In WV, a lot of people began their return to some semblance of normal life in the past week. Things may still look quite different – masks being worn, crowds limited, the kiddos skipping out on non-existent summer camps. But still… we’ve seen gyms reopening, favorite restaurants starting to seat people again, and many people began heading back to work. Not that our COVID-19 Stay Home Order was easy, but in a lot of ways it forced us to simplify our lives. We discussed this idea in our Potential Podcast episode 9 “A Return To Simpler Times”.
In particular, we were able to decrease decision fatigue during this time. When primarily staying at home, we don’t have to decide what to wear, what to pack for lunch, where to stop to get gas, etc. The elimination of coffee choices alone, probably saved incredible levels of mental capacity. (Tall, soy, mocha, iced, no whip, add cinnamon…)
But now we’re back to the grind! If we want to make this adjustment to the “outside” world a lot easier, especially when it comes to improving our health, we must cut this one thing. Decision Fatigue!
Does Decision Fatigue Really Exist?
In short, the answer is: uh-huh!
The longer version: Decision fatigue is a scientifically proven issue. Referring again to episode 9 of Potential Podcast, Jeff cites a study that found judges were significantly more likely to grant parole in the morning than afternoon. Morning cases were released 70% of the time, while those in the late afternoon saw a release rate of less than 10%. There was a significant difference even among similar cases.
This does not just apply to heavy decisions like jail time. In a business study, forecasters became less accurate as the day progressed. They directly correlated this to a greater number of choices made.
There is also a proven link between decision-making and actions related to self-control and willpower. Self-control appeared to deteriorate after an increase in a day’s decision-making. Self-control and willpower are subject to exhaustion when your brain has been overworked on thinking through decisions. Even simple decisions, like which shoes to match to an outfit, can add up to drain our ability to control our impulses.
Why Is This Particularly Important Right Now?
First of all, we’re out of practice. Many of us have had roughly 9 weeks off from this extreme decision making. Secondly, health is at an all-time low for many right now. Besides stress levels, statistics on high alcohol consumption, and immunity concerns; new research shows a pretty significant weight gain for the average American. In one study, 75% of people report having gained between one and nine pounds while quarantining. While another 21% of people reported weight gain of between 10 and 20 pounds while in quarantine. Perhaps more concerning is the mindset surrounding these numbers, with 49% of people reporting that they are “worried they’ll never get their pre-quarantine body back”. The number on a scale does not necessarily depict a healthy vs. unhealthy person, but if you feel like you’ve gained the “Covid 19” because you have fallen into unhealthy patterns, then we need a reset.
How Do I Help With Decision Fatigue?
Every decision we make throughout the day takes energy from us. Here are some health-focused tips to alleviate decision making when it comes to choices about our healthy daily habits. If we remove these choices and turn them into routines, we eliminate the weariness and mental exhaustion that can lead to choices that are less healthy and less likely to serve our bodies and spirits.
Setting Up Routines
If we set up routines, we can form habits that take away the thinking process. Use these routines to escape daily stresses and decision fatigue, and help eliminate the risk of falling into unhealthier ways of living. When we’re exhausted by our day-to-day decisions (what to wear, what to make the kids for breakfast, which route to take to work, which emails to respond to right away, which clients to follow up with, etc.) it’s incredibly more difficult to make healthy lifestyle decisions and it becomes so much easier to go for the convenient and cheap solutions. – We don’t want to choose which vegetables to include on our salad or which fruit to cut up (heck, which knife to use to cut it, do we put it on a plate or in a bowl, do we drink water or green tea…?!?!?!) “JUST GIVE ME A NUMBER 3, SUPERSIZED!”
Routines To Eliminate Healthy Life Decision Fatigue
- Wake up early and knock out your fitness routine. If this isn’t an option for your life, or you aren’t a morning person, don’t force something that doesn’t work. Instead, take time first thing in the morning to complete your tasks that are most important for that day. Get it done.
- Have your meals prepped! I know for some people this feels like a huge chore. I do have some tips and worksheets to help you with that available here. You can also listen to episode 4 “8 Tips To Simplify Meal Planning” of Potential Podcast where I share meal planning tips and free worksheets to help! The big point here is that having a good handle on your meals and snacks for the day will help eliminate a TON of decisions. Instead of standing in front of the open fridge for 20 minutes hoping something new suddenly appears (insert quote from childhood in mom’s voice saying “you’re letting all the cold air out!”) you can just grab your prepped snack/meal and move on. Boom! No decision necessary.
- Even better, remove the question about WHEN to eat. Set up snack times in your calendar and/or set alarms on your phone. This is especially helpful if you have kids. Instead of the constant nagging of “can I have a snack?!” or in the Giosi house the insatiable need for “oranges please!” (or “arrrrges peas!”) set up routines so expectations about when snack time will take place is managed and you don’t have to make that decision. We have also set up a shelf in our fridge that is at Arlen’s eye level that has all of his pre-washed and cut snacks, which removes the decision making process from me all together. Meanwhile, his little 2 year old brain craves the opportunity to make decisions, so his ability to choose his own snack is a win-win.
- Remove decisions about what to wear. Prep your workout bag the night before. Ideally, you can even do this a whole week in advance, preparing small piles of your workout clothes for each day. Then you don’t have to think for a whole week. Just grab your clothes each morning and go. In my closet, I actually have a labeled hook system that allows me to preset all of my clothes for the whole week, including workout clothes. Then each evening, I just restock my gym bag for the next day.
Let’s start there. Once these routines are established, we can start to add more and begin to cut even more decision fatigue from our life. Baby steps!