Why Smart People Have Trouble Making Decisions
Decision Fatigue is a genuine condition, but I have never had it explained to me until a friend labeled the problem I was having with my wife and me making numerous decisions on our house renovation. In hindsight, the number of findings was a little to handle, but their timing was.
My wife is in the medical field as an RN who supports numerous facilities, and I own a Financial Services Company with a growing staff and clients worldwide. And on any given day, we each have well over 100 decisions that we are confronted with, from hitting the snooze alarm to what to wear to breakfast and lunch, before work-related problems and solutions start coming at us. Many readers might say, “Well, I do that every day, and I don’t have that problem,” and they would be right. It is not the decision itself that we struggle with; it is the magnitude and the timing of the decision that can be the friction points.
For example, you are preparing to teach a lecture in the next 30 minutes, your cell phone rings, and it is your wife or mother or sibling, and a student is knocking at your door that you invited to stop by your office. In this case, if the decision was to get lunch after your lecture, it is simple because it doesn’t cause you to redirect your attention. Still, suppose the decision is what car to buy, where to put your retirement investments, or how to handle your sibling’s bad day. In that case, it requires more of or possibly your entire attention when you already have requirements on your engagement and, ergo, the problem.
Our lives have become crowded, and as we advance in our careers due to promotions or expansion efforts that come with being entrepreneurs, the demands on our time have certainly increased. For many professionals and faculty at higher education institutions, complex issues, intriguing questions from graduate and undergraduate students, pop-up meetings, and committee obligations are regular occurrences. The higher the advancement, the more influential the person, and the more demands on their time and mental focus are needed.
At some point, probably where the feeling of being overwhelmed or stretched too thin or any number of labels on the condition you might be feeling is, you may begin to experience decision fatigue. Decisions such as what you want for dinner posed by your spouse will have you stuttering or drawing a blank. Driving to work and being met with an accident but unable to visualize an alternate route is a sign of decision fatigue. Staring at your closet for long periods, unable to decide what to wear when there once was a time when that choice was made in a nano-second and without question, decision fatigue.
So, how do we fix it if we believe we have it?
Fixes to Decision Fatigue
A short-term fix lasting 1-5 days can be achieved by pulling out your calendar and removing or postponing one, two, or three obligations to another week. The sense of reprieve can offer up a feeling of respite and fix the mental constipation you are dealing with. If you need a longer-lasting approach because you have a heavier obligation requiring sustained participation, your solution must be different. Start again with your calendar and defer or delegate tasks that are lower in priority or responsibility to someone capable, even though they may think differently, or act differently than you do. Add a morning exercise routine that will allow you to clear your mind before the chaos and demands of your day begin. Meditate in the morning and even at lunch or midday intervals to help focus and refocus your attention on your tasks. A midday break for a walk can also free your focus and allow you time to reflect and refocus your attention.
I keep returning to your calendar because accomplished people all share a standard set of traits that have helped lead them to the level of success they enjoy. They are driven, and therefore, their ambitions can often overload their capacity to focus, OR they tend to block out everything to focus for long periods. They are ambitious and desire more, leading them to live their professional lives out of balance for periods. They understand and comply with time management, making their calendar the center of their ecosystem, and sometimes that becomes so rigid it can contribute to their anxiety and out-of-balance professional lives.
Most Decisions Can Be Changed
Realize that when you decide, most decisions can be adjusted. Most decisions you will face will not be life-threatening, but as an educated and accomplished person, you may feel like you cannot or do not want to fail, so you decide to make no decision, and that is where the problem persists. Paint can be changed, staff can be changed, and logos and websites can be adjusted, changed, and overhauled. Lights can be replaced, and cars can be bought and sold.
When you spend twenty or thirty years of your adult life attaining a level of understanding in a subject or pursuit, you become recognized as an expert. Someone who is accomplished. Someone who has succeeded in life and, as a result, does not make wrong decisions, right?
I have made so many wrong decisions that I have lost count. I still second, third, and fourth guess myself when I am putting together a plan, and it drives those around me up the wall, including contractors, colleagues, mentors, and staff. The problem is that we get in a rut of thinking and behaving, including but not limited to our decision-making process. We overthink simple into complex and then feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the decision. What makes us successful keeps us hostage at times.
If you take one thing away from this commentary, it should be that wrong decisions, like right decisions, are subject to change. Indecision also leads to embarrassing, regretful, and painful outcomes for intelligent, successful, and accomplished individuals. Pick a lane, decide, and be willing to make a change when you need to.