Are You Suffering From Decision Fatigue? (Plus What to Do About It)

Decision FatigueThe world is a maelstrom of choices. From smartphones (iPhone or Android?), diets (Primal or Paleo or vegan?), cars (electric or gasoline, SUV or sedan?), health plans (PPO, HMO, or health savings account?), to entertainment (TV or Twitter or YouTube or Xbox or Netflix), we’ve never had more options from which to choose. This is supposed to be a good thing. It’s supposed to be liberating. Having more options is supposed to help us make better decisions. But in reality, something called decision fatigue gets in the way.

A recent study (PDF) examining the factors determining the outcome of parole hearings illustrates this concept. All the things you’d imagine determined a parole decision — the nature of the crime, history of the criminal, laws broken — had little to no impact on the outcome of the hearing. The likelihood that a criminal received parole depended primarily on one variable: the time of day the hearing was held. Early morning hearings were more likely to decide in favor of the criminal. Hearings held just before lunch were more likely to decide against parole. Immediately after lunch, it switched back: the judges were more likely to grant parole. As late afternoon approached, they again grew more likely to deny parole. What gives?

The judges were burning through their “decision capacity.” Making decisions is like using a muscle; you get fatigued. Granting parole is a harder decision because it takes more brainpower. If your decision muscles are exhausted, it’s easier (and safer) to assume guilt than it is to assess the evidence, make an informed decision about a potential parolee, and risk releasing someone who could commit another crime. As the judges accumulated decision fatigue, the easy, safe decision grew more and more attractive.

Another study found that decision-making degrades self-control and saps willpower. When subjects were forced to make a series of minor decisions about consumer goods (“Do you prefer the red shirt or the black shirt?”), they only lasted 28 seconds in a classic test of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can. Subjects who made no decisions lasted over a minute.

Consider what this means for you. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, wash your face, trudge to the kitchen for something warm and stimulating to drink, and find yourself awash in decisions that must be made.

Coffee or tea? Coffee.

Single-origin microlot Guatemalan light roast or organic instant French roast? Single origin.

French press or Chemex pour over? French press.

Bulletproof coffee, Primal egg coffee, black, or heavy cream? And so it goes. By the time we decide what to wear, which route to take the dogs on their morning walk, whether to eat breakfast, what to eat for breakfast, whether to bike or drive to the office, whether to dive right into work email or mess around on Facebook, where to go for lunch, we’re exhausted. And by the end of the day, we’re making poorer choices. The cookies at the checkout line are harder to resist. Take-out sounds better than cooking dinner. Vegging out in front of the TV beats Scrabble with the spouse. If we get around to working out, we probably won’t go as hard or last as long. The infinite freedom of endless options has degraded our ability to make good decisions and exercise self-control.

All those choices can also paralyze us, preventing us from even making a decision. A classic study (PDF) from Columbia University gave upscale grocery store customers the opportunity to sample gourmet jams from one of two rotating displays: a booth featuring 24 different jams and one featuring just six. The larger display was more enticing, attracting 60% of passers-by, while the smaller booth brought in 40%. On average, customers who stopped sampled two jams, regardless of the size of the display, and every person received a coupon for a dollar off a jam purchase.

But when the time came to make a purchase, just 3% of the customers at the booth with 24 jams actually bought one, while 30% of the customers who’d visited the smaller display bought jam. Having two dozen jams to choose from might have looked and sounded great, but all those options were debilitating. The more options they had, the less likely they were to choose one.

I’ve got a friend, a desk jockey type, who got tired of being really overweight, tired all the time, and unable to move freely without discomfort. He went Primal, bought the books, and lost the weight. He feels better than he has in years. But here’s the thing: he can’t cook. He achieved his transformation entirely with boiled eggs, Primal Fuel, and prepared Primal-friendly foods. It’s not a sustainable way of going Primal and he knew it. So he decides he’s going to learn to cook – to fend for himself. He scours the blogs to determine the best cookware, the best kitchen gadgets, the essential spices, and anything else pertaining to cooking Primal fare.

After a month of research, his Amazon cart has hundreds of items. Several different pressure cookers, three types of roasting pans, frying pans, mason jars, you name it. Everything a home cook could ever want or need. Every product ever mentioned on Nom Nom Paleo. Enough to supply a commercial kitchen several times over.

Two months later, I ask him how his new lifestyle’s going. What’s his favorite dish to cook? What kind of cast iron skillet did he spring for? I can’t wait to see his progress, and maybe even taste it. Turns out his Amazon cart is still full. He’s made no purchases. He’s paralyzed by analysis of the myriad options.

A month later, he’s finally made the purchases and his kitchen is stocked, but he’s stuck on another set of choices. What cookbook to buy? Which brand of pastured chicken is best? Should he roast the chicken with high heat or braise it at a lower, gentler temperature? It never ends.

His is an extreme example, but it’s a real one, and it illustrates the point made in the Columbia study.

That’s one reason people find the Primal Blueprint to be so powerful: it automates certain aspects of your life. It’s a framework for making decisions, so the deliberation time is reduced or even eliminated. You no longer have to waste time and cognitive capacity on daily decisions (what to eat, whether to exercise, how much sleep to get) because that’s been laid out. You avoid paralysis because there are fewer choices, and many of them have already been made for you. There’s wiggle room for personal variability, of course, and you’re free to geek out on the minutiae, but the big picture items are covered.

For every decision we make about health, lifestyle, sleep, training, food, the Primal Blueprint provides a frame of reference. We’re not starting from ground zero. Instead of agonizing over that package of cookies by the register, you don’t even consider buying them because they’re made of grains, refined sugar, and processed seed oils. You don’t even have to really think about it.

That said, it’s just a framework. It doesn’t solve everything, and if you feel like you’re suffering from too many decisions and you’re making bad choices on the decisions that really impact your life (work, relationships, health), I’ve got a few suggestions that may help.

Make rules for yourself. Stick to them.

Rules help because they eliminate decision making. Rules like eat 60 grams of carbs or less per day, eliminate all refined sugar, stop eating fast food and soda, or eat 50 grams of protein every meal are effective for weight loss not only because they improve your metabolic health but because they automate your diet. A few rare birds even do well by setting ironclad calorie limits (1600 calories a day) and sticking to them no matter what. If you have no more calories left for the day, you “can’t” eat dessert. There’s no decision to make.


Deciding what color of sock to wear in the morning when you’re rushed and you have a full day of momentous decisions ahead of you is a waste of time. Lots of fairly successful people wear or wore, for example, the same thing every day to eliminate unnecessary decision-making. Steve Jobs and his black turtlenecks. Barack Obama and his suit(s). Mark Zuckerberg’s T-shirt and hoodie. This is harder to pull off when you’re not a billionaire CEO or leader of the free world, but you can still automate parts of your life. Like:

  • Breakfast: Know what you’re going to eat for breakfast every morning. Even better, eat the same thing every day. Or don’t eat at all; that works, too.
  • Clothing: Plan what you’re going to wear the night before.
  • Morning routine: A powerful benefit to morning routines (that I didn’t mention last week) is their ability to streamline your day. Rather than rushing around in a frenzy first thing in the morning, making decisions (often rashly) and using up a ton of your decision capacity, you spend the first part of your day in a beautiful decision-free state.

Plan meals for the week.

If deciding what to cook is a stressful choice, don’t wait to the end of the day to hit the grocery store and wing it. Every Sunday (or whatever day you consider to be the start of the week), figure out what you’re going to eat, and when. Decide all at once, so it’s one decision rather than many.

Heck, if you can swing it, actually cooking meals ahead of time can further reduce the amount of brain power you devote to food.

Narrow your choices.

We waste a lot of time eliminating choices that we were never really going to consider in the first place. One of the worst experiences is killing time trying to decide where to go out to eat. You hop on Yelp, use an asinine search term like “food” or “restaurant,”  type in your ZIP code, and get dozens of results — none of them satisfactory. You spend unnecessary decision points winnowing the results down to something you actually want to eat. Instead, figure out what cuisine you want before searching.

Remove your choices.

If you want to workout more often but have trouble actually deciding to do it, hire a trainer or get a workout buddy. When you have a responsibility to someone else, or your hard-earned money is at stake, you’ll be obligated to attend and the decision will be made for you.

Make the most important decisions early in the day.

Those decisions you’ve been failing at lately? Handle them earlier, when your decision muscles are well-rested. This could mean grocery shopping in the morning instead of after work.

Flip a coin.

You know those agonizing decisions that don’t even really matter, like whether to buy collard greens or kale for dinner tonight? Those decisions where you fully admit that either choice would be perfectly adequate, yet you still can’t pull the trigger? When you find yourself in this situation, deliberating over errata, just flip a coin. Literally: take a coin out, assign values, and flip it.

Let go.

The perfect choice doesn’t exist. The idea that it does exist is the enemy of even approaching perfection. Good is good enough.

Avoiding decision fatigue and decision paralysis aren’t just important for making better choices, being more productive, and “winning” at life. They’re also crucial for simply being happy, reducing stress, and removing mental clutter. One of the sharpest double-edged blades of being human is our ability to think about thinking, to analyze and overanalyze, to weigh the pros and cons and be weighed down by them. If we can eliminate any extraneous decision-making and analysis by planning, routine, automation, and maybe even relinquishing a little control, I think it’s a good idea to do so.

What about you guys? Does this post resonate with you? Do you suffer from decision fatigue? How are you currently handling it? Let me know down below!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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72 thoughts on “Are You Suffering From Decision Fatigue? (Plus What to Do About It)”

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  1. There is a great TED talk on this subject called the Paradox of Choice. Watching it a few years ago really helped me understand the quarter-life crisis I was going through (and why I was unable to commit to a career, partner, etc.)

  2. I’ve never commented before but I identified with this to such an extreme that I felt I needed too. I rationale all my choices to death and in the end am usually at a standstill. I don’t have any solution or insight to add other than this is a great article and I’ve decided that all my decisions moving forward will be as automated as possible and not be an all consuming process.

    1. Yeah this is totally me too, but for some different reasons NOT stated in the article. The trouble is every time I go to buy something, like a Bed, Car, computer, food, etc there is a fear of making of mistake, since so many times we get ripped off these days! I spent 2K on a bed 10 years ago, it only lasted 3 years, it was top of the line Sealy! Guess how long it took me to buy the new one? Choices can really bog you down if you let them, but so can information overload when buying something new, and the fear of being ripped off yet again too.

      I was hoping article was going to mention practical solutions for some of these, but it really only talks about rules as pertaining to food.

      1. Another thing is just trying to figure out what is the “truth” too. There is so much deception out there its just horrible to deal with. Like trying to buy a Water Filtration system, which are best? RO water is acidic, Distilled has no minerals, it just goes on and on, arguments for both sides, 3rd party websites are not actually 3rd party they have an agenda.

        Colloidal Silver, is it good for you, harmful? Which one to buy, everyone says their technology is best, pros and cons to each, and on, and on.

        It really is frustrating, that there are often times no clear answers or winning decisions, and that the truth can be obscured so easily all in the name of money, often times Big Pharma and FDA are the greed behind it, but it runs deep everywhere really.

      2. I’ve finally dumped my perfectionism in favor of good enough. I make a list of must haves–automatic transmission, power windows, space for my mobility scooter, etc.–then I buy the first well rated one I come across. Done. Better to have three years of a decent bed than to have three years of a crappy bed while you try to decide what’s best.

  3. Indeed. This is the same rationale Mark Zuckerberg uses for wearing the same t-shirt every day.

  4. I’m a big believer in this. This is the biggest power of routines–that you skip the part where you are negotiating with yourself.

  5. Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed cookbook has a great section on ‘hot plates’ where you keep the staples of paleo meals in your fridge – i.e. cauliflower rice or spaghetti squash as the base, add protein, veggies and different spices and you can turn it into ‘mexican’ or ‘french.’ Great for dinnertime decision fatigue since it’s all there in your fridge!

    I eat the same breakfast every day and thought I’d post it in case it appealed to others: breakfast nori wraps.
    1. Beat two eggs and pour into a large frying pan so it’s one thin layer – cover so it fries/steams for 1 minute. When done, cut in half and place each half on a piece of nori, add a handful of spinach and roll up. Dip in spicy Siracha homemade mayo and eat. The whole thing takes 3 minutes tops to make.

    1. I was thinking of Melissa and her blog as I read this as well! I used her strategy for my last Whole30 and it made (mostly) everything so effortless to do a big cook up on Saturday or Sunday. It’s just enough flexibility (and choice!) to not overwhelm you. She’s a great resource and has great recipes!

  6. Perhaps this is part of the reason why so many professional athletes have “rituals.”

    Beyond the superstition involved or placebo, maybe creating rules and pre-game habits for themselves helps them reduce the amount of decisions they need to make on game days and allows them to get to their match a lot more focused and energized.

  7. Decision fatigue is one reason some people (like me) have a hard time adjusting to retirement. The ability to create a routine for one’s self — as opposed to the workplace creating it for you — can be liberating or paralyzing. Thanks for this post.

    1. Exactly what I am struggling with now. Even with simple things like housework, the need to get it done around work forces you into a routine. Without that, it is hard to get motivated to get anything done. Let alone the big questions, like whether to sell up and live in the caravan, or move, or stay put…… Too many options and no deadlines is proving to be a major problem.

  8. Excellent article. I have been trying to automate my life and hone my processes for a long time. People ask if I get bored doing the rinse, wash and repeat lifestyle. I tell them I like it and I can find better things to occupy my mind. It also helps being lazy as all get out 🙂

    1. GP, it’s a fact that lazy people are the most productive because we find the simplest way to get the job done with the least amount of effort. I claimed that attribute years ago! I am all for routines.

  9. For what it’s worth, I spent much of my career in criminal justice research, including parole decision-making. Those states that have eliminated parole boards in favor of some form of determinate sentencing (based on sound principles like proportionality) are on the right track.

  10. I was having a hard time working out when I was trying to save money and work out at home. It worked for a while but I just got out of the habit. I decided to take the New Years advice from Mark about putting money toward self-improvement and pulling the trigger on paying for a class. If I pay for something I go. And I wanted it close by to eliminate another reason for not doing it. So I joined the yoga studio two houses away. No excuses! It was snowmageddon here in OKC but I made it to 6am yoga! I took away all the reasons for not doing it so now it’s automatic except for just looking up the schedule the night before and seeing which class to attend. I also have simplified my meals. I have scrambled eggs or leftover meat with greens or whatever leftover veggies. I make a very large piece of meat once a week and eat it till it’s gone, then I only have to worry about making a side.It’s much simpler that way. I change things up for my daughter sometimes when I can tell she’s bored. But otherwise simplicity is the key.

  11. “Analysis Paralysis”. It can be a serious source of stress.

    Choices, choices everywhere and not a one can be made.

  12. Interesting… I did a diet experiment last week and wrote the results on my blog. Basically I did a Primal/Paleo inspired diet where I ate the same meals for a week straight. While there were a few downsides (lower calorie than I would prefer), the benefits vastly outweighed them. I didn’t realize it until you wrote this article, but part of the reason for the success was the minimal amount of thinking and decision-making I had to do throughout the week. I made my plan Friday and just ate the same snacks/meals each day the following week. There was no fretting or extra analyzing required. Like the hand in the ice bucket, I could last the entire week because I wasn’t making any decisions.

    Very insightful Mark!

  13. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Fermented cod liver oil? Cinnamon or plain? Regular cod liver oil? Lemon, peach, strawberry or plain? Wait a minute. Regular cod liver oil frequently has synthetic Vitamin D added to it. Is that bad for our health? Should I maybe just suck it up and eat liver? There is a big hunk of liver in the freezer. I hate liver! I might like liver pate, but the thought of making it makes me gag. Maybe I should try dessicated liver capsules? Now wait. Should I take fermented cod liver oil AND liver? Or will that be too much Vit. A? Perhaps I should take them on alternate days or just once in a while? Maybe I should get my Vit. D levels checked again. Does cod liver oil even provide a dose of EPA/DHA or whatever important thing I’ve decided is crucially missing from my diet?

    I resort to wearing very similar things just to simplify the smaller things because I do get very overwhelmed by indecision.

    I often wonder if this kind of nagging indecision or feeling that one choice might be “right” stems from our education system that is set up to penalize “wrong” choices in the form of multiple choice questions. If you have four options, one of them is clearly “right.” Unfortunately, in real life I seem to have a more difficult time erring on the statistically popular choice “C.”

    1. Hey wait!
      You didn’t give the answer to the cod liver oil dilemma!

      1. Now if I knew the answer to the cod liver oil dilemma, it wouldn’t all still be sitting in the cart at Radiant Life awaiting my final decision. I could go on with the list of indecisions though. The cinnamon flavor is fine, do not go for the chocolate gel butter blend stuff–that was just putrid, in my opinion. My kids will take cinnamon no problem. Now, whether or not they need it is a big question mark in my book.

        1. I have postponed and ultimately punted many a supplement decision for just the reasons you outlined. Will it work? Dose? Unacceptable excipients? On and on. And yes, cinnamon FCLO for palatibility (still chased with ACV) but does it work? Dunno.

      2. Oh, and how about probiotics?!! I could go on and on with deliberations with those. How many billion? L. this or L. that or maybe S. something? With FOS or without? Capsules? Chewables? Powder? This recommended kind that costs approximately two kidneys and a leg or the other kind that is only two kidneys? Soil based? With dairy or without?

        Thank goodness I make my own toothpaste and it works well enough that i never have to even approach the toothpaste aisle (a whole aisle!!) in the grocery store!

  14. I must admit that I spend a good amount of time planning my meals for the week. I generally cook on Sunday’s preparing a few simple chicken and beef dishes that I supplement daily with kale and broccoli. The behavior has become axiomatic and I look forward to the comfort of my routine.

    1. I sometimes do that as well and it does really help with the morning routine. When things are super crazy at night (3 kids), I will go so far as to lay out my clothes for the next day. Talk about a smooth morning!

  15. I’ve been eating the same breakfast every morning for the past three years (local pork sausage, steamed kale, and maybe a microwaved sweet potato). The automation makes my mornings so much more streamlined.

  16. Quoted in the book Supersurvivors:

    “Barry Schwartz, the Swarthmore professor, may have the solution. In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he proposes that when it comes to making decisions, people fall into one of two camps: maximizers and satisficers.”

    “Maximizers aim to make the best choice possible. They may invest enormous amounts of effort and time fastidiously gathering as much information as possible about each option, considering all the alternatives and weighing all the pros and cons. The difficulty is that in today’s world of almost boundless choices, the maximizer’s task is never done. There’s always more information to be gathered, more alternatives to be weighed.”

    “Satisficers, on the other hand, gather enough information to make a good-enough decision. Once they find an option that meets their needs, they stop and make the decision.”

    “There is a significant trade-off between these two problem-solving styles. While maximizers objectively make better decisions than satisficers, they’re less satisfied with their choices and often experience regret over the alternatives not chosen. Satisficers tend to be more content with their choices, though those choices may ultimately not be as good as the ones made by maximizers.”

    [Don’t let doubts and regrets about options not chosen torture you. A maximizer wants to have it all, but life goes on and time is short. Determine your few absolute `must haves’, find the choice that includes these, make the decision and move on with life and without regret.]

    1. Thanks that is me the maximizer through and through, guess I have be more trusting of the companies I buy from and just pull the trigger as they say, “without regret”. If it turns out bad, well, I guess the trade off was I spent much less time on it

  17. Lack of ability in making decisions is not the result of too many choices but of a weak will and an even weaker mind.

    It also reflects an individual’s self-valuation having been beaten into submission in order to appease others.

    1. Or what could also be the case… That you are required/challenge yourself to make important decisions throughout the day for your work or whatever else you engage in. Especially people with great determination are subject to having trouble with the ‘trivial’ choices and decisions of life.
      By no means do I mean health or food to be trivial, but it can be easily taken for granted.
      Personally, I have been paralyzed with regard to decisions towards my health lately. However, apart from this, it has made my daily hard-decision-making a lot easier.

      You make it sound very black and white.

  18. Analysis paralysis is basically the stumbling block of all inquisitive minds. Actual experience is the only key to breaking the cycle of anxious over-thinking. When you DO you can’t get lost in the cycle of THINKING about doing. When you take action you force yourself into making quick decisions while you act, which inevitably eliminates the self defeating mind manifestations that lead to nowhere.

  19. In the words of Tony Soprano… “More is lost from indecision than from wrong decision.”

  20. This is totally OT, but my primal mayo arrived this morning and I’ve already had tuna salad – this is definitely a 5-out-of-5 Nom product! Thanks!

    1. I made egg salad and salad dressing with the Primal Mayo. It’s awesome.

    2. Mine froze and broke its emulsion in transit. 🙁 Trying to find a way to fix it.

  21. So, and I’m not being snarky here, I wonder if our societal gluttony (things, food) could be traced back to two points: the point where the number of choices became overwhelming (how to decide between 26 jams!) and the point where being right mattered more than learning (multiple choice rather than show your work)? If there is a fear of making a wrong choice, whether fearing missing out or fear of not being good enough to be considered acceptable, then are people just refusing to choose in our “I want it all” society? Is quantity over quality really the face of decision fatigue?

    I have always maintained that CrossFit suited me because, as a stay at home mom of three with a husband overseas, I was responsible for deciding so much, I just wanted to show up and be told what to do. My only decision is/was do I go on any given day.

    I also joke that my OCD tendencies are how I function in an ADD world. Maybe I’m not cognitively too far off the mark.

    Great post! I’ll be mulling it over for a while.

  22. Great post! This has been on my mind for the past few months, and every day I feel like I’m subjected to a great deal of analysis paralysis. And for me, it mostly has to do with finding my passion (mostly in a career sense). Here’s an example that illustrates what usually happens: one of the ways I try to find an interest is going to a bookstore and buying a book that seems to spark my interest. However, after reading only a chapter or two, something new appeals to me, and I drop the old book in favor of a new one. If I had a name for this mentality, I’d call it interest ADHD. It’s really tough, because I’m not sure if I’m just easily distracted or not interested. The real question for me is: how do I know I’ve tried something for long enough to know that I don’t have an interest in it so I can move onto something else?

    1. My mother is a doctor and a fairly intellectual dabbler in psychology, sociology, art history, film and linguistics. When I was a young girl and didn’t want to “quit” reading a boring book, she said, “Never finish an uninteresting book (unless for a class). There are just too many good books in the world.”

    2. Matt, you might want to read “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher. I don’t know if you will see yourself in what she has to say but…maybe.

  23. I find I do this A LOT!! Although with regards to food I recently started one of those Ingredient delivery services. I find I just pick meals (always primal friendly options) so then I don’t have to decide what to cook, what to buy or how to cook. I love it bc of the NO THINKiNG part of it.

  24. I have a very hard time to stick to a routine because I find routine a prison. Eat the same breakfast for more than 2-3 days in a row? Not really. I can do it if necessary (as a backup) but it takes away the pleasure of eating. And the same for all the rest, like a fixed wake up / sleeping time, a predetermined cleaning schedule, a fixed shopping day, regular mealtimes.
    The problem with this is that I have a young child and this is the right time to introduce a routine, I really cannot delay it much longer.
    Is anyone in the same situations? Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Yes, routine as a prison sounds about right. I usually forget regular mealtimes, and eggs every morning sucks. So I don’t know if you want suggestions how to give routine to kids.. With that I can’t help though.
      But what I have done the last 2 weeks is cutting up all veggies I buy as soon as I buy them. Then just stuff them in glass jars and put them in the fridge. And when you have some time on your hands, just cook and shred a chicken (whenever possible). Or brown ground meat. Much easier to decide what to eat every day, because you don’t have to decide between prepping all your veggies AND cooking them or to just get take-out. Just toss everything in a pan. Faster than heating your oven and throwing in a frozen pizza.
      Maybe you could introduce a fixed sleeping time for your child, but let them wake up by themselves? They get part of the routine, but also the benefit of sleeping until not sleepy anymore.

    2. It helps to remember that routines/habits replace the need for willpower. It’s like exercise – after 3-6 weeks you don’t have to use willpower to do it. You are relying on habit. I think that is very freeing, not a prison sentence, Also, for meals you can have the same thing every Monday, a different thing every Tuesday, etc. That way you aren’t making a decision each day but you aren’t having the same thing every day either.

    3. You are speaking my language. I fretted over the “children must have routine” dilemma because I am exactly like you and knew I could never keep my children on a routine. Then I read some ‘child expert’ who said it wasn’t really a problem because you are consistently inconsistent, if that makes any sense.

      It is my opinion that life is about change and it does no harm to children to experience this and learn to deal with it from the beginning. Having said this, some children do better with a routine because it makes them feel more secure. I think my daughter thrived under no routine. I think my son would have preferred a routine but too bad, he got me for a mom. They are now both in their 40’s and have turned out just fine.

      If it doesn’t bother you that your child is not on a routine, I wouldn’t worry about it. Kids will be fine, either way. Feed them well, and provide a caring loving home. That is about all you can do.

    4. I raised 3 boys basically by myself as my husband spent months at sea. Routines don’t have to be rigid, they can be mini routines, similar to us going around the house the same way to lock up. I had a get to the school bus routine, breakfast only had a few choices. School uniforms are bliss. That’s another thing, too many choices for kids is just overwhelming. Pick a few choices you can live with and follow through with, offer them to the child to choose, then move on. For example, it’s cold, you would prefer the child wore a coat to town, so it’s “would you like to wear your coat or put it in your back pack”. Either way the coat goes, a decision has been made from simple choices, you nominate the coat, it’s up to him whether he wears or carries it. Saved my sanity, and gave kids a measure of control in their lives over quite a wide range of issues, simply by keeping options limited and doable. Good luck:)

  25. Matt, just wanted to offer support for your situation. I went through this type of thing many years ago, trying to “find my passion” in life. I read so many books and tried so many different work/career situations. Nothing seemed quite right. Still not sure I really did find a “passion” but I finally began a career which I at least felt “didn’t suck”.

    I stayed with it for 5 years before I was even comfortable, and as of today am still doing it (21 years later) and I really can’t say I would have called it my passion, but I also can’t see myself doing anything else, and I do miss it whenever I stop even briefly.

    I think for some of us, that my be as close to finding our passion as we ever get. I call that “good enough”.

    Wish you best of luck with your search!!

  26. So in short:
    Make a rut, get in, love the rut.

    Only get out when you want a change and then get back in. That way our thinking can be used for something else?

  27. I remember a study about consumers wherein some random buyers were allowed to return the product they bought and some were not allowed to return it. The people who could not return the product demonstrated more satisfaction with the product than the people who could decide to return it. As I recall that study was being related to relationships and the ability to divorce. People who didn’t feel free to divorce for whatever reason, were more satisfied in their marriage than those who felt that divorce was an option.

  28. If you can’t find a coin, flip a card. A friend and I do that often, although It’s usually to decide if we want to get another (non-Primal) drink before parting ways. 😉

  29. I can relate to this post, we have implemented all these strategies in one way or another, however leaving it to the flip of a coin is great concept. A friend’s daughter explored this in a short film which won an award at TropJR. If you have a few minutes it is entertaining and uplifting. Here is the web link

  30. You haven’t been spying on my Amazon shopping cart, have you?
    It’s full of cookware, books, cookbooks, ingredients, supplements, etc. that I “will” buy when I have the time to research them some more (and the $ to push the checkout button).

  31. Nice, been thinking of posting my first comment on MDA for the last 6 months or so! Finally doing it now after all the decision fatigue:)! Do I know that friend of yours:)?

  32. My professional and personal life collide! My employer suggests fatigue is the reason why we tend to procrastinate when it comes to making ‘responsible’ decisions (like saving for retirement) –

    this video explains it all – and how puppies can help with fatigue 🙂

  33. Really good article….too much choice really can be immobilising.

    With regard to those judges, it seems to me that they were definitely sugar burners. 🙂 🙂

  34. Wow, this is a great article. I’ve always felt bombarded with way too many choices, it’s stressful! Good to know about the jam for anyone going into business. Simplicity really is the best route.

  35. I didn’t have this problem in the past. Then I got divorced after a 13 year relationship and 6 months later my cat died. I realized that, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t responsible for another living thing. My only responsibilities were to show up at work on time every day and to pay my bills. So now, in my free time, I try to figure where to go, what to do (I live in Austin and the possibilities are endless), when to do it, who I want to do it with (if anyone), when to eat, when to sleep….and so it goes. I kind of miss the routine you settle into when you have obligations and responsibilities. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side, right?! Ah, the human condition!

  36. I live this drama. One of the reasons IF and Warrior Diet appeals to me. My family and career are full of real choices I must make and deciding what to eat sucks.

  37. There’s so much in here that I didn’t even realize that I already do, but it truly does make life easier. I have my morning ritual which I’ve had for a few months now, I eat the same thing for breakfast every weekday to avoid the stress of decision making and I also cook for the week regarding my lunch at work. That way I don’t have to worry about making something that afternoon for the next day, nor do I have to stress about where to go and what to eat when I get there.

    My workout schedule is the same thing every week (give or take a sickness here and there or an old injury flare up) and it helps to know where I can fit in other things. Having a schedule is truly something that makes my mind a bit clearer on a day.

  38. Yet another reason to embrace minimalism. Reduce, and you have fewer things to think about. Ever notice how Obama dresses? White shirts, ties match the suits of which there are only two colors. He does it for a reason. I have few clothes, one pair of each type of shoe, limited color choice in socks and on and on.

    1. Totally agree with this, I used to have so many clothes and shoes but would still dress in the ones which were most comfortable and went with everything (and required minimal ironing!) As far as choice goes though, I’d rather it be about food than which colour tights go with which skirt ….

    2. I would go insane! I like my choices of colors – well except for the limited shoe choice. I am one of those odd women who does not own a ton of shoes. But socks, that is a different story. In some circles, mostly early 20’s and younger women and girls, mismatched brightly colored/patterned socks are in style. This 45-year-old has embraced it as well. My 12-year-old daughter and I wear almost the same shoe size, so we share socks. We have A LOT of socks. And while I do like a huge choice of colors, I do have a basic “uniform.” I have the same style shirt in something like 10 different colors. Clothes and shoes are set out the night before.

  39. At my most restrictive diet, I was following an AIP/GAPS/low FODMAP approach. People often remarked how miserable and boring that must be, especially paired with the fact that due to my schedule, I cook once every 1-2 weeks and only make 3-5 dishes at a time, which make up nearly all of my meals for those 7-14 days. But in reality, it wasn’t a problem at all and somewhat of a relief to know exactly which vegetables I could buy each week (from car to car, my Whole Foods trips took less than 10 min), and know I would rotate through the same couple of meals in my fridge until they were gone, and then pull the next tupperware container out of the freezer, with little disregard for what my label said. Now that my repertoire has been able to expand, sure, it’s more fun and seed spices and eggs are delicious, but in times of stress, I still revert back to the simpler ways.

  40. Thanks for validating my laziness by calling it “resting my decision muscle”. Bacon and eggs every day!

  41. Anyone who finds this topic interesting should check out the following books:

    Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
    Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
    The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
    The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

  42. Okay, now I have “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen stuck in my head. Oh well, at least I like the song.

    This explains why, even though my husband is willing to give Primal a try, and I desperately want to do SOMETHING to help improve his health, and hopefully help with some of his mystery ailments, I have not been able to come up with a way to make it work. See, part of the problem is he’s got a lot of chronic pain, due to a torn quad muscle (complete tear) that was caught too late to repair. Worker’s Comp wouldn’t do an MRI until 3 months out. He’s got an old compression fracture in his back, and his back is deteriorating because he stands and walks a bit off because of the quad muscle and his weight. He’s got to eat something with his morning heavy duty pain meds. Trouble is, it’s got to be something he can leave out next to the recliner, and be protected from the cats. Some days it’s all he do to get out to the recliner to lay on the heating pads and wait for his back muscles to relax, which means an hour or more. But I quickly get overwhelmed trying to find something simple, that does not need refrigerated or heated, that I think he’ll actually eat! And he’s left it up to me to figure it out. And then there’s lunch. It’s got to be something he can just toss in the oven or microwave to heat. He’s not exactly a fan of salads, so that’s out. Plus when his pain levels are high (even on the meds) he has trouble with coordination, so it’s got to be easy to eat. Which is why he eats a lot of Pop Tarts, Hot Pockets, and pizza.

    I haven’t tried any of the great primal/paleo recipes out there because there are so many choices and I’m not sure what he’ll eat, and then there’s our 12-yr-old daughter. And I’ve never been much of a cook. I feel every bit as paralyzed as the friend mentioned above.

  43. I identified with this article as well. When I started my paleo/primal journey it was so simple – follow these rules and achieve results. I did have fantastic results (along with an exercise program). Yet, when I slipped up or went off a eating plan (because most of us do over the long-term), it’s always been a struggle to get back on the horse and commit.

    Do I eat as strict as Whole30? Or simply Paleo? Or Primal? Or just gluten free? Do I allow cheat meals? Am I 100% strict? Do I have pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? Will I be a terrible-no-good-person if I eat pie or will I be a normal person who allows flexibility? Do I eat out? Am I exercising to much? Do I row? Or do crossfit? Or do yoga?…. on-and-on-and-on.

    Yes I am often paralyzed by choice and end up many times be frustrated and no actions come of it. It’s nice to read this article and have some healthy perspective on the issue. It seems like many of us fall into a decision trap in the efforts to be proactive and healthy.

  44. I wasted almost an entire semester of my PhD on decision fatigue. I had so many different tasks I needed to accomplish but no deadlines and no one checking up on me to tell me what to do. The freedom was AWFUL. It sent me into regular panic attacks (which I haven’t had in years) and combined with other problems in my diet (the result of following primal advice designed for men) to make me an absolute nervous wreck.