Have you ever wondered why supermarkets place so many impulse buys near the checkout? They put those items there because they will sell well there, of course, but the reason behind it is decision fatigue, as outlined in this thought-provoking article from the New York Times.
This post originally appeared on The Simple Dollar.
What Is Decision Fatigue?
In its simplest terms, decision fatigue refers to the idea that people tend to make worse decisions after having made a lot of decisions. Much like muscle fatigue, if you flex your "decision" muscle too much, it will fail you.
If you think about your own life, you can probably see decision fatigue if you look around for it. I know I certainly see it in my own life. I do far better at sticking to a grocery list if I go shopping in the morning as opposed to the evening. Almost all of my online impulse buys happen in the evening too.
Why? Given all of the hats that I wear — parent, husband, homeowner, writer, community volunteer, friend and so on — I make a lot of decisions on any given day. I'm sure that you wear a lot of hats as well, and that means a lot of decisions.
What's the Solution?
The best solution for decision fatigue is the same as any other type of fatigue — rest. Nothing can beat a good night's sleep for recharging one's batteries. I firmly believe that there is nothing better for a person than going to bed and waking up without an alarm guiding you, so that you get a full sleep period without interruption that's of the length that your body needs.
Beyond that, there are many little steps you can take to minimize the impact of decision fatigue on your spending, your relationships, and your life.
Make vital decisions early in the day. If you have important decisions to make — or a high volume of decisions to make — front-load your day with them. That way, you'll be dealing with them with the maximum amount of rest. I try to go grocery shopping in the mornings, for example, and I also try to do most of my writing in the mornings as well. If I have an important life decision to make, I try to do it earlier in the day.
Save unimportant decisions for later in the day. Late in the day, I try to do things like mindless housework or something that's entertaining, not things that involve making important decisions.
Avoid situations where you're drawn to impulsive decisions late in the day. I have basically stopped browsing websites after mid-afternoon because of the ease of which I can be drawn into impulse buys. Similarly, I try to avoid grocery shopping at that time of the day.
Don't let decision fatigue coax you into making bad choices. Just front-load your days with all of your financial and spending decisions and avoid them entirely later in the day and you'll find yourself making better decisions on the whole.
On Decision Fatigue [The Simple Dollar]
Trent Hamm is a personal finance writer at TheSimpleDollar.com. After pulling himself out of his own financial crisis, he founded the site in late 2006 to help others through financially difficult situations; today the site has become a finance, insurance, and retirement resource. Contact Trent at trent AT the simple dollar DOT com; please send site inquiries to inquiries AT the simple dollar DOT com.