What is decision fatigue, and why does it matter? Decision fatigue is the mental toll that decision after decision (even the small ones) can take on us throughout the day, as our natural body battery begins to drain. Our energy, both mentally and physically, depletes during our 24-hour circadian rhythm, and unless we replenish it through rest, sleep, nutrition, etc., we will run out of energy. When we add a litany of decision making on top of our everyday obligations, we burn that battery at a faster rate.
John Tierney, writing for the New York Times Magazine, puts it well:
“It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.”
In fact, very successful and famous people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama wear the same thing (or close to it) every day to eliminate one more decision they have to make. Why waste any of our genius on simple things like which blouse we’re going to wear today?
Even more interesting; a study was done by the folks over at Princeton, where they looked at judicial rulings over a year-long period. You know what they found? Those who were heard by the court in the morning received lighter parole sentences than those heard at the end of the day. They determined that these judges were influenced by extraneous factors, like what they had for breakfast and how many decisions they had to make throughout the day.