Death By A Thousand Indecisions


“Then indecision brings its own delays, And days are lost lamenting over lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Death by a thousand indecisions. As Goethe asked, are you “in earnest”? When it comes to decisionmaking, sometimes it’s quick: Ready-Fire-Aim. With other decisions, we take our sweet time. How much is indecision costing you?

Like death from a thousand cuts, indecisions can slowly deplete our energy, leaving little behind for ourselves or others.

Decisions are Draining

That’s because decisions are draining. Neuropsychologists like Dr. Moira Somers tell us that decisionmaking depletes our mental energy. According to Dr. Somers, every day we wake up with a finite amount of mental energy. As the day goes by, the more decisions we make, the less energy we have. And the bigger they are, the more energy they use.

Think about life’s transitions. One reason transition times, good or sad, are so stressful and exhausting – a move, a death, retirement, a child, a divorce – is the many seemingly small, plus a few momentous, decisions.

Further, lack of sleep, hunger, grief or even excitement can start the whole day off depleted.

Then, every indecision we “make” is a decision. In fact, a pattern of indecisions can take physical form, and stress us out every time we see it.

What does not-deciding look like? A pile of unfiled papers. Empty boxes stacked in the garage. The “miscellaneous drawer” in the kitchen. The “junk room.” Scattered financial accounts in too many places. Unfinished projects.

With a finite amount of mental energy at hand, who can blame any of us for having some kind of to-be-decided pile/stack/assortment hanging over us all the time?

Dealing with Indecision

What to do about it?

  • Make big decisions in the morning, before depletion sets in.
  • Automate it: Use a system to take care of small decisions automatically
  • Eliminate it: Ask often, “How important is it?”
  • Date-Activate it: Calendar the decision to deal with and be done
  • Delegate it: Ask for help

Automate It

An automation example I love and have yet to implement is the decision of what to wear. Michael Kitces, a noted financial expert, famously has a closet full of the same blue shirts, pants, and shoes. One less decision each day for a busy guy.

Another example is cooking. Thanks to Cassy Joy Garcia’s book, Cook Once: Eat All Week, our household now pre-preps ingredients on Sunday. Then, each work night is 15-30 minutes to assemble and cook the ingredients with pre-planned healthy recipes. The meals are delicious, but the best part is not having to make the decision of what’s for dinner. Hallelujah.

Eliminate It

In the summer of 2021 I began thinking about a new car. My financial plan called for me to sell my would-be 7 year old car in January 2022 and buy another one. I couldn’t decide what kind of car to buy.

Aware that the indecision was draining me, I wondered why I was having such a hard time deciding. Then it hit me. I didn’t need a new car. In fact, I didn’t need a car at all. My husband and I had both switched to working from home. Why did I need a shiny hunk of metal to sit in the garage? We had my husband’s car, which was only 2 years old. We ran a 6 week experiment without using my car to see if it caused any problems.

When we saw that it didn’t, I felt immense relief. This told me I was making the right decision. Besides, it was a good time to sell a used car. $15,000 later, we are both very happy about eliminating that decision!

Date-Activate It

My calendar rules my life. It tells me what to do, where, and when. If this is not you, then this tip might not work.

One decision that goes on the calendar every year is whether to take a ski trip and if so, where. The local ski clubs publish their trips around August/September. Ski season pass discounts usually end on Labor Day. So I have the calendar marked for that timeframe to do my research, poll my skiing girlfriends, and make the decision. While it feels sooner in the season than I would like to make a commitment, if I did not give myself a deadline, I would dilly dally into December as all of the good trips filled up. And in the meantime, I would be spending a huge amount of mental energy on something that’s supposed to be fun.

Delegate It

Part of my indecision problem has been the flawed belief that I should be able to do everything myself (and perfectly, which is a topic for another blog post).

However, after a divorce, when my brain was extra foggy, I had significant success with hiring a friend to help organize. At the same time, I had estate planning documents updated with a local attorney. With my friend’s insight, coordination, and diligence, I quickly had an uber-organized office AND an updated “emergency box.” I felt the fog lifting as things came together.

It turns out that hiring help accelerated my decision making and used less energy. Perhaps this is what Goethe meant by the boldness in beginning. Delegating to others can be bold.

Getting Better and Better

Goethe said in that boldness to begin the decision we find genius, power, and magic. Further, there is a spiraling effect – the fewer decisions left to make, the more time to do what we do best. This is far better than a daily slog through indecision-infused mud.

At some point, with excess energy, I felt ready to give back. Someone close to me suddenly lost her husband and her mother within a three month period. She had an overwhelming number of decisions to make about seemingly small stuff, and was in a grief-stricken state to be doing so. I feIt the capacity to help her. I could not have made that statement before I had my own house in order. I don’t know if that counts as genius, power, and magic, but it felt really good to do.

What About You?

What if you took an indecision pile and automated, eliminated, date-activated, or delegated?

Who might you then be able to help?

Genius, power, and magic are waiting, if we have the boldness to begin.

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A Victim of Retail Decision Fatigue

The mission was simple: to buy a spice rack for the pantry. I figured my best shot was at Bed, Bath, and Beyond; a store I had not entered in over a year, much less at the holidays. (I had a specific size and type in mind, and figured I would need somewhere with lots of choices.) Little did I know that retail decision would be the beginning of the end of my productivity for the day. Upon entering, I scanned quickly, looked past the holiday specials, and found the kitchen department. Lo and behold, there were spice racks. And all kinds of other racks. And an embarrassment of choices.

Because I like choices (or thought I did until this particular day), before long, I was nose to nose with shelves and shelves of plastic, rubber, aluminum, and chrome gadgets, doodads, and whatchamacallits for kitchen storage problems I didn’t even know I had. As I searched and searched for the exact product I wanted, my brain had to sort through everything else and cast it aside. More than once, something other than a spice rack caught my eye. At first, I had the wherewithal to ignore them.

As the minutes wore on, though, I was forced to make dozens of little retail decisions. First decision – does this item look like what I came for? If yes, is it the right size and type? If no, move to next item. As I grew tired of the sorting process, some irrational part of my brain appeared and said, “But….is it something I COULD use? Hmmmm…it looks like very handy and sleek, too, after all….it could make more room in the cabinet maybe?…would it fit in the cabinet?”

“STOP IT,” my Rational brain said. “You are here to get the spice rack. Move on.”

Next item – does this look like it? No, not quite. Then that annoying voice again, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if my whole kitchen looked like the label on this doodad?”

“STOP IT,” Rational brain says. “You would have to buy every doodad like it in here, which is a) exactly what the label is suggesting you do and b) out of the question. Next item!”

And so it went….for nearly fifteen minutes until I found exactly what I was looking for. By then, the dueling sides of my brain had gone 144 rounds. I was exhausted. But did that stop me from oh, just taking a look around the rest of the store to see if there was anything I couldn’t live without? Nooooooooo. I got to the bath side and wondered what got into me. To check out, I had to walk through the gauntlet of those holiday specials again. I actually stopped and pondered a couple of them. Would these prices be further reduced on Black Friday/Cyber Monday? Should I buy now? Should I wait?

When I left the store only $8.35 poorer, I felt like Rocky – beat up, but victorious. I needed a nap.

I once heard Dr. Moira Somers talk about the mental energy required to make decisions, particularly ones to avoid temptations. It seems we only have a daily finite amount of mental decisionmaking energy available. After we’ve exhausted our quota, it’s free-for-all shopping, chocolate, nagging, smoking, sleeping, drinking, or whatever your personal favorite temptation happens to be. That annoying irrational voice, which we’d like to believe we can defeat by simply thinking it away, is pretty darn powerful. Some solutions? Get plenty of sleep, be conscious of how many decisions you put in your own way every day, and have someone, or a group, with whom you can share your struggles.

I had never considered a retail organization store to be a threat to my health, but after this, I think even once a year is more than I can handle.

For more on this topic, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Or to schedule a call with Holly, contact us.

Continue ReadingA Victim of Retail Decision Fatigue