I’ll be honest. At my house, the same four to five dinners have been on rotation pretty much since Covid hit, which means that we’ve basically eaten our weight in spaghetti. It’s not only that my kiddos are quite… let’s call it particular… about what they are willing to eat, but also that by the time I return from work, one more decision to make is going to put me over the proverbial edge. And no one wants to see mama past that edge.
If you are like me, you have officially reached the “decision fatigue” stage of the pandemic.
It’s the place where the number and intensity of the choices we are making has caused our brains to want to just shut down. No more decisions, they are trying to tell us. More naps!
Decision fatigue is real and unfortunately powerful. Consider this: each time we make a decision, we are taking a risk. The risk may be that we face consequences of a poorer option or that we miss out on the rewards of a better options. Weighing risks and benefits is extraordinarily taxing work for our minds. Even when the decisions are seemingly small and less consequential, they add up to the point where our minds run out of mental energy.
Right now many of us are faced with the choice of whether to send children to daycare or school, whether to delay a wedding we’ve been planning forever, whether to visit with loved ones or even to attend a funeral.
These are hard, life-changing choices, and as has become abundantly clear, there is no playbook to reference.
So what do we do when we are both in a state of decision fatigue, and we are faced with some of the most challenging decisions yet? Here are some considerations to hold when you are faced with making the really tough calls:
Don’t attempt to make your decision from a place of mental, physical, or emotional fatigue. Even the research shows that we make poorer decisions when we’re not rested and after we’ve had to make many other choices. So do what you can to nourish your brain and body before doing that analysis.
Set aside time to make the decision, and then shift your focus. One of the challenges I’m observing is that these decisions are constantly on our minds. We’re always checking the temperature for what other people are doing and continuously gathering data to make the call. This adds to our exhaustion. Define a specific period where you will think about the question and then stick to it. You can have multiple thinking sessions, but commit to yourself that you are not going to be pondering outside of these sessions.
Give up the idea that there is a right or wrong decision. I know this is touchy, but the reality is that there are very few decisions that we make that can lead to terrible outcomes. Most of the time, once we make the decision, we do everything in our power to make that decision work, and thus the outcomes can be fairly equivalent as far as quality goes. It’s often less about the actual decision and more about the effort we’ll put toward the decision we make that counts.
Avoid asking everyone and their cousin for advice. Sure, you can always get useful nuggets when you poll a variety of people. But I find that most people have a couple of people that they truly trust and share their values, and all of the other input just becomes noise. In many cases, that noise has the unfortunate consequence of distracting us from our best decision.
Don’t forget to reward yourself once you’ve made the decision. Lots of us find that as soon as we make a choice, we’re filled with doubt and even regret. Rather than falling into that spiral, mark the fact that you’ve made a decision by giving yourself some praise and self-care.
This is an extraordinarily challenging time to be a human right now, especially one making choices that impact others. The good news is that we can do hard things and that we’ll be stronger for them.
Photo courtesy of Women of Cincy
Dr. Ashley Solomon is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization that helps purpose-driven women elevate their impact and mental wellness through therapy, coaching, and content. She blends her scientific acumen, her warm style, and her real-life wisdom to help people during challenge points in their lives. She's committed to busting the stigma of mental health and helping people heal, grow, and lead.