Decision Fatigue. How to cope with 35,000 decisions a day by wearing the same clothes

Dyfrig Williams modelling the latest in Anti Decision Fatigue clothing -‘a strong look’
I’m scenario planning at the moment. Please reflect upon this situation. I walk into the office and someone says, “Chris, you filthy minger(*), that’s the same clothes you’ve been wearing for the last 5 days, you smell like a Pole Cat”. My response is as follows:

  • I carefully appraise their swanky outfit,
  • Slowly fill my lungs and say, “You’ve got it all wrong…”
  • “This is my ‘anti decision fatigue uniform’, carefully chosen to improve my decision making and reduce the cognitive load placed upon me. Look it up in the Mindfulness Section of the staff intranet”, followed up with…
  • “Oh, and if you don’t believe me, why do you think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and The Dalai Lama all wear/wore the same outfits every day? I’ll have you know it’s the secret of their success!”
  • I then stride purposefully to my stand-up desk.

Brilliant eh, but you may have spotted some flaws in this scenario:

  1. Jobs and Zuckerberg probably had/have enough money to own a set of clothes for every day of the year. 365 pairs of jeans – check, 365 Gap hoodies – check, 365 back turtle neck sweaters – check. You get the picture and that means they also avoid the ‘smelling like a Pole Cat’ situation.
  2. The Dalai Lama – I might be way off the mark here. Robes worn by a Nation’s Spiritual Leader and office garb probably aren’t a good comparison. Although, do check out the picture my former colleague Dyfrig (@DyfrigWilliams) draped in a conference table-cloth – a ‘good strong look’ as he might say. There’s a future in this I reckon.
  3. Jobs and Zuckerberg also come from work environment where it seems to be perpetual dress down Friday. That’s not what I encounter on most of my travels.
  4. Some people love to ‘peacock’. What to wear to the office is a competitive sport and they wouldn’t be seen dead without a different; perfectly matching, shirt and tie or shoes and handbag combo, every day.

We make 35,000 decisions per day.  There is a serious point to this. I’m aware of the idea that one of the consequences of modern life is that we are faced with huge amounts of data and information to process. This boils down to thousands of decisions and choices (Should I do this, or should I do that)? Just scroll through your Twitter feed for 5 minutes and have a think about how many decisions you made to read or not read a Tweet.

To cope with the huge volume of information and decisions, we have developed a series of ‘mental short-cuts’ and other coping mechanisms. It is the impact of these short-cuts and coping mechanisms that I’m interested in; but I’ll have to get around to that in the next post. What I want to focus on is numbers and scale for the moment.

35,000 is a big number, particularly if you look at it from the perspective of making that many decisions every day – it’s over one per second. The thought of that alone is mentally exhausting!

There is plenty of debate about whether this is the right number. It depends upon how you define decision (how much thinking do you need to do before you act) and where is the boundary between conscious and unconscious thinking. It is worth having a look at this video ‘How many decisions do you make per day?’ from @Dominating Drew for a more detailed explanation.

Avoiding Decision Fatigue. With such a huge number of decisions to process every day it’s not unreasonable to think that we might get ‘tired’ or ‘decision fatigued’. We become less effective at making decisions after a long day, particularly if it’s involved lots of tough thinking to inform the decision making.

There are some really interesting consequences of this that range from;

  • Judges being more likely to free prisoners early in the day, compared to other times;
  • Impulse purchases (close to the checkout) after a long shopping trip to the supermarket; and
  • Reckless behaviour late at night from Chief Financial Officers, after a hard day decision making.

It is worth reading this article on Decision Fatigue, and some of the articles it refers to. They might be helpful if you ever have to explain some ‘late night reckless behaviour’……perish the thought!

What has this got to do with wearing the same clothes every day?  Apparently, some people who are faced with many and difficult decisions on a daily basis, choose to reduce the decision making burden. This involves having no decisions to make about – what do I wear today? It’s easy, the same as yesterday, and the day before, and tomorrow.

Interestingly it is ‘powerful men’ that are mostly mentioned in this context. This UK Business Insider article specifically identifies Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (Simon Cowell has also been mentioned, thanks Kate Carr for that mental image of high waist trousers).  I do suspect that decision fatigue and issues around clothing also apply to powerful women, although there is the added pressure of what they wear being intensely scrutinised by the media. Alternatively, women might just be better at dealing with the ‘getting dressed in the morning’ challenge than most men?

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. We make a huge number of decisions every day. To deal with this we have developed many mental short-cuts and coping mechanisms (see the next post).
  2. Decision Fatigue is a consequence of a heavy burden of decisions making that we need to be aware of.
  3. Wearing the same clothes every day might be a coping mechanism to reduce your decision making load and fatigue. But do remember to change and wash then from time to time, you wouldn’t want to end up smelling like a Filthy Minger Pole Cat.

(*) Please note that ‘Filthy Minger’ is a phrase that is used locally, often as term of endearment. I should also point out that my colleagues would never say this sort of thing, it’s just a scenario.

About whatsthepont

The things I’m currently interested in are: 1.How people learn and share knowledge; 2.Social Media, Web2.0 whatever you want to call the world of the internet; 3.Better public services.

1 Response

  1. JONATHAN RICHARDS

    When I was training for general practice I had a time of real panic as I thought about how many decisions I had to make in each consultation: what questions to ask, what examination to do…. A senior colleague told me it was like learning to ride a bike. It would become routine and automatic. I resonated with Donald School’s insights about how people learn.

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