Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue

“Decision fatigue,” my friend Stacey said the other day.  “Will schools be open in the fall? Is it safe to take the kids to the beach? Should I try to see my dentist now or wait a little bit longer?”

It’s our powerful higher brain that makes our decisions all day long – weighing options, analyzing risks, learning from past experience to assess what’s best to do now.

And the pre-frontal cortex specifically, the brain’s center of executive functioning, our CEO of resilience, that gets fatigued by the end of the day when it has been coping with dilemmas and making decisions all day.

We need to take regular breaks throughout the day to give the higher brain a chance to recover its “muscles” to make decisions. Even when there is no time to do that.

Exercises to recuperate the energy and focus of the higher brain to make decisions


It is legitimate, you have permission, it is REQUIRED that you take breaks from the worries and pressures of decision-making with skillful distraction, focusing the brain elsewhere to give it a chance to re-set.

Do the dishes, walk the dog, call a friend. Let your brain do something else so it can return to what it must do to cope with life right now with more capacity to focus and plow through the next round of decisions.

[See The Skillfulness of Skillful Distraction for more tips.]


You can shift the mode of brain functioning from focused problem-solving to a more relaxed “open play space” of the brain by:

Walking in nature and attending to the beauty and spaciousness around you

Listening to music while doing nothing else but listening to the music

Daydreaming, indulging in fantasy and reverie

[See Dormancy and Replenishment for more tips.]

3.  SLEEP (Naps count, too)

The higher brain recovers its energy and plasticity when we sleep overnight. Sleep absorbs the stress hormone cortisol and stores the memories from the previous day in long-term memory so there’s more energy and bandwidth in the morning for the new day.

[See Sleep – the Essential Replenishment, for tips on how to get a good night’s sleep]

You exercise the “muscle” of your pre-frontal cortex by making decisions; you recover its strength to make those decisions, like strengthening any other “muscle” by giving it a rest between workouts.