How to Beat Decision Fatigue

In the core of your soul reclines the commanding Master; He does but sleep; wake Him. Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power. Say unto your heart,”Peace. Be still!

– James Allen

We make 200 food related decisions alone each day. Each decision we make takes a little bit of energy. Over the course of the day decisions making tends to get worse. Just like a muscle getting fatigued from exercise, your ability to make decisions fatigues also.

The time of the day matters when it comes to decisions

research study  looked at 1,100 court cases over a 10 month period. Each case a judge made a decision on whether to grant parole to the criminal or not.

The researchers found that the time of the case time had the most significant impact on the judge’s decision.

Imagine two similar cases where both criminals committed similar crimes. The criminal seen in the morning had a much higher (65%) chance of getting parole in comparison to the criminal seen in the late morning (10%).

Just before lunch time decisions would improve again but steadily decline as the day came to an end.


The judges were suffering form what psychologists call “ego depletion”. They had no energy left to make good decisions.

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We can see this in our daily lives. Why on the way home from work we tend to find it much more difficult to offset negative food choices.  Our self-control is exhausted from fighting off poor decisions all day.

How to stop decision fatigue?

The truth is we all suffer form decision fatigue everyday. Some of us more so than others. That feeling of lack of control in your life is decision fatigue. That feeling of sleeping in instead of getting up is decision fatigue.

We can’t avoid it but we can reduce the negative impact it has on our decisions.

The most successful people in these areas may not always have stronger willpower than you. They just set up there day for the easiest success.

1. Become a minimalist

What to wear, what to eat, where to have coffee are all decisions that sap your willpower. Reduce the amount of decisions you have to make each day. Start with your time to wake and time to sleep.

What to wear? Reducing your closet to the essentials will help here. This is one of the reasons why many successful people wear the same clothes everyday.

I like checking out new cafes but find at times it turns into another decision. I have two categories for cafes

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1.     Quiet for work

2.     To meet people

Reducing all this external clutter also reduces your internal clutter. (For more on minimalism check out this post)

2. Make less decisions

In “The Power of Less” Leo Babauta advises that you focus on no more than 3 MIT (most important tasks) each day. Anything more tends to tax us too much. So pick 3 MITs each day and do them well.

Prior to reading this book, I would have an A4 to do list everyday and complete very little of it. I ended up getting annoyed at myself for not completing the tasks and feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to do.

3. Avoid ego depletion

Schedule cheat days or sleep ins into your routine. So, if you find you wake up every Sunday hating yourself for drinking again and sleeping in, schedule it.

Make Saturday a cheat day and Sunday a day you sleep in. I have found this simply eliminates my self loathing once I have it scheduled.

So instead on spending Sunday beating myself up for being lazy and binging I can enjoy my lie in and get on with my day.

4. Set a weekly timetable

Having a plan for your week reduces your daily decisions. This is especially important when starting new habits. Instead of deciding to go to the gym after you get home plan the days you go to the gym.

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I know every week that on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I go to Yoga. Simple as that. Arranging to meet a friend will further solidify this habit into your weekly routine.

I don’t have to decide on Monday evening what to do, it is automatic.

5. Eat

If you have to make important decisions later in the day then make sure and eat something first. The study I mentioned about found the judges decision making was highest in the morning and got worse until lunch. After lunch it improved and reduced again until the end of the day.

Replenishing glycogen levels and taking a mental break from whatever you’re doing will recharge your willpower allowing you to make better decisions.

Wrap up

You may or may not have good self control. If you are in the latter then structuring your day can have a beneficial effect on the types of decisions you end up making.

People with the best self control are those who plan their days so they conserve willpower for when it’s needed.

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