You’re in the middle of a store, staring at endless product, having a mini life crisis about what to buy. What’s the right decision? What if I make the wrong choice? All the magazines say I should choose this one, but I really want that one, etc etc. At best, you experience a flutter of anxiety. At worst, you have a full blown panic attack. Since when did deciding which toilet paper to buy become such a drama?

Young woman standing in front of two roads making a choice

Decisions are exhausting. No, seriously, you only have a certain amount of mental energy before you decline into irritability, irrationality and anxiety, and decision-making zaps a good chunk of it.

Studies show that decision making depletes the brain of mental energy (feel free to nerd out on the topic, by clicking here), which is why, after a day spent making hundreds of little decisions – do I go to the gym or stay at home? Do I order Thai or Pizza? Do I watch this crappy reality show, or that crappy reality show? - you can find yourself having a melt down in the grocery store over which milk to buy. This sorry state of affairs is known as ‘decision fatigue’ (you can read more about it here).

So how do you prevent decision fatigue? Here are some helpful hints:

The word Options on a cork notice board
1. Get clear on what matters. Once you know what’s really important to you and why, then you have an instant decision making tool. So you value adventure? Choose the random road trip over spending a weekend on the couch. You love playing sport? Block out time in your calendar to train. You value loyalty? Don’t bail on your mate’s birthday just because a sore throat might be brewing a week away.
2. Automate the simple things in life. It’s why many billionaires eat the same thing for breakfast every day. Automating the simple things conserves mental energy to make more important decisions. Breakfast, clothes and the route to work are just a few of life’s simple tasks that can potentially run on autopilot.
3. Make big decisions early in the day. The theory goes the later in the day, the less mental energy you have, and the more likely you to upgrade to a data plan you could never possibly use, or afford. Having said that, if you struggle to grunt at 7am, let alone choose your next holiday destination, you may want to tweak this strategy somewhat.
4. Set a time limit. Don’t let an hour go by before you decide what socks to wear. Give yourself a time limit for making decisions, and stick to it.
5. Use the ‘if this, then that’ strategy. It goes a bit of like this, ‘if I save $200 by the end of the month, I’ll buy those shoes’ (no $200, no shoes) or ‘if I exercise three days in a row, I’ll have a rest day’ (no debate, just rest). This breaks decisions down into an easy formula, and prevents endless debating over what to buy and when to train.
6. Limit your choices. Instead of piling your garage full of toys you don’t use, or your phone full of apps you never open, keep your stuff to a minimum. Or if this fills you with anxiety, then put your precious items on rotation, so you only ever have a few to choose from at any one time.
7. Remember good enough is, well, good enough. Forget perfect, it doesn’t exist. Energy spent beating yourself up about bad decisions leaves you less energy to make better ones next time.
8. Close down your browser. Google is an indecisive person’s worst nightmare. If you can’t book a hotel without spending two weeks trawling through accommodation sites, finally choosing one, then going back the next day to see if you really should have chosen a different one, you might want to close down your browser and visit a travel agent.
9. Flip a coin. I know, I know, it sounds a little second grade, but flipping a coin be a solid decision making tool when it comes to relatively unimportant stuff. If you’ve gone through the 8 steps above, and you are still in a panic about which can of tuna to buy, then flip a coin and be done with it.

So there you have it, a quick and dirty guide to making decisions without the drama and heartache.

On a serious note, difficulty making decisions can be linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, low self-confidence and experiences of trauma. If you feel overwhelmed by decisions, call 0420 320 322 for a free 15 minute consultation to see if Fostering Hope Psychology is a good fit for you.

What are your tips for making decisions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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