Decision fatigue

In Preparation & Planning, Well-being & health by Carole Hallett MobbsLeave a Comment

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Decisions, decisions, decisions….

For most of us, it starts before we even get out of bed… should I get up straight away or hit the snooze button? What’s for breakfast? What shall I wear? Do I need a coat? Will I walk or drive…? The small decisions that we take for granted are seemingly endless. Studies on numbers are inconclusive – the suggestions range from 1000 to 5000 decisions daily – but being accurate doesn’t really matter; what matters is understanding that we make a LOT of decisions, many of which are subconscious, or at the very least easy enough not to cause problems.

The annoying thing is – you can’t swap one set of decisions for another, all you can do is keep adding them up. So, when we face something that is potentially life changing, such as expatriation, it’s little wonder that we start to feel overwhelmed.

Decision Fatigue is a real thing!

It’s a proven fact that people facing a larger than average amount of decisions, start to suffer from a form of mental fatigue, which ultimately impairs their judgement. Judges, for example, are more likely to hand out harsher sentences later in the day; doctors are more likely to miss something important at the end of a busy surgery, and corporate bosses often release bad news emails late on Friday afternoons. For those of you who thought that was just a malicious trick to ruin your weekend, think again; it could be a rushed decision brought on by mental stress and fatigue!

What are the symptoms?

Decision fatigue is different from feeling physically tired; you might think you’re full of energy and raring to go but with every decision you make, your brain becomes a little more fatigued and you lose a little more mental energy.

Once we reach this point, each subsequent decision becomes harder and harder; we start to feel frustrated and under pressure and may even find that our short-term memory is impacted. It’s that feeling when you walk into a room and have no idea what you were meant to do there, or when you find the kettle in the fridge amongst the lettuce and tomatoes; this is mental fatigue and left unchecked it can cause problems.

When we’re physically tired, we go to sleep and our bodies rest and recharge. Sadly, the brain doesn’t always take advantage of the downtime. Brains remain active at night and mull over all the lessons learned and decisions made during the day, which is why we dream and why we sometimes wake up in the morning still feeling exhausted!

Expats and decision making

Where do we even start? Making the decision to move overseas in the first place is huge and from that point on, the decisions simply don’t stop. Where to live? What school to choose? What do you need to take with you? Who to tell? When to tell them? How to tell them? And what to do with children and family members who may not share your enthusiasm for the new adventure?

It’s no wonder that expats suffer often from decision fatigue and that their mental exhaustion takes a heavy toll – from lack of energy, loss of enthusiasm, weight loss and depression to disastrous outcomes that are affected by poor judgement.

Making all these decisions becomes too much, especially when there are so many choices. And you may be afraid of making the wrong decision; especially if that decision affects other people. You start taking shortcuts; carelessly and impulsively deciding, “Oh, that one will do,” or “Nope, we don’t need that, I’ll throw it away now.” And you may regret these choices later.

Or you could be suffering from Analysis Paralysis – when you over-research, overthink and over-analyse every single aspect of a single decision; and then you find yourself unable to make any decision at all. Your brain says, “Enough!” and chooses the ultimate energy saver – shutting down and doing nothing. Which is not great when you fly out in a few weeks.

How can we avoid decision fatigue?

The truth is, when we’re facing a massive change in our lives we probably can’t avoid decision fatigue altogether – but there are some steps we can take to reduce the negative impact.

Making big decisions in the morning when the brain is as fresh as it’s going to get can help to avoid errors of judgement. Limiting your options is a great technique; do your research and narrow it to just a handful of choices for every major decision – choose from three schools, for example, rather than a city full of them! Take the easiest option wherever possible; choosing the job/house/school that are geographically convenient might mean compromising a little bit on your ‘perfect’ ideal, but think about how many decisions you’ll avoid making in the future.

Maybe the most important advice of all is not to beat yourself up if things go wrong – be kind to your brain and don’t ask too much of it. Rest when you can, learn to meditate and try to eat well. Take yourself away from it all for a while. Go for a walk, visit some supportive friends, go to the cinema. Try to switch off from the relocation planning and you’ll find it remarkable refreshing.

Everyone has the occasional lapse of judgement and makes a poor decision, but nothing needs to be forever; there is nothing you can’t change and nothing you can’t improve upon. Relax, take a deep breath and just take one decision at a time.

 

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