How Mamas Can Manage Decision Fatigue

how mamas can manage decision fatigue

Do you ever get to that point where you’re faced with a choice and you just think, “I don’t care anymore”? Maybe it’s when you’re working out what to have for dinner, or what you’re going to do on the weekend. Sometimes even just having to choose an outfit can be too much. If everything seems too hard and you simply can’t (or can’t be bothered to) make a decision, then you might have decision fatigue.

What Is Decision Fatigue?

Basically, decision fatigue is a sort of mental fatigue, where instead of feeling physically tired, your mind starts to feel tired. As we become mentally tired, the quality of our decisions fade. Our decision-making abilities wear down until there’s nothing left. We end up acting on impulses rather than carefully considering things, or sometimes we even just give up and end up making no decisions at all.

Why does it happen? Every decision - large or seemingly insignificant - we make, uses mental effort and strength. When we do a physical workout, we get to a point where our muscles have no energy or strength left to keep going. If you imagine your mind is a muscle, and each decision adds to your mental workout, then eventually you get to a point where your mind is too spent to keep on going making decisions. The different is, we don’t feel physically tired, and so we don’t notice our decisions are becoming less rational and more impulsive.

Decision fatigue is pretty common knowledge for higher level leaders and entrepreneurs. In the business world, many people understand the importance of being able to use their best energy and focus on the most important decisions. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are famous examples who limit(ed) the decisions they had to make simply by wearing the same outfit every day. Even Barack Obama mentioned how he had a limited closet so he could focus on things that really matter.

How to Beat Decision Fatigue

While business leaders need to avoid decision fatigue, so do parents. They’re running businesses, but we’re running families. Some of us may be running businesses as well as families! And as a mama, we’re constantly making decisions not just for ourselves, but for other people too, which is just fast-tracking us towards decision fatigue.

There are really two main ways to prevent mental fatigue:

  1. Limit the number and size of decisions you have to make.
  2. Maintain and be aware of your energy input and mental health.

Let’s get specific. Here are some examples for both.

1. Limiting Decisions

This is all about prioritising the decisions you have to make and deciding what you want to spend your energy on. Every decision you make takes energy out of your decision-making stores until you have none left. These even include the smallest things you don’t even notice. Even having to push past socks in your drawer to get to your stockings - each thing you pass over is a choice you’ve had to make!

  • Decide on outfits beforehand, like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama. Limit the number of outfit options you have, and if you work, consider asking your workplace for a uniform.
  • Adopt a minimalist attitude where possible. The less stuff in your wardrobes, cupboards and drawers, the less energy you will waste rummaging around things.
  • Write tomorrow’s to-do list, today. This means you don’t have to spend time working out what to do in the morning, when your best mental efforts could be used on something else.
  • Write down today’s priorities - this way you have created a criteria to help with your decision making that day. Lean on your criteria for support when having to make decisions.
  • Have a planner/calendar. Write down what you’ll do on what days, so the decision’s already made when you get there.
  • And of course, have routines throughout your days and weeks, so you spend less time deciding what to do and when to do it.
  • Share the load. In other words, delegate decisions you don’t really mind about. My husband dresses our little girl every day, and the only time I have input is when I have something specific I want her to wear for a special occasion. Otherwise I would spend way too much time trying to decide the perfect outfit every day, so this way, I save a heap of mental energy from being wasted right at the beginning of the day. Another example could be letting the other mums decide where to go for mother’s group, or when meeting with a friend, let them take care of some of the planning.  
  • Write a shopping list and go straight for those things on the list rather than spending time passing your eyes over all the products in the aisles (every product you pass over is a decision you’re making).
  • Have a meal plan so you only have to go to the shops once a week, and so you know what the options are for meals each day without having to stand there staring into your fridge trying to work it out.
  • Make important decisions in the morning, as that is when you have the best focus and energy.
  • Don't make too many decisions at the same time or close together.
  • Have a bag packed ready so you don’t have to work out what to take each time you go out. Have some stores in the car (nappies, toys, etc) so you don’t have to worry about whether or not to take something else ‘just in case’.
  • Commit to regular activities in your calendar so you don’t have to make as many choices on what to do each week. E.g. swimming lessons, activity groups and playgroups.
  • Check emails and social media later in the day, and try not to waste time scrolling through or reading things you don’t need to. Every link you see is a decision you make to click or not click - and that’s a lot of invisible decisions you’re wasting energy on without realising!

2. Maintain Your Energy Stores

The energy you use to make decisions comes from glucose in your blood. This means as you make decisions, you are using up the energy stores in your body. Knowing this can make a huge difference when you have big decisions to make! Here are some ways to manage your energy stores.

  • Get enough sleep. Sleeping helps restore your body and gives you energy.
  • Eat nutritious food, especially ones which release energy slowly (and therefore the energy lasts longer).
  • Have snacks before (or during) big meetings/decision making events.
  • Have breaks from decision making - let someone else take over when you can - to give yourself rests.
  • Exercise regularly. This helps create more energy.
  • Meditation is really helpful practice which helps you to really be aware of what’s going on in your mind - and also helps you to clear out your thoughts too.

As mamas, we’re all likely to experience decision fatigue every now and then. Hopefully, by being aware of it and taking steps to lessen the decision-load we all carry, those times will be fewer and further apart.