Got Decision Fatigue? Can’t Decide? Here’s My Cure!

samanthasuttonOnce upon a time, I used to make a dizzying number of small decisions in any given day that, let’s face it, took up A LOT of my mental energy. Here is a sampling of some of the quandaries that I use to debate:

“I don’t want to get up and go for a run. It’s early and I’m tired. Maybe I could run after work instead? Or maybe tomorrow? I bet the weather will be better tomorrow, but tomorrow is a busier day.”

“Do I want to go on a second date with this guy? He does ask good questions, but he isn’t very passionate about his job. And how would I feel about our kids picking up his accent? He does seem like he would be up for adventure, though. What should I say at the end of the date?”

“Oh boy, someone brought cake to the group meeting. I want cake. Should I eat it? I haven’t lost that Christmas weight yet. But it looks so good, and would be just the thing to make me feel good after such a long day.”

“Should I spend the extra money on the flight to arrive two hours earlier? What would I do with that time? And it’s on a worse airline. It would be nice to be better rested the next day, but what if my friends will be inconvenienced to pick me up that early?”

If you think about it, you probably spend a good portion of each day making decisions about anything as small as what to eat for lunch, to as big as which vendor you should choose for a multi-million dollar contract. Decisions are the tool of creation, and so it makes sense that when I help clients create and go after their dreams in my weekend workshops, the room is flooded with questions about trade-offs, pros and cons and mental equations for evaluating options.

The problem is that each decision takes mental energy and focus, and we only have so much of that to go around. Studies have shown that we can suffer from something called decision fatigue, which means that the more decisions we make, the harder it gets to make each one, and so you are more likely to make poor decisions.

The solution, then, is to limit the number of decisions you make to just the most important ones: the ones that have you creating your dream. And I have just the tool that does that: personal laws. A personal law is a commitment that you make to yourself about what is and is not “legal” in your personal kingdom. For example, I have made personal laws that address each one of the issues I listed above:

* I run three times per week, and set those times at the beginning of the week.
* If I enjoy hanging out with a man, and he doesn’t have any of my deal-breakers, I go on a second date.
* I can eat whatever I want, so long as my weight stays below 123 pounds.
* Any plane fare difference of less than $50 is insignificant and shouldn’t be considered.

These personal laws, just like any law we have in society, makes decision-making easy. If you are approaching a red light, you know to stop your car. And similarly, if it’s my appointed time to go for a run, then I abide by my personal law and go for a run. Personal laws make it easy to navigate through my daily life, spending minimal mental energy on small decisions, so I can save that for big decisions about where I am going to bring my clients, what is the next innovation I will create in my workshops, and what fabulous birthday bash I am going to plan for my sweetie.

Give it a try. What personal laws would simplify your decision-making? Pick one or two and start to practice living by them. I think you will like the simplicity and ease that they bring to your daily life!



Dr. Samantha Sutton is a Senior Coach, Vice President and Director of Courses and Seminars for The Handel Group® where she designs and leads the Life Coaching Crash Course.

If you are ready for 2013 to be the year that you step up the results in your life, the Life Coaching Crash Course is the best place to start. See our workshop dates in New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta and Boston.

  • Samantha, Your scenarios made me smile… b/c I can SOO relate. I swear, those thoughts may have come out of my head just as well as yours! 🙂 Glad to hear I’m not the only one to make seemingly simple and quick judgment calls into massive decisions!

    Hmm… I like the idea of personal laws, but wonder if they’ll work for me. I tend to decide what I’M going to do in any given situation, based on the circumstances at that moment, and not just b/c “that’s what you do.” Even the “stop at a red light” thing. Of COURSE I stop at red light intersections. BUT, if there are no other cars in sight, for example, I might go on through. (Please don’t barrage me with why this isn’t a good idea.) Or if I’m turning right, for example, and there are no cars coming, but there’s a “No turn on red” sign, I often go anyway. I figure, there’s no one coming! What sense does it make to sit there and wait for nothing?

    Anyway, I still like the whole concept of personal laws. As I get older I know more and more about what works for me and what I like and don’t like to do. For example, I used to feel like I “had” to be more social and go to social events I was invited to. Now I’m accepting that I simply don’t enjoy some of those social events that others seem to think are fun. They’re not fun for ME. I’m learning to respect MY feelings more and realize that MY feelings are ok and I don’t have to think something is fun just b/c other people think it’s fun.


    • Hi Sarah,

      I love those points. Let me frame it this way… it’s not about right or wrong, but about the tradeoff. So let’s say that you debate at a “no turn on red” stop light about whether you should turn or not. You are spending your mental energy debating the situation: “should I turn? Are there any cops nearby? Is the traffic light enough?” Etc. That takes mental energy… you are spending that energy making a decision about traffic lights instead of thinking about other things you want to create in your life… the evening you are going to have with your honey, your dream for a presentation at work. That is the cost. What you gain is that you possibly shave 5-30 seconds off of your drive time… possibly a small adrenaline rush for breaking the law :). So then it’s your choice… is the tradeoff worth it?

      Great thoughts!

      • Samantha,
        Thank you for the response! I hadn’t thought of it that way… so thanks for explaining further! You’re right — mental energy IS better spent in other ways rather than deciding to turn on a red light or not. Hmm…. this will be on my mind for sure now… you may have just changed the way I think when I drive. 😉

        • I love that, Sarah. Once you start looking at your life this way, you will see just how much mental energy you spend debating “stupid” stuff that really isn’t important… I was astounded once I started really looking at this in myself.

          I enjoyed discussing this with you, so if you like this line of reasoning, you should consider coming to one of my weekend workshops. Two days of this :).

          • Thanks for the info and invite! I’ll check it out! 🙂

  • One of my personal law is to step on my yoga mat at least once a day even if t’s just for 5 minutes of deep breathing & relaxing.

  • Samantha–
    I especially love the one about weight! Sounds like total freedom, having come from a history of eating disorders. How did you come up with the number?

    • Hi Dana,

      I love that you love it :). I decided my dream weight by experimentation… I got myself down to 118, and then decided that I felt healthiest at 120-123. So I set 123 as a cap.

      Have you done this experiment?

  • Neeraj Karandikar

    Samantha Mam, I was having the same problem about making big decisions about my life like education and career but I was feeling extremely fatigued in the process of making those big decisions.
    Now I know that all my energy was being consumed in making the smaller decisions like getting up, reading or not reading a book, having tea or milk and so on. Now I will try and make personal laws for the smaller things and focus my energy in the process of making those decisions that really matter.
    Thanks a lot. 🙂 🙂