Every time we make a decision, we pay a biological price. According to new research, even simple decisions like choosing vanilla versus chocolate take a toll on our emotional energy. This energy tax is cumulative, so by the end of the day it is no wonder that we may find we’re more impulsive or too exhausted to decide.
John Tierney, writing in the New York Times Magazine, explains that decision fatigue is “more than a folk concept or metaphor.” Experiments have confirmed
making choices of any kind, sap our willpower. “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts.” Those short-cuts take shape as impulsive behavior or doing nothing.
Tierney calls doing nothing ‘the ultimate energy saver.’ However, “ducking a decision,” he adds, “often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move.”
Decision fatigue, he continues “routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor.” He describes it as being “different from ordinary physical fatigue . . . [where] you’re low on mental energy.”
He notes that actually making a decision is the most fatiguing in the energy it demands, outweighing the pre-decision process and the post-decision action. It is no surprise then that so many people we see in the second half of life who face a health crisis want to just do nothing. “It preserves the status quo and eliminates . . . risk,” writes Tierney. “Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options.
Now consider what the older people in the midst of or just emerging from a health care crisis face. They are already exhausted physically and mentally. We recommend support and offer them choices. How we frame those choices, though, can make the difference as to whether they retract into indecision or they get the support they need to prevent further hospital readmissions and successfully recuperate.
As professionals, people count on us for guidance and support. They rely on us to identify where they may hit stumbling blocks like decision fatigue, and then provide the help to get them over those barriers.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How can we help patients and families make good, informed decisions when they count on us to help them get better?
- What guidance will help move them through decision inertia?
- As a professional, what responsibility do I have to help people overcome this decision inertia?
- How do I help people make decisions right now? Give them a list of options and let them do the research? Help them understand best fit options for them? Connect them with ongoing support?
- Am I overloading people with choices?
- Does the information I provide foster good decision-making or lead to inertia?
- How can I provide them with guidance to support them through decisions needed now as well as future decisions to help them reach their goals and avoid readmissions?
- How can we make the decision-making process easier?
For more support or information or to meet with a Life Care Manager, please call Lifesprk Navigation at 952-345-8770 or email us.