The average American Adult makes 35,000,000 decisions a day. Yes you read that correctly and all of these decisions take a toll on your cognitive ability.

“The mere act of thinking about whether you prefer A or B tires you out,” Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” says.

Good news and bad news is that most of these decisions are unconscious i.e. putting one foot in front of the other to walk or chew up and down after a bite of a sandwich-However, big or small that is a lot of decisions and studies show that the more decisions that are made the more diminished our cognitive ability is. So yes regardless of what time of day it is you can feel “fried” especially after a day (or morning) of multiple decisions.

How Our Brain Works With Decisions:

So how does our brain manage to make so many decisions? The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain used for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. In 2014, researchers in Switzerland discovered that the prefrontal cortex not only shows increased activity during decisions requiring self-control, but during all decision-making processes. In other words, we use the same amount of brain power (if not more) to solve a chemistry problem as it does to decide which shoes to wear. And too many decisions literally deplete your cognitive function and you can suffer from “Decision Fatigue.” Consider the battery on our smartphone. If you stream a video, play a podcast and make multiple downloads you could deplete the battery before lunchtime and if you allow your battery to get to 0% it takes longer to re-charge than if you plug it in at 50% battery life. Consider you brain is the same way-our brains can literally run out of batteries and it can happen more quickly the more decisions, self-control and critical thinking we employ. Each choice we make drains a little more from our mental reservoir. If there are days you know you’ll need to be at the top of your game, reduce the number of choices you need to make on those days. Here are some more tips to consider:

  1. Make your big decisions early in the day when your prefrontal cortex is fresh and be aware of others making decisions later in the day. If you are trying to land a big deal with your agent or new client forcing decisions at the end of the day may not be wise.
  2. Make sure you eat. Decisions are rash if you are hungry. Studies show more level headed decisions after breaks and having something eat.
  3. Be mindful and consider meditation. A 2013 study found that 15-minutes of mindfulness meditation can help people make smarter choices and actually can “reset” your mind.
  4. Create a uniform for yourself or simplify your wardrobe. Stick to specific colors or basic uniform of black pants and a shirt. It’s worked for Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerburg who all stick with a limited look (Obama even has a strategy of responding to most emails as “agree” “disagree” or “discuss” eliminating the extra brain power/decision making for an ideal response)
  5. Simplify your food choices: Set a weekly menu at the beginning of the week-it will make your shopping easier and evenings less stressful at dinner time-oh and guess what it will eliminate one of the 221 decisions we make just about food every day!
  6. Know your (and your business’s) core values. This can be a quick gate-keeping method to quicker decision making “Does this support my top 3 values?” If it’s a “No” then move on. Especially when we are tried we can spend excessive amounts of time and energy deliberating a choice. Having a clear understanding of your vision (and deeper why) can cut this decision making time in half (or remove the choice all together).
  7. Limit distractions. Noisy coffee shops and busy grocery stores all add additional stimulations and “decisions” for your brain to process. Less is more! If you’re tired, your brain is not as good at filtering out distractions and focusing on a particular task.

With all of this in mind, before you consider one of Starbucks 87,000 drink combinations (that’s actually a real number!) Know your set order before you walk in the door. You will have more energy and cognitive abilities as a result. Is there a way you can cut down some of your decision-making? What are you going to automate this week in your business? Your creative process? Your home? Share it with me at [email protected]

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  • Carrie D. Clarke, JD, ACC

    Carrie D. Clarke, J.D. is a Strategy Coach and Small Business Consultant helping individuals and entrepreneurs reach the NEXT LEVEL. Combining a background as an Attorney, M&A Risk Advisor, and International Management Consultant, Carrie has a unique and integrated approach to helping executive leaders, business owners, and high-achievers reach their goals and grow profits. Carrie is a regular contributor to Thrive Global, a Huffington Post publication, holds a certification from The International Coach's Federation (ICF) and is Certified Consultant with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Carrie is passionate about brain-science, strategic tactics, mindset and combining the three. Carrie grew up in Colorado and has lived in New Zealand, Guatemala, England and now back in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. Learn more at