Decision Fatigue – It’s Happening To Us All

by | May 8, 2020 | Coaching Tips Series

This post is part of my special Coaching Tips Series. This series was inspired by my clients and the core themes in their challenges. When we can apply these tips, we bring a lot of ease into our lives and step into our leadership.

I don’t know about you (but I can make a good guess) but I’ve been experiencing a bit of decision fatigue. And all of my clients are going through this too. We have so many decisions to make, on a daily basis, and it’s exhausting.

All the routines of life have been turned upside down which means that even the simple act of doing the weekly shopping is different.
Am I really going to talk about the weekly shop, when there is a pandemic and decision fatigue is hitting people who are responsible for the jobs and safety of hundreds, if not thousands of people?

Why yes I am. To illustrate how even simple tasks are adding to decision fatigue.

For years I’ve been a “just in time” food shopper – only buying what we are going to need this week, and use up what we have.
But now, with the possibility that at any moment we may need to go into quarantine for two weeks, I can’t shop that way anymore.
Solution seems simple right? Just shop differently.

And it is simple. But there are about a hundred decisions in the weekly shop – and I automated them all years ago.

And we all do this: automate.

We move our decision making from the pre-frontal cortex (very heavy energy consumption) to the basal ganglia (very low energy consumption, responsible for procedural and habit learning, among other things).

And the pre-frontal cortex? aka executive functions? we don’t actually use them that much (relatively speaking). We use it when we want to figure things out, get creative, look at the options, find new ways to do things, deal with new problems.

Sounds like we would be using this part of our brain all the time, right?
Yeah, no.

The more experience we build up, the more expert we become in something, the more we automate and move this type of thinking to our procedural/habit centre of the brain. It’s why my first driving lesson was exhausting and required so much concentration (and was probably terrifying for the instructor) but now I do it as a routine.

So that weekly shop, that I automated years ago, that required very little thinking, all of a sudden required energy consuming thinking. And while I have developed a new routine, it is still less established than the old. The new neural pathway is developing, but the old one is much more established.

And that’s just the shopping.

So many aspects of our lives require thinking about it again.
And then we add on the work responsibilities… So, of course, we are exhausted.

What’s this got to do with coaching tips?

This is my coaching tip: take a time out.

A real do nothing, really do nothing, time out for at least 30 mins.
No talking, no reading, no watching tv, no music. Nothing in your hands, Don’t walk anywhere. Literally sit and do nothing.

You’ll get fidgety. You’ll want to talk, reach for something, do something. And the sooner you want to do that, the longer a timeout you actually need.

How do I make this work?

Find yourself a nice spot, make sure it’s comfy – this isn’t a punishment after all. Make sure those around you know not to disturb you.
Then, just sit.

When your mind wanders these are some things that you can shift your attention to

  • how it feels to sit on that chair/bed/stool
  • feel your your toes
  • notice the temperature of your breath as you breathe in and as you breathe out
  • notice the sun/wind on your face
  • hear the sound that is furthest away from you

Basically, shift your attention to any physical sensation you have. You don’t need to do anything with this information (judge it, act on it etc), just notice it.

Give your brain a break. It needs it. It’s got decision fatigue.

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