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Am I lazy or is it just decision fatigue?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NIKOLA DUKIC
WORDS BY LAUREN PAYNE

When it’s just too hard to choose.

There I was, staring at my fridge, my mind blank and with no idea what to make for dinner. Eventually, I slammed the door shut and decided to make baked salmon with roasted sweet potato, goat’s cheese and spinach. I knew the meal was quick, easy and tasty, but as I placed the sweet potato in the oven, my boyfriend asked, “Didn’t you have that last night?”

The following morning, I stared at my wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear to the office. Again, my mind was blank. Although I had great pieces to choose from, I ultimately decided to wear an oversized blouse, straight-leg pants, and my trusty white sneakers. As I checked myself in the mirror, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d worn the same outfit the day before, just in different colours. In fact, I’d worn the same outfit all week!


Want to read more about how others navigate the world? Try our Life section.


Once my city went into lockdown, I thought my habits would change. I thought all the extra time I had at home would make me want to try something new. Instead, I still found myself reaching for the same clothes every morning and kept making the same meals every night. That tasty salmon just kept being baked and kept being served with a side of roasted sweet potato.

It was as if my brain was refusing to work. I started trying to actively change up my routine, but nothing changed. I continued making the same, easy choices over and over again. What was happening? Had I lost my creativity? Why was it so hard for me to do something new? Why was I being so lazy?

As it turns out, I wasn’t being lazy, I was dealing with decision fatigue. The term decision fatigue was coined by social psychologist Roy F Baumeister in 1998. He theorised that after a person has made many decisions, their ability to keep making decisions weakens.

Just like walking upstairs after an intense leg workout, making decisions can be a lot harder if you’ve been exercising your decision muscles for a long period of time. I reached out to clinical psychotherapist Rashida Dungarwalla to tell me more about the effects of decision fatigue.

She explained that when we’re fatigued, our brain generally ends up on autopilot and it can be hard to get yourself out of that headspace. “Ninety per cent of the time we’re actually living quite unconsciously. Then we have to pull ourselves into this conscious state all the time… we’re living from this space when we’re experiencing decision fatigue.”

When I first experienced decision fatigue, I was still going into the office. Now that I, like many people right now, am in lockdown, I assumed decision fatigue wouldn’t be a problem. However, Rashida says although our lifestyles have become more sedentary in lockdown, it doesn’t mean we’re not susceptible to decision fatigue. “A lot of our obligations have been removed and certain lifestyles have become more simple. I think where the decision fatigue comes in, is we’re bombarded with a lot of negative news.

“We’re limited in what the rest of our life looks like, and we’re not involved in a lot of other things. Our actual lifestyles have become so limited and so it feels like this bombardment of information with no break away from it. Having to make sense of this news may be contributing to decision fatigue in lockdown,” she says.

Decision fatigue can creep up on you and if you’re not aware of the symptoms, it can be hard to overcome. You might be experiencing it if you regularly have brain fog, difficulties recalling things and become irritated in situations that usually wouldn’t affect you.

There are also physiological symptoms contributing to decision fatigue, which Rashida tells me shouldn’t be ignored. “Potential muscle aches, lower back pain and these sort of symptoms… people don’t realise they’re so contributory to fatigue.”

So, if you’ve realised you’re experiencing decision fatigue, what do you do? How can you stop yourself from fatiguing yourself further? Rashida recommends trying to talk to yourself differently. If you think there’s something wrong with you because you’re not making decisions as easily as you normally would (like I did), try being more compassionate with yourself.

“If you’re wearing the same outfit, or having the same meal, there’s really nothing wrong in that. If we’re putting it in a category of something being wrong, then we’re just shaming and guilting ourselves,” she explains.

Rashida also suggests pushing your productivity guilt to the side and prioritising rest. “I would really just focus on giving yourself some sort of a break… I think people assume that because they’re working from home and they’re not having to do the commute, that they’ve got to overcompensate in some way and do a lot more. But that’s not going to work. Try to prioritise some rest, scheduling some actual rest in. It’s not a reward, it should just be built into our lives.”

Overcoming decision fatigue can be a challenge. You’re already feeling run down and sometimes, it takes a while to feel like yourself again. This is why Rashida says we should start preventing decision fatigue before it happens. “All of this is about prevention, rather than cure. Curating a life that includes rest and breaks is preventative to reaching those stages of fatigue. We learn through these experiences, but then if we find ourselves continuing to face the fatigue, we need to have a look and say ‘What needs to be adjusted here?’”

So, if you find yourself struggling to make a decision, no matter how small, know it’s not because you’re lazy. You may just have decision fatigue, so go and give yourself a break.

For more information on decision fatigue, try this.

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