Decision Fatigue

Today my twitter stream contained a most interesting article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? The article is long, but worth the read!

Just in case you’re short on time or too exhausted, here’s a summary:

  • Decisions are exhausting, even small ones
    • Especially trade-offs, which are an advanced form of decisions
  • Unfortunately decision fatigue doesn’t feel the same as being tired. So we often don’t realize we’re fatigued and don’t exercise caution, when we really should.
  • In a string of decisions the first ones are usually carefully pondered, whereas the last ones are taken with minimal care. You end up
    • either just accepting stuff indiscriminately or
    • not really deciding anything
  • This can be exploited, e.g. the price for a new car can vary 2000$ depending on the order in which the choices for color, engine type, etc. are presented
  • Also it severely lowers impulse control / willpower. The research suggests that there is a  “finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control“.
  • Decision fatigue may be something that traps people in poverty: A limited budget requires a lot of exhausting trade-offs; energy that’s lost for studying, etc.
  • Glucose can mitigate and even reverse the depletion. It restores will power and improves decisions.
    • This is bad, bad news for dieting people:
      1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
      2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.”

Concrete tips to improve your decisions:

  • Take important decisions early in the day
  • Many decision to take? Distribute them over several sessions. Eat between the sessions.
  • Sugar is fastest, but carbs last longer.
  • Avoid as many decisions as you can; save yourself for those that matter

One last quote to conclude:

“The best decision makers […] are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

[Thanks @charityfocus (original tweet) and @fluencygame (retweet I read).]

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2 Responses to Decision Fatigue

  1. buck says:

    If you liked that NYT article you will love the book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ which also deals with many related phenomena. Fun example (Bargh et al. 1996): Give your test subjects a task that involves words associated with old age such as Florida and forgetful. Then send them to a different room for another experiment and (secretly) measure the time it takes them to walk there. Those primed with the idea of seniority will walk slower (on average but significantly) that their lightheaded peers. Unless they despise the elderly in which case the transition will be quicker than usual.

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