decision fatigue causes anxiety

Beware of Decision Fatigue

Why does decision fatigue happen? We make hundreds of decisions every day. The volume, complexity and/or potential impact of the decisions we have to make can leave us so drained that having to decide what to eat for dinner can send us over the edge.

Causes and Symptoms of Decision Fatigue

Making decisions can be exhausting and cause us to feel overwhelmed, anxious or stressed. This is decision fatigue, a state of mental overload that can slow down a person’s ability to continue making decisions. In other words, the more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult making any decision can become.

Decision fatigue can have a lot of consequences, such as impaired judgment, reduced willpower, increased anxiety and the increased probability of making irrational choices.

Roy Baumeister, the psychologist who coined the term “decision fatigue”, says that people have a finite amount of willpower. So the more decisions you make, the less willpower you have remaining.

What Causes Decision Fatigue?

Anyone can experience decision fatigue, but it’s most likely to occur when:

  • You must make a lot of decisions
  • Your decisions have long-term consequences 
  • You’re in the midst of a stressful situation 
  • You have perfectionist tendencies 

If you’ve ever remodeled a kitchen before, you know those symptoms intimately. For those about to begin the process, you can be prepared.

Overwhelmed By Too Many Options?

Decision fatigue can also set in when you have an abundance of options.

Although we as humans enjoy having a variety of choices, too many choices can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion. All those options can lead to confusion and dissatisfaction.

When faced with the overwhelming number of decisions that you must make when embarking on a kitchen remodel project, decision fatigue quickly becomes a real thing. Think of all the choices you have to make:

  • Cabinet style
  • Door style
  • Wood specie
  • Finish color
  • Cabinet built-in accessories
  • Appliances
  • Countertop material
  • Flooring
  • Wall color
  • Backsplash
  • Decorative hardware
  • Lighting

And that might not be the entire list, depending on the scope of your project.

Signs and Symptoms of Decision Fatigue

The more choices you have to make, the more it can wear on your brain. As a result, your brain might look for short cuts. Not sure if the way you’re feeling is decision fatigue, here are signs to look for:

  1. Inability to think clearly or focus
  2. Procrastination or decision avoidance. The most common response to decision fatigue
  3. Irritability and a short temper caused by frustration
  4. Impulsive actions
  5. Feeling overwhelmed
  6. Spending a lot of time making decisions
  7. Physical discomfort, such as fatigue, poor sleep, headaches, eye twitching and upset stomach
  8. A sense of dissatisfaction with any choice that you make. If you finally made a choice, but you’re still thinking about it hours later and questioning your decision, it’s most likely the result of decision fatigue.
  9. Feeling drained, exhausted.
  10. Inability to make any decision. You battle back and forth between various choices.
  11. Making snap choices that aren’t based on logic or rational thinking

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue

While we can’t always control the situations that cause decision fatigue, there are ways to make  fatigue more manageable. 

  • Delegate, if possible. Some decisions are always going to be yours to make. But sometimes it’s OK to let other people – like your husband or partner — handle things.
  • Prioritize sleep. Research shows that we make better decisions early in the day. It also shows that sleep-deprived people have poor impulse control. If you find yourself in a particularly decision-heavy phase of your life, such as making choices for your new kitchen, getting a good night’s sleep may help protect against decision fatigue.
  • Exercise. Exercise is good for many things, but did you know that it can also help you make better decisions? A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise paired with a three-minute walking break every half hour can improve critical thinking. If that’s too much, don’t worry: Any exercise is better than no exercise, and walking for any length of time can do wonders for your overall mental health.
  • Manage stress. Making stress-management activities part of your daily routine can help you feel less overwhelmed and more confident in the face of difficult decisions.

Tips and Strategies for Managing Decision Fatigue

too many choices too little time

Make big decisions in the morning. Research shows that the best time to make decisions is in the morning. The morning is when we make the most accurate and thoughtful decisions, and we tend to be more cautious and meticulous. By evening our decisions may be more impulsive.

This research tells us to make appointments with your architect, kitchen designer and/or contractor for the morning when you’re fresh. So, definitely don’t make big decisions when you’re tired or hungry.

Stop second-guessing yourself. Just let go of your perfectionism and stop second-guessing yourself. Be happy with the choices you made for your new kitchen and don’t waste additional energy worrying about whether or not they were the right ones. Your kitchen designer is experienced and knowledgeable and she guided your decisions to ones that will be right for you.

How To Move Past Decision Fatigue

For how to handle decision fatigue, here’s a few coping strategies:

  • Make most of your important decisions early in the day when your mental energy is at its peak. Schedule important meetings in the morning.
  • Ask your spouse or significant other or a supportive friend to help you with your most difficult choices. It’s always good to bounce ideas off someone whose opinions you trust.
  • When you’re faced with too many options, such as finish colors or tile selections, narrow down your selection to three. Then, from the final three, pick one.
  • Avoid questioning your final decision; simply accept your selection and move forward.
  • If you get stuck, draft a simple pros-cons list, which can help facilitate objective and sound decision-making.
  • Prioritize decisions that must be made and then create deadlines for yourself.
  • Avoid impulsive decision-making. Postpone decisions if you must, rather than make a wrong move you’ll regret later.

There’s a good chance that if you’re managing decision fatigue, you’re already pretty stressed. Reducing the anxiety and frustration caused by your inability to make decisions—starting with identifying the signs of decision fatigue—can go a long way toward improving your mental well-being.

If your brain is worn down, it may cause you to not think things through. It can also cause you to simply do nothing, which can cause even more problems. You know the saying: to not decide is to decide.

What’s the Difference Between Decision Fatigue and Indecisiveness?

While decision fatigue occurs after having to make a lot of decisions in a specific time frame, indecisiveness results from a chronic inability to make decisions.  

More specifically, someone who is habitually indecisive fears making the wrong decision. Their avoidance of decision-making typically leads to routine procrastination.

So decision fatigue is short-lived and temporary, while indecisiveness is a chronic character trait.

Just Pick Something!

Many of us consider time as our most finite resource, but it’s really energy. Especially when it comes to decision making. Making decisions is an energy-draining exercise. Our brains get tired when we work them too hard, and then they get lazy. That’s when decision fatigue and bad decisions happen.

When you avoid making a decision because it’s just too hard, it can result in what is called the “paradox of choice” phenomenon. This means that you’re less likely to be satisfied with your decision, no matter which way it goes.

The good news is that decision fatigue is a short-lived experience. It is possible to recover from it within a few days. Especially when all the tough decisions have been made and your kitchen remodel is underway.  

Resources for Further Reading

KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.