4 Ways to Make Tough Decisions a little bit easier

by kyle maynard on October 19, 2012

As the political season is hitting its fever pitch, we’ve been reading a lot about the two candidates. While this post is in no way political, I did read an article about Obama that really got me thinking. No matter what side of the aisle we sit on, I think everyone has to concede that being the President is not an easy job. Major, and I mean major decisions must be made everyday, often without all of the information, that will affect millions (possibly billions) of people.

Talk about pressure.

And while most of us do not have to make the decisions that could send soldiers into battle or affect the global economy, we all have to make important decisions on a daily basis. Maybe we have to decide on the next product to release in our business, or if we should refinance our home, or what job offer to accept.

And everyday, on top of those major decisions, we are faced with thousands of smaller decisions. What should I eat for breakfast? Hot coffee or iced coffee? Paper or plastic?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the problem of choice and how having too many choices can actually make us less happy (i.e. shopping for a pair of the ‘perfect’ jeans at the mall). There is no perfect pair. And the more pairs we are exposed to, the less perfect we believe our choice to be.

What happens when you not only have to decide about which jeans to buy, but which credit card to put it on, which podcast to listen to in the car, which roads to take home to avoid traffic, what to cook for dinner, what to watch on tv, etc.

As it turns out, being bombarded with decisions (big or small) can have major consequences in our lives.

Scientists are learning that our ability to make decisions works just like any other muscle in our body. It gets tired. In fact, it has even been given a name. It’s called decision fatigue.

Recently, one of my best friends got married, and I was talking to him and his new wife about the process of planning the wedding. It was a stunning wedding, but boy did they have some long days planning it.

The number of decisions you have to make in planning a wedding are seemingly endless. You have to decide on the church, the reception, the day, the time, the flowers, the cake, the DJ, the dress… and on and on.

Then there are a million smaller decisions to make as well, and my friend admitted to me that sometimes he would just be too exhausted to make any more decisions. He would ask his soon-to-be-bride if she could choose for him, or he would just pick something seemingly at random.

This is classic decision fatigue and when this happens in our lives, just like with my best friend, we do one of two things.

  1. Give up and pass the decision-making responsibility to someone else.  OR….
  2. Just pick something without any thought.

Even the best decision-makers in the world suffer from this. It may not really matter in the grand-scheme of things if your wedding cake has vanilla or cream-cheese frosting, but there are decisions that we make that do matter. Like who we marry, for instance. They matter a lot and it is of critical importance that we are not emotionally and mentally fatigued when we have to make them. 

In a recent NY Times article, John Tierney describes a real-life example that makes life altering decisions- serving on a parole board. These are people that were required to decide if prisoners were granted freedom or not. After analyzing the statistics, what they discovered shocked me. They found out that prisoners who came before the board in the morning received parole about 70% of the time. The prisoners who came in the afternoon? They received parole about 10% of time.

That’s insane!

They looked at all kinds of data to make sure there weren’t other factors at play. Did the morning prisoners commit less violent crimes? Were they of a different race or ethnic background? After looking at the data, there was no statistical difference. In fact, two people approached the board on the same day who were convicted of the same crime, were of the same ethnicity, and had the same sentence. The guy who appeared in the morning was granted parole while the one who came in the afternoon was denied. There is no conspiracy or bias or malicious intent here. It’s a simple result of decision fatigue. The board members were simply exhausted at the end of the day, and chose to just make the quick and easy decision.

Now what can we learn from this? How can we make sure this doesn’t happen in our own lives?

I have 4 of my own ideas to improve our decisions, and therefore, our quality of life. But I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on whats helped you make important choices.

1. This may seem pretty obvious, but we can start by not making major life or career decisions when you we’re mentally drained. We need to make sure we are well rested. If you’re running on 3 or 4 hrs. sleep and dependent on caffeine to get through the day, make sure you get some shut-eye before contemplating the big ticket items. Personally, I feel much more effective and confident in my choices and actions when I get good sleep, even if that means spending less time doing something.

2. Hunger can also lead to decision fatigue since our brain runs off of glucose (aka blood sugar). So you don’t want to be making these big moves on an empty stomach. And if your diet is heavy in sugar or grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc), then your blood glucose levels are probably going to be less stable in general. Eating a diet that’s balanced correctly for you with a variety of lean meats, green & multi-colored veggies, some fruits and healthy fats such as those from nuts & seeds can go a long way in combating decision fatigue.

3. Whether you believe me or not, we’re almost all at our best in making choices earlier in the morning. I don’t traditionally consider myself a morning person, but the further we get into the day, the more decisions we face, and consequently, the more fatigued we can become. Think about each decision as being like doing one sit-up at a time. It might not be too hard for those first few, but gradually with each repetition it will get harder and harder.

But sometimes we do have to make big decisions late in the day. What can we do then? Well this is what I found so interesting about President Obama. Every morning, he makes sure that there are only two suits in his closet- a blue one and a grey one. A President is required to make important decisions all day every day. He can’t schedule when emergencies happen. So he also tries to limit the mundane decisions to save his energy for the important ones.

4. In my opinion, this final suggestion may be most important of all. We must ask ourselves “Is the decision I am making one that I feel strongly about or is it one that I feel I “should” make because of family, co-worker, peer or societal pressure?” We are all capable of being overly influenced by people, factors and forces outside of ourselves. And it can happen in many different ways and at different times in our lives. But it is critically important we know where these influences are coming from and how they are affecting us. For the truly important decisions we make in our lives, it’s O.K. to be given guidance, but we need to be good with the choices we make ourselves. It’s not enough to do something only to make someone else happy.

Take a look at this excerpt from my friend Randy Gage’s new book that launches this week, entitled “Risky is the New Safe” (http://www.randygage.com/riskyisthenewsafe/)

“When I was growing up, my mom told me to go to school, earn a degree, and get a job with a big company – then I would be set for life. That was the safe thing to do, and millions of other parents around the world were telling their children to do the same thing. 

“Today, however, that might be the riskiest thing you can do…

“Fortunately, I was expelled from high school, so I never got a chance to follow my mother’s advice. And not following that safe path has made me a very rich man.”

Randy’s life would have been much different had he taken the route his mother, and probably most of society, would have advised. But because he made his own path and took risks others would have warned him against, he’s been able to touch hundreds of thousands of lives. Randy is one of the best speakers on the planet and the only mentor or coach I’ve ever had in public speaking. And I am personally grateful he never bought into the lies when people said he’d be a failure if he didn’t take the normal route.

And there are different paths for all of us. No one can truly make a judgement one way or another for someone else on a decision like the importance of going to school. That’s something we need to decide for ourselves.

But I know for certain my path in life would have been much harder had my parents believed it when people told them I would be dependent on their help forever. They asked the question “why can’t Kyle lead a normal life?”

What about you, what factors and forces outside of us are weighing too heavily on your decision making? Is knowing what these influences are enough to change your path and take a risk? How about in your health, are you preparing yourself with good enough rest and nutrition to make the tough choices?

And what decisions are you making everyday that aren’t important and may be weighing you down? Is it possible to limit those decisions or make them ahead of time? What do you think about restructuring your day so you deal with the important issues first?

This week, lets all try to make one tiny change in our schedule or routine that could help us become a better decision-maker. I would love to see what that change is for you in the comments below.

The important thing to remember is that everyone makes bad decisions. I am no different and I could spend a long time writing out the wrong choices I have made. It’s a part of being human. The most successful people I know, however, can recognize when they are most prone to making them. These people know when they need to sleep on it.

Until next time,

Kyle

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And you can check out this 16-minute video clip where Randy describes his new book here: http://www.randygage.com/riskyisthenewsafe/  … The book is brash, brazen and you probably won’t agree with some of it, but I can guarantee it will make you stop and think. This should be required reading for people who want to take a chance in their lives and make a difference in the world.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Joey leonardo October 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Hey Kyle,

First time poster, long time fan here! Lol. Thanks a lot for the shout out about Colleen and I having an awesome time with the wedding process.

One thing I was thinking about reading this blog post was the four different categories of decisions: high urgentcy/high importance, high urgency/low importance, low urgency/high importance, and low urgency/low importance. Having better awareness of these during the day I think could really help me with some of the most important decisions I make. Sometimes I need to be better at understanding that using energy on low importance and low urgency items isn’t good when things are crazy.

Last thought from me, but something my father taught me when I was younger is if I really want something we precisve as new and cool (for me like a tv or computer) , I should wait 6 months and make sure I still really wanted it. I think we often trick ourselves into making some decisions seem more urgent than they really are.

Joey

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Kyle Maynard October 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Both are great suggestions. Deciding what it most important to do and delaying gratification are very good ties to this… and glad you enjoyed the wedding shoutout ;-)

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Randy Gage October 20, 2012 at 3:01 am

What a great post! Love your take on all this and really appreciate the kind words on the book.

-RG

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Kyle Maynard October 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I only speak the truth! Haha, can’t wait to see it on the shelves. Let the countdown begin.

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Danielle October 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Thank you for these words of wisdom today, Kyle! It was just the reminder I needed this afternoon!

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Rosa November 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Posted on Yo, thanks for the shout-out! Part 3 is prbobaly coming sooner rather than later, detailing JLA #111 and bringing people back up on to speed on Libra (who DC has been pushing as a factor in FC recently). That’s his one and only appearance, and there’s a lot there to suggest connections with G-Mo’s themes.Again, glad to hear you liked it!

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Mary k Smith October 22, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I do 1 thing before an important decision……PRAY. I also agree in HALT….don’t decide if hungry, angry, lonely or tired !

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Mario Macrina October 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Hey Kyle! Great article! I have always had trouble making decisions. Growing up, I remember being second guessed by my parents on virtualy every decision I made (or at least that’s how I remember it!) That has had a devastating affect on my life as an adult. Simple choices like which peanut butter to buy, which color shirt should I get, which way should I drive home were made extremely difficult by this fear of being wrong or second guessed. Imagine what the BIG decisions in my life had done to my emotional and psychological state! Over the last year, I have been working on improving myself and my life in general. CrossFit has played a huge role in that (shameless plug!). One of the areas I have been concentrating on has been my ability to make decisions. I was trained to think of the consequences of making a wrong decision. I quickly realized that I was trying to predict the future. What would happen 5 seconds, 5 minutes or 5 days from now if I make this choice and its the wrong one? That was no way to live! Realizing this, I started to be aware of how long it took me to make a decision (sometimes writing it down) and reflecting back on it and analyzing the result. 9 times out of 10 I realized nothing bad happened. When it did, I consciously chose to accept the outcome and move on. I also noted the feelings pre and post decision. The stress and fatigue cause by indecision was crippling. As soon as I made the choice, the stress and pressure was gone. I started to write that down as well. Learning to live in the present and not predict the future, learning that my decisions were mine and no one elses, and wanting to get to that feeling of relief quicker each time I was faced with a choice has helped me tremendously! I feel like I have left the person I used to be behind and I am not looking back. I feel like I have more confidence in all aspects of my life! Anyway, I wanted to share this in case my experience can help anyone out there facing the same experience. Thank you for all you do and see you soon I hope!

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Kay G. October 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Hello Kyle!
You have made some interesting points here. Very sensible to have good rest and nutrition before making a major decision.
I wrote about you on my blog earlier this year by the way, and Joey sent me the nicest email back. Please pass along my best wishes to him and his new bride.
I hope one day to see you at Stone Mountain, my husband and I love to climb it as often as we can!
And by the way, there is a wonderful inspirational speaker who I wonder if you know about, his name is Louis Zamperini. Although he is in his 90′s now, he just spoke at a college in Wisconsin, I think it was! If you don’t know him, please look him up and see if you don’t think he is one extraordinary person. I wrote a letter to him years ago after I had read his book and he was kind enough to write me back! Thrilled me no end, I have to tell you.
Take care and keep climbing your mountains!

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toney October 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

That was very inspiring, Thanks for the good message!

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Hooten October 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

You have great posts and I love reading them:)

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Lange October 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Kyle,you have really in spired me to never give up and to never think that i cant overcome a challenge that i think that i cant ocomplish.thanks for helping me feel that way.

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brinkley October 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

keep doing what you are doing because i thought i had tough decisions,but when i read what you went through that changed my perspective on everything

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brendonrampy October 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

i think you are a inspiring person i think you for speaking.

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michaelbrown October 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm

wow we just got done watching the video were u had shaved and that is really cool. and u never cut yourself…..wow

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Murray October 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

You are am you aboutveryone who has met and heardazing you are a real inspiration

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fuqua October 29, 2012 at 10:08 am

glad I got the oppurtunity to hear abuout you in my class . Now i get to read you blogs. They’re super cool , and inspire me to get up , and make a change . Thanks .

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Adkins October 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

Thanks for this advice. I make decisions daily and I see your points. I always feel like I make better decisions in the morning and after a meal. I also see that I am influnced by others as well. Most of what you said can apply to me.

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roberts October 29, 2012 at 10:50 am

You have really good blogs I cant believe the things You are really inspiring

Thank You Kyle

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Williams October 29, 2012 at 11:00 am

Thank you for teaching me that if u set your mind to something you can do it! You also told me to never give up, and that has really helped me! Thanks so much!

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oneal October 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm

keep up the great post and never give up on your acheivements.

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keyon October 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm

well kyle your a winner to me and if you keep on going you’ll be the most talked about person in the world.

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eimer October 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

hay kyle,my name is samantha and i am in 6th grade,i wrote a blog to you before but i didnt get to finish becouse i ran out of time and i just have acouple questions, i wanted to know how many places you go each week. I know thatyou go lots of places but have yo ever been to china. I also wanted to know if you ever met the president.and you have made me inspired to never give up but i wish i knew you each time i broke my left arm,wich i broke it 5 times.i will write again brobley friday

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Ignatoski October 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Hi Kyle! You are very inspiring. I think the things you are doing are amazing.

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sissy parke October 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Wow, this is the first article i read of yours…you need to be a philosopher. You are really inspirational:) Please never give up! I will be using this advice alot:) Please write back!

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ellis October 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

how do you do all the things you do.

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versay October 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I am so proud that you did what you did.You inspired everybody and I thank you.You are rolemodel now, and will always be.You could have quit but you didnt so thanks and I appreciate you.

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Angie December 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Great article Kyle. Puts things back in perspective, right on time actually :) I stumbled upon your movie on Crackle yesterday. Watched it, told my kids about it and went and bought the book from Barnes and Nobles last night. I read the first 3 chapters before I left the store and 2 more before I handed it over to my son. Good stuff. I have 2 sons who are very different, one who is high functioning autistic and has yet to grasp his limits. Not in a limiting way, but in a conquering way. I try to teach him to know his differences and learn how to work around them with the areas he excels in, but he masquerades things that he has difficulty conquering as things he is no longer interested in. He is only fooling himself and I will keep pushing him until he realizes he is walking away from things that he loves unnecessarily. It makes for a very isolated life when he is really capable of being quite social and loves people. My other son excels at most things, but needs more validation from others. He is good in sports, but when put up next to other kids, he gets extremely intimidated and becomes the kid who makes the most assists instead of taking the shot. The kid that makes others feels better by not operating in his potential so that others are happy. They seem to both be struggling to see in themselves what I and others see in them. What I found cool about you is that you believed it and acted on it. Your competition was yourself and topping your last achievement/goal, that’s where I am trying to get my boys. They are extraordinary kids who for some reason think they are ordinary. Until they fly, I’ll be working on that daily :) Stay blessed. ~Angie

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Marek January 31, 2013 at 9:19 am

Thanks! Nice post. I found it while writing The art of making right decisions. I think the key is to make all decisions while you calm, without emotions, otherwise you might regret them.

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Andrea Land February 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm

A wonderfully written blog and it put into words a frustration my whole family feels that I hadn’t quite heard expressed this way. I am a work at home mom, with various diseases which kick my can now and then, I home school my kids, teach voice and run a home. I do not get to do much reading of the news so I have missed the articles you referenced and were inspired by. Right now my reading consists of Charlotte’s Web and whatever I catch on Facebook during my daily 20 minutes of “me time.” I was drawn to your movie and then website because you overcome huge physical challenges on a daily basis like me. I am OVERWHELMED by the number of choices that exist in the world. I tell myself I should be grateful for the amazing cornucopia of stuff we have to choose from but just going grocery shopping is insane, I have to have laser focus when I do the home management required for my job or I would spend half an hour trying to pick out crackers or potatoes. Don’t even get me started on clothes shopping, what to watch, answering e-mails. All of you four ideas are excellent and much of how I minimize this stress. SIMPLIFY SIMPLIFY SIMPLIFY your life as much as possible and have routine. Get outside, away from a screen, smart phone, or retail mecca and do your important decision making in a natural environment where there are no decisions required but to feel the sun, smell the flowers and hear the birds. That is one thing I do that helps.

But what I really want to share is how this decision fatigue is starting in childhood because they are bombarded with choices. I started noticing this in my son at an early age. We would go to a store with the intention that he would get to pick a toy or game and by the time the poor kid was done, he was crying and agonizing over whether he made the right decision instead of enjoying his new plaything. It’s gotten better with age but it’s been a long process of helping them see that most decisions are not life and death and it’s important to just choose and let it go. Save up your big thinking for big decisions:) What this tells me is that there are literally millions of privileged kids in our country who are going to grow up completely unable to make good decisions unless something changes. You, me and everyone else paying attention is that change. Bless you and yours and all the people you inspire!

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Allie April 6, 2013 at 10:13 am

Thank you for the article. I have been reading a lot on decision making, and I recently decided to leave a 10 month program though I am only 2 months in. I did make a commitment, but it has become apparent that for the sake of my mental health I should not stay. It has been difficult because of social pressure as well as my own desire to finish what I start, but I think that it is the right thing to humble myself by leaving and to seek an occupation where I can feel happy instead of sad and deprived.

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Nalin kalra May 25, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hi Kelly! U have shared the great word of wisdom! I really dont know why sometimes we are not able to still take a decision after reading so much abt life . Inspite of being knowing everything that we are the guest on this planet and want to realise dreams of our life . Still I am not been able to …. Thanks for keeping our spirits high and helping us in a achieving our dreams … Regards and god bless u so much…

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kaycee July 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Hi you asked for comments- “I would love to see what that change is for you in the comments below.” Well. Here is the change I made: I decided to stop procrastinating about a difficult decision that I had been on the fence about for a long time. I followed through on the decision to surrender one of my two pets to a humane society. I do not have the money to give her the medical work-up that she needs, among other issues. She was not living her best life with me, and I was not happy with the life I provided her. I came to understand that I was not keeping her for her benefit, or for mine, but only out of deep-seeded obligation as well as societal pressure. Hopefully she will get the care she needs and find a home that is a better fit for her. I am a life-long animal lover, so this was a very difficult decision for me to say the least. Under normal circumstances I would NEVER surrender a pet, and it will take a long time, maybe a lifetime, to get past the guilt and shame I feel about surrendering her. But things need to change in my life and it is going to take following through on painful decisions to make those changes. I hope she has the content and healthy life that she deserves, and that I did not provide. I pray that her 4th ‘Forever Home’ attempt, will be her last.

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