When making a big decision the old advice is to “sleep on it” and make the decision the next day. It turns out that this advice has some scientific merit to it.
Research shows that people experience “decision fatigue” after making multiple decisions during a single day. Decision fatigue is similar to physical fatigue, except that most people are not aware of the mental fatigue they experience. As the brain become fatigued, it looks for mental shortcuts. One common shortcut is to act impulsively without considering the consequences of the decision. Another common shortcut is to avoid making a decision at all. The second shortcut can ease mental strain in the moment, but create more problems in the long run.
Think about how many small and large decisions you make during a typical day. After a long day of working, taking care of children, or attending school, you have likely made many small decisions without even realizing it. By the end of the day, you may be experiencing decision fatigue, and this is not the best time to make major decisions.
Large decisions cause decision fatigue also. Consider the process of buying a car. After deciding on the make and model, there are so many other decisions to make. Do you want to buy the extended warranty? What kind of financing do you want? Do you want to trade in your old car, and what kind of deal can you negotiate? The dealer may overwhelm you with decisions so that you experience decision fatigue. The result is that you become more likely to impulsively agree to expensive upgrades on the car.
Tips to combat decision fatigue:
- Think about when you are the most mentally alert, and plan to do your decision making and problem solving during this time.
- Let yourself have more than one day to make major decisions. What seems like a good idea one day may look very different the next day.
- Ask for input from friends and family. Ask them what factors they would consider if the decision was theirs to make.
- Tune in to your own emotions. If you feel eager to quickly make a decision, or if you feel a strong desire to avoid making the decision, you may be using a mental shortcut. This can be a clue that you are experiencing decision fatigue, and you may need to take a break from decision making.
- Decide what you want ahead of time. When making major decisions such as buying a car, it helps to anticipate your choices and take your time to decide what you want before you go into the situation.
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