We make thousands of decisions every single day both consciously and unconsciously and it’s hurting you more than you’d think. This post will discuss decision fatigue, how it affects you and how to create a mental filter that helps you figure out how to choose what really matters to you. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep we ask our brains to guide us in the best possible way, always hoping to end up making the ‘right’ decision. To snooze or not to snooze? Glasses or contacts? White or brown socks? Eggs, oatmeal, or no breakfast at all? Drive, bus, or bike? Do I need a jacket? Drip or Cappuccino? What should I work on first? Which email should I respond to first? What do I want for lunch? I could spend this entire article writing out decisions made in the first 60 minutes of every day, but I’ll spare you that.
Most of these decisions take only a short moment and seemingly little effort, but the collective effect is what should really concern you. With each decision made, our ability to effectively make the right one decreases. In other words, at the end of the day you’re more likely to cave to cravings and decisions requiring more discipline, like sticking to a particular diet. You’re more likely to make an impulse purchase that doesn’t align with what you intended to buy if you’re overwhelmed with potential options and have already been plagued with decisions all day. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue, which simply means that the more decisions we have to make throughout the day, the worse we get at making them. When we are overwhelmed with choices, we tend to choose poorly even if the choices are insignificant. Mark Zuckerberg talks about why he wears a gray t-shirt every single day to avoid decision fatigue so he can give his best efforts to building Facebook.
One of the solutions that my wife Amy and I are pursuing is reducing the total number of decisions that we have to make in daily life, similar to Zuckerberg and his gray shirt. Minimalism as a philosophy helps us accomplish this in many ways: By reducing the excess things in our lives we have less that requires our attention and decision-making. You never have to decide how to organize or where to put the clutter that doesn’t exist. Timothy Ferriss (Author of the 4-Hour Work Week) recommends that you make the first hour of your day 100% decision-free by already knowing exactly what it will take to do what you need to do and precisely how you’ll do it. While both scenarios seem ideal, they can be difficult to execute and take time to set into place. Here’s what you can start doing today to improve your decision-making process with just 20-30 minutes of work.
Build a mental filter for your brain to make quick decisions easier.
As an air filter for your home prevents most of the dust particles from getting to your lungs, a decision filter helps prevent most of your decisions from engaging your discipline. When you face a decision, run it through the filter first. If it makes it through, it’s worth your continued consideration – if not, let it go. Creating your own personal filter is as simple as creating a series of Yes or No questions to ask yourself. My filter only has three core questions, as I have spent some time boiling down what I want for the next few years of life:
1. I want to travel as much as possible, visiting family & friends.
I love traveling, visiting new places, and seeing friends and family all over the world. Whenever I’m looking at a new gadget, use of time or money, I ask myself: Would this make it easier for me to travel more frequently?
2. I want to have as much control of my time as possible.
By spending less and reducing our overhead (debt payments, living expenses) we create more opportunities, flexibility and options for increasing time-wealth. I absolutely love my job, but someday we may want some element of location independence, living abroad. So I ask myself: Will this offer a future monetary return that may allow me to build time-wealth and increase our flexibility?
3. I want to foster creativity and all forms of health.
This one is pretty simple. I just ask: Will this help me foster creativity or improve my physical and mental health?
The fact is, sometimes the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no’ and I still do it anyway because it’s worth the sacrifice. These questions indeed have helped me cut impulse spending on things that don’t serve the above purposes. As much as we’d like it not to, sometimes a little dust makes it through the air filter.
So what’s in your decision filter? Did you find this guide on how to decide what matters helpful? Leave a note in the comments to share your ideas.
Here are Patrick Rhone’s thoughts on making decision filters:
A Most Important Question by Patrick Rhone