Decisions. More and more of them are thrown at us today than ever before. And in so many cases, we just don’t have the knowledge or information we need to make wise choices. In fact, we have so many decisions and choices to make that we’ve become immobilized. Making decisions seems like the hardest thing in the world! Let us help you find ways to break free of the dreaded decision fatigue.
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Remember how terrible we all thought 2020 was? I remember turning to my hubby, Don, on New Year’s Eve, and saying, “What if 2021 is looking at 2020 and saying, ‘Here. Hold my beer.’?” In other words, what if 2020 was just a warmup for 2021. We consoled ourselves that that couldn’t happen. And it didn’t. Not for us, at least.
Until March. When we discovered that our water heater was leaking. A lot. In came the workmen, and they discovered all manner of mold in all manner of places in our entryway…under the floor, in the walls, even under the subflooring. Thus began the unending repair process.
Because of Karen’s lung disease and the danger the mold was to her, Don sent her off to Erin’s house for almost two weeks. Enough time for them to tear everything out, deal with the mold, then get the subfloor put in. Then, when Karen got home, they’d pick out new flooring and it would be put down in a week or so. Well…you know that old saying “Man plans and God laughs”?
The day before Karen went home, they found the water damage was more extensive than they thought. And it impacted not just the entryway but the kitchen.
So instead of coming home to a mold-free house and having the fun of picking out new flooring, Karen found the entryway and kitchen cut off by plastic sheeting while they continued to work, tearing up the kitchen floor now. Good news, though. Don had saved a good portion of the flooring from the last time they replaced the kitchen floor, so at least we wouldn’t have to put a new floor in the kitchen. We chose a new floor for the entryway, which involved getting floor samples and taking them home and trying to decide which one matched everything best. Then it was Karen’s job to pack up everything breakable in the kitchen and figure out where to store it all.
Yes, it’s too late to make this long story short, so we’ll just hit the highlights:
- The workers ruined the piece of flooring Don had saved for the kitchen, so now Karen and Don had to choose new flooring for both kitchen and entryway. More samples brought home. More trying to figure out from those small samples what would look best.
- Finally, in June, the workers got all the new flooring in and were finished! Celebration! Then Karen and Don realized the new floor was darker than they thought it would be, so suddenly they were talking about and picking out possible counters and backsplashes! Do you have any idea how many types of counters and backsplashes there are?
- Think we’re done? Hardly. Two days after their new floor was in, Don found the kitchen and the dining room flooded. The workers had pinched the tube going to the ice maker in the fridge, and it burst. Now the kitchen AND dining room floors were both ruined.
- Karen and Don went to order more of the floor they’d just had put it their kitchen. It was out of stock. No idea when they’d have it. So they had to schlep more floor samples and choose a NEW floor for the kitchen and dining room.
- Once again, after putting everything back in place, Karen had to pack up things in the kitchen and now the dining room. Then find room in the house to store two rooms worth of furniture and stuff. If she never hears, “Where would you like me to put this?” again in her life, it will be too soon.
- The workers got the wrong color of paint for the dining room walls. They messed up the electrical so they had to bring in an electrician. And on and on it went, with Karen and Don having to make multiple decisions almost EVERY DAY
The job was finally, finally finished in late July, four long, decision-laden months. But by that time, Don and Karen were both dealing with:
Procrastination. No matter what a decision was, like what do you want for dinner or what shall we watch on TV, they both put off choosing. Karen had brain fog like never before.
Impulsivity. Karen would decide things by closing her eyes and pointing. If Don asked why she picked that one, she’d just shrug. She had no idea. She just wanted the decision to go away.
Avoidance. More than once Don told Karen, “I can’t deal with this right now.” Karen’s line was, “If I have to make one more decision, I’ll scream!”
Indecision. They’d waffle back and forth, then second-guess each other. And then snap at each other. Which brings us to…
Irritation. They were so mentally exhausted, if either one of them asked the other for something, it was like poking a tiger with a toothache.
As you may have guessed, Karen and Don were DEEP in decision fatigue.
As we were talking that over one day, we realized that while not a lot of you may be facing what Karen and Don did, thanks to the state of the world today, you’re probably facing your own nightmares of one decision after another after another. Studies have shown that decision fatigue is rampant. No surprise when you consider the countless number of decisions the Pandemic has brought our way. Should we:
Wear masks, go to the store, send our kids to school, homeschool, let people come over or don’t, go to work, find a place to work at home, which news sources to watch, to read, to trust, go to church or watch online, travel or don’t travel, and on and on it goes. Medical, family, and safety decisions abound, and we have to deal with them all!
That’s not all. Writers still have to make everyday decisions for their work and careers and story lines. I can’t even tell you how many online discussions I’ve seen with writers wondering if they should be honest about what they think on social media, how to deal with the censorship, should they address the pandemic in their books, what about cultural appropriation, will my factual historical storyline offend readers and should I change it, and on and on. And just when we think life is returning to normal, there’s a new crisis and MORE decisions to be made.
Not just that, but what about every new marketing idea or social media fad that comes along? Should you hop aboard or sit it out?
It’s no wonder so many of us feel like crawling under the bed and not coming out until we hear the trumpet call of Christ’s return. And it’s no wonder so many of us struggle with decision fatigue.
So what, you ask, IS decision fatigue?
In an article on Usatoday.com, Roy Bauimeister, the psychology professor at Florida State University who coined the term, explains, “It’s a state of low willpower that results from having invested effort into making choices. It leads to putting less effort into making further choices, so either choices are avoided or they are made in a very superficial way.”
Bauimeister adds in another article on Healthline.com that “decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.”
The Newport Institute, in their article called “Change Fatigue and Decision Fatigue,” defines decision fatigue as “a mental overload resulting from constantly having to make stressful choices.”
Basically, our minds have limited energy, and when we are constantly making decisions, we drain that energy to a dangerous level. Why dangerous? Because when we don’t have the necessary physical and mental resources, we often make decisions that negatively affect our lives—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—and the lives of those we love. Bad decisions can:
- Make us compromise our beliefs or convictions
- Damage relationships, both personal and professional. It’s too easy to be swayed into a bad career move when we’re tired or mentally bound up. I’ve known authors who, in the midst of uncertainties and fatigue, sign a contract that seemed perfect only to discover when they were more clear-minded that they’d made a terrible mistake. One they couldn’t undo.
- Leave us engulfed in anxiety, trying to figure out how to fix what we’ve done or caused
- Damage our reputation, personal or professional, making it hard for people to trust us.
- Have negative effects for years. In a devotional on insight.org, Charles Swindoll writes that, “Psalm 137 is the mournful song of a people enduring the grind of lingering consequences after a long history of bad decisions. The composer gives voice to the anguish of God’s covenant people, removed from their Promised Land, cut off from their birthright. As a band of Jewish POWs, they have been taken by the Babylonians into a foreign land.” Just read that Psalm and you’ll see that the Israelites’ poor decisions led them to years of imprisonment by other nations. And, as God warned them, their land was a desolation and a horror. They became servants to their enemies, all because they made poor decisions rather than following God’s leading.
Another factor in decision fatigue is that the days of operating on automatic pilot, making decisions easily because the situation is familiar or routine, have gone out the window. Everything is changed. Everything is unpredictable. Too often we don’t have the information we need, or we have too much information and it’s all conflicting, to make wise decisions.
Look at publishing. Editors are making decisions about historical novels based on “sensitivity” readers or readers’ “feelings” rather than on historical facts. We heard from best-selling novelist Tamara Alexander about that in podcast episode 130. Contracts are being cancelled and books and/or authors are being blasted, even threatened, for perceived offenses. Just recently author Karen Witemeyer was awarded the RWA’s Vivian Award for the best romance of the year “with religious/spiritual elements.” An award that was rescinded by the organization when people came after them and Karen for “romanticizing” the Battle of Wounded Knee. In reality, Karen wrote a moving story of how God redeems a man who took part in the horror of Wounded Knee. But the “people” have spoken, and so the award was rescinded.
The publishing world, both secular and Christian, has turned on its head. Some are calling censorship brave and necessary, embracing the very cancel culture it used to condemn. How on earth do we navigate THOSE stormy waters? Elizabeth Yuko, a writer and staff member at the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, expresses this well on USAToday.com: “We’re …making high-stakes, moral decisions…that have consequences we’ve never had to deal with before. These things come with such a moral weight on them, it comes with even more stress.”
So, decision fatigue is real. As are its consequences. In the Healthline.com article, “Understanding Decision Fatigue,” the stress over time of having to make so many decisions can lead to irritability, increased anxiety, depression, and cause physical issues such as tension headaches and digestive issues. It can cause us to shut down emotionally. It can create mental stress, hinder our ability to reason and process things, reduce our desire or ability to compromise and work for a win/win solution, and, not too surprisingly, lead to depression.
Now that we know what decision fatigue is, how do we know if we’re dealing with it? We talked about some of the signs already: Procrastination, Impulsivity, Avoidance, Indecision, Irritation, depression. Other signs include:
- Inability to focus
- Guilt for making poor decisions
- Impulse buying
- Fatigue that won’t go away
Does any, or even all, of that sound familiar? Yeah, it does to us, too. So what can we do about decision fatigue?
1. Take your struggle, and your decisions, to God.
Ask for peace, clarity, and wisdom. Remember Solomon? The wisest man who ever lived? In Ecclesiastes 7:12, he wrote: “Wisdom is a shelter…Wisdom preserves those who have it.” Don’t make important decisions without God’s wisdom.
Read God’s Word. Consider doing word studies on wisdom, rest, peace, knowledge, and other words you find calming and inspiring.
Trust God to lead you. As He says in Psalm 32:8,10, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”
2. Share your struggle.
Talk with those in your family about the issue. Be honest, and let them be honest as well.
Ask each other for help. Work together to develop a strategy to deal with decision fatigue. See how you can help each other in your places of weakness. If one of you loves to cook, that person can get input from everyone else to develop a meal plan for the week. If you hate deciding what to wear but one of your kids is a fashionista, ask for help choosing outfits for whatever events/appointments are coming up. Maybe you don’t even have to make that decision. That’s an important point to consider. Don’t make decisions that you don’t have to.
Talk with trusted counselors and seek their prayers and counsel. Remember how Moses couldn’t hold up his staff in Exodus 17? Aaron and Hur came alongside him and enabled him to do what God has asked. Let those you trust come alongside you, too.
3. Make a plan ahead of time for how you’ll handle decision fatigue when it hits.
Making a plan can take the pressure off when you’re feeling overwhelmed at having to make a decision. A good place to start your plan is with a primary question to ask yourself when you have to make a decision. It could be something like, “Which choice can God use to refine me?” or “Which choice will bring glory to God?” or “Do I need to be the one making this decision?” Work through the possible answers and responses until you have a workable “script” to follow.
Churchleaders.com gives a great suggestion to add to your plan: Resist. “Specifically, resist external pressures that might affect your decision-making that are motivated by such things as partisan politics, bad theology, fear, anxiety or personal felt needs. It’s not that some external pressures aren’t worthy of being taken into account; just never allow yourself to make a decision simply because of external pressure.”
4. Focus on self care.
Keep watch for the signs of decision fatigue. When you see them in yourself, admit what’s happening and take care of yourself.
Be sure you’re eating healthy.
Get the sleep you need. This includes naps. If you’re fading during the day, a nap can work wonders. If you can’t nap, take a short break. Do something that rejuvenates you.
Exercise. Exercise boosts endorphins, which make us feel more energized, and increases oxygen levels in the blood, which is imperative for thinking straight. The brain’s cells are hypersensitive to decreased oxygen in the blood. My dad always said if I was feeling tired, go for a walk rather than take a nap. I thought he was crazy until I tried it. It’s amazing how energizing moving and walking can be.
Develop routines to cut out unnecessary decisions (e.g., what time you’ll write, when you’ll go to bed, when you’ll get up, etc.) and maintain them. We’ll be talking more in an upcoming podcast about how to develop habits and routines. Because again, that can help you decrease the amount of decisions you have to make.
Don’t be afraid of wrong decisions. Know you do the best you can with what you know in the moment.
Step away. Give yourself time and space to think and pray things through. Don’t be rushed by the tyranny of the deadline. Consider Mark 6:31. Jesus and his disciples had been teaching and healing for days. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
Never underestimate the power of taking the time to recoup. To let your heart and spirit reset on what’s most important. Remember God’s words in Isaiah 30:15, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” Don’t be like the Israelites who wouldn’t listen to Him. Take His truths to heart and rest in them.
5. Focus on WHEN you make decisions.
Believe it or not, timing matters. Opensourcedworkplace.com shares a fascinating study done by the National Academy of Sciences back in 2011. Over 10 months they studied the rulings of over 10 thousand judges. What they discovered was that “the judges in a parole board who heard prisoners’ appeals early in the day were more likely to give a favorable ruling about 65% of the time. But as more and more decisions were made, with deliberations done over and over again, the chance of prisoners receiving parole in their favor dropped to almost zero. The researchers also recorded the judges’ two daily food breaks, and found that after the percentage of favorable rulings dropped to nearly zero, it jumped back to about 65% after each break.”
Food doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your brain. The glucose enables it to have the energy to think more critically. Daniel Kahneman talks about this as well in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.
In the case of the parole board, the judges decisions at times had nothing to do with the prisoners or the judges personal feelings. It was all about the timing. So, if possible, make your decisions in the morning after a good night’s sleep and after healthy meals.
God’s Peace and Wisdom to Overcome Decision Fatigue
We deal with so many strange things in the course of our lives as writers and believers. Where making decisions seemed easy, almost second nature, it can now become so overwhelming we’re frozen in indecision. But God doesn’t want you stuck in decision fatigue. He’s with you in every decision you have to make. He’s ready to guide you, to whisper truth and wisdom to your heart and spirit. Don’t let the craziness of the world make you forget that the God of the universe loves you unconditionally. And He offers you rest, peace, and wisdom. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:15-17:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do (or decide!), whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”Are you making decisions when you shouldn't? #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
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