Should you hit snooze on your alarm clock or get out of bed now? What should you eat for breakfast? Will you take the train or bus to work today? These choices may seem small, but they add up fast: Between all of them (big and small) it’s estimated that we make about 35,000 decisions each day.

According to the Strength Model of Self-Control, making these choices doesn’t just affect the course of your day…it physically wears you down, leaving you with less willpower and energy—a concept known as “Decision Fatigue”.

Exhaustion is kryptonite to everyone’s confidence: Confidence requires energy to show up as your best and make smart choices…which simply isn’t possible if you’re depleted of resources and just trying to get by.
Why Do We Face Decision Fatigue?

Our brains get stressed when facing too many choices…especially between similar options. Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz has coined this phenomenon the “Paradox of Choice”; the paradox being that the abundance of small decisions actually paralyzes—rather than mobilizes—us to make choices that serve us.
How Does Decision Fatigue Affect Confidence?

Studies show that willpower and decision-making are linked, so the more energy we spend on decision-making, the less we have to make smart, confident choices.
Additionally, a study by psychologists, Shenhav and Randy Bucknerby showed that you’re more likely to doubt your decisions if you experienced anxiety while making them. (Self-doubt is another enemy of confidence.) So you’re less equipped to make confident choices when you’re tired, stressed and drained of resources (your brain gets desperate and opts for the “safest” choice—not the best one!). If you want to make a confident decision, make the process less stressful and draining.
How Can I Make More Confident Decisions?

Which decisions are actually worth your effort? If you find yourself deciding between similar options, zoom out and assess the stakes at hand: Will choosing one brand of toothpaste over another have a major impact on your life? If not, then it’s not worth your energy, time, and thought. Save those resources for a more important decision—and move on.

You’re more fit to make confident decisions earlier in the day; that’s when you’re most invigorated and have a fresh supply of willpower to work with. Time important decisions for when you know you’ll have the bandwidth to think through them. For example, you may not want to respond to a triggering email at 3 pm when you’re hitting your afternoon slump.

Reduce the mental lift by making small decisions easier—even automatic. Maybe you can prep tomorrow’s lunch the night before, or make enough food to have leftovers, so you’re not standing in front of the fridge in a hungry haze or an urgent rush. Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck and blue jeans every day because it was one less decision he needed to make. It not only saved him time and energy to reallocate towards more important decisions, but it also enabled overall more thoughtful choices. 

  • What everyday decisions make you anxious?
  • How can you take control of these decisions to reduce unnecessary traffic in your brain?

 Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for her research and editorial contribution to this post.