, color, fabric, heel-size and more. Between making life’s big decisions and all of this customization, do we just have too many choices? You might have decision fatigue if…

Do you have decision fatigue?

You make bad decisions

Each morning I vow to be virtuous in my calorie consumption. I’m good all day. I count my calories and select healthy proteins and fiber-rich items for breakfast and lunch. But then 5 o’clock rolls around and I find myself pouring a glass of chardonnay or dipping into that box of Girl Scout cookies while I prep dinner. Sound familiar?

According to a New York Times article by John Tierney on decision fatigue, one reaction to making too many decisions is reckless choices. Rather than carefully weighing the pros and cons of an option, we make rash decisions. Tierney says, “Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.”

Tierney goes on to say that decision fatigue is likely to blame for impulse candy bar purchases at the check-stand at the grocery store. Shoppers exhaust their brains roaming the aisles, weighing costs and reading nutrition labels. Then we see a Snickers bar and give in to temptation. This could help explain the obesity issue in America. Having it our way all the time could be making us fat!

You need a vacation from your vacation

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, there are four stages of happiness. These include: anticipate with pleasure, savor the moment as it is experienced, express happiness to yourself or others, and reflect on a happy memory.

Planning a vacation should be a joyous experience. Once upon a time when would-be travelers wanted to go on vacation, we called up a travel agency and let them put together an itinerary for us. Nowadays, we do it all ourselves. We compare air ticket prices at Kayak and Travelocity, weigh hotel amenities on Hotels.com, and scroll through restaurant and entertainment options on Yelp. (And, of course, we read blogs like Travel Mamas and books like The Travel Mamas’ Guide!) All of this research can add to the anticipation portion of vacation happiness.

But if you’re overwhelmed with too many decisions, vacation-planning could add stress to an otherwise happy experience. Even before Travel Mamas was born in 2009, I was the unofficial travel planner in our household. Now, my husband uses the “You’re The Travel Mama” card to get out of doing a whole lot when it comes to our travels. This has its advantages; I get to choose where to go, for how long, where to stay, what to eat and which activities to do. It also has its disadvantages; I need to choose where to go, for how long, where to stay, what to eat and which activities to do. This involves a lot of research and careful weighing of options. And I’m in charge of all the packing. This is a little bit too much anticipation for my comfort and perhaps why I’ve begun to love cruises, where many options (like meals and daily destinations) are organized and simplified for me.

In our attempt to express our happiness, many of us feel the need to share all of our vacation joy with our friends. No longer do we take vacation photos solely as souvenirs of our travels, to be stored in private photo albums at home. No, we must share that photo of the fabulous view from our hotel room! But which filter to use? Should we share it via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or all of the above? What clever phrase should accompany the picture? All of these little decisions distract us from the savoring portion of our vacations!

As a travel blogger, I reflect on my travels via stories and photos that I share with you here on TravelMamas.com. Often this is one of the most joyous parts of my travels, maybe because it involves tapping into the creative right-side of my brain rather than the analytic, decision-making left-side of my brain. In a way, writing and reflecting on my travel experiences is my vacation from my vacation! For others, creating a vacation scrapbook, photo album or journal could help increase your vacation happiness.

Rather than choosing, you do nothing

Coca-Cola recently announced its plan to compete with Soda Stream so you can customize your favorite Coca-Cola brand sodas with just the right ratio of syrup and fizz, and add a splash of cherry or other flavor. Sounds tempting, but usually I just want a soda, pre-mixed and ready to drink without the extra effort and drama.

Sometimes I just want things to be simple. This is particularly true for me right now. I have been making a lot of life decisions lately. Should we stay in our house or sell it? Move within California or go to another state? Where to—PortlandPalm SpringsMinneapolisPhoenix? Should I get a “real job” or focus on freelance writing? Should I try to land more speaking gigs and media tours…and how?!

No wonder I can’t decide what to make for dinner or which time to book a Pilates class. All of these big decisions are sucking the inspiration and energy from me. So I’ve been doing what a lot of people do when overwhelmed with too many choices: nothing. I’m making the life decisions and ignoring the rest. Waiting for an email from me? I probably couldn’t decide what to say. (Or, more likely it’s lost in Cyber space due to glitches caused by switching web hosts twice within two months…because I didn’t have enough to worry about already!)

How to cure decision fatigue

On “The Big Bang Theory”, the genius scientist Sheldon resolves to use dice to make all trivial decisions, as he says, “thus freeing up my mind to do what it does best: enlighten and amaze.” Maybe Sheldon’s right. Decision fatigue over inconsequential things is keeping all of us from accomplishing enlightening and amazing things. (Click the image above to watch a video demonstrating Sheldon’s dice-throwing decision-making.)

Rather than leaving choices to chance, perhaps the answer lies in artistic expression. To get relief from decision fatigue, we should give our analytical brains a rest and focus on creative endeavors, whether it’s painting, gardening, photography, writing, music or something else. This may just help revitalize us and lead to better decisions.

I predict consumers will eventually tire of too much customization. Instead, we will seek out products and services that minimize exhausting choices. Maybe that’s why characters in futuristic science fiction stories always sport uniforms. In the future, we’ll all wear the same thing every day to eliminate yet one more decision!

Then again…I do like my coffees, sandwiches, vacations, sodas and clothing to meet my unique preferences. Maybe instead we should hire people to make decisions for us. But who to hire, how much to pay and for which decisions…?!

Do you think you suffer from decision fatigue too? Let us know in the comments below! 

Photo at top by Colleen Lanin. (I wish I had better hand-writing!)

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    I love Sheldon’s solution – maybe we should all try rolling the dice for a day!

  2. I think I’ll put some dice in my purse for those times I’m taking too long to make up my mind.

  3. Perhaps the childhood picky-eater in me gives me relief and satisfaction to make the decision on how to “have it my way”. I find the little decisions embolden me to take on the larger ones – like they are mini practice rounds to choosing who to hire or how to guide my kids on college choices. But I can see how making major life choices in a short amount of time can be stymying. Luckily those don’t happen every lunch hour. Go ahead and have the munster cheese on that sundried tomato bagel today. Tomorrow you might just feel like cheddar. Oops, I forgot, folks in CA don’t eat bad things like bagels or cheese!! Maybe midwest choices are less complicated? The one thing I know is that you can and will make the right choices for you, your readers and your family. And when you can’t, I’ll roll the dice with you.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Mmm…bagel with cheese! This Californian certainly has no issues with choosing which bagel to eat for lunch. Thanks for the vote of confidence when it comes to the bigger stuff! 🙂

  4. YES! It can be so tough to pull the trigger! I’ve even managed to complicate my coffee order -lol!

  5. I agree completely and am overwhelmed with travel options… Trying to do a 5 night trip somewhere “relaxing” with our almost 2 year old before we have another baby next year. Looking at Tulum in Riviera Maya but now I’m thinking maybe somewhere like Hawaii… Trying to price everything out is hard and the decisions are totally “first world problems” but now I just feel like going nowhere. I figured we could stay local (Pacific Coast/northwest) but I wanted to go somewhere more rugged/exotic… Any advise on destinations?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Darby – I love Mexico but if you will be pregnant when traveling, I advise going to Hawaii instead. Most resort areas use filtered water in Mexico but I know many U.S. travelers to Mexico get food/water poisoning during their visits. I know I have! If you are expecting, you don’t want to chance getting a food borne illness, which could cause pregnancy complications. Also, if you are not fluent in Spanish, you may want to visit somewhere you speak the language in case you do need to visit a local hospital due to pregnancy complications during your travels. I love, love, love visiting Hawaii with babies and young children. The hotel/condo pools are fabulous and you can find many beaches with mellow waves for little ones. The laid back Hawaiian attitude is very relaxing too – perfect for a family babymoon!

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