After a day full of work-related decisions, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to have for dinner. My choice is to not choose, to instead leave the decision up to my friends at a meal box service like Hello Fresh or Home Chef.
Can you relate?
There’s a name for this. It’s called decision fatigue. When it hits, at home or at work, hopefully someone else can help us move off dead center so we don’t settle for a meal of chips and salsa or remain mired in inaction at work.
It’s interesting, though, that even when we are having trouble deciding something for ourselves, we usually don’t have a problem choosing an option for someone else.
“Even when we are having trouble deciding something for ourselves, we usually don’t have a problem choosing an option for someone else.”
How (and when) does decision fatigue happen?
“By taking upon the role of adviser rather than decision maker, one does not suffer the consequences of decision fatigue,” says Evan Polman in a Fast Company article. Polman is an assistant professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business who has studied decision making.
In our professional lives, indecision leads to no progress. We put out fires but don’t solve underlying problems. We don’t start new initiatives. Active change always carries risk, which is something we avoid when we’re stressed. But objective observers will be less risk-averse. They have less on the line. This is one reason why collaboration can lead to better decisions.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Polman reports on a recent study that identified two mindsets of decision makers, adventurous and cautious. The research found that people making decisions for themselves tend to have a cautious mindset. They consider fewer options at a time and drill down to the granular level in their deliberations. They tend to be more reserved and are clearly averse to risk.
On the other hand, people making decisions for others are more likely to have an adventurous mindset. They look at a wider array of options and consider the bigger picture. They aren’t afraid of novelty and recommend a decision with gusto.
“People are more creative on behalf of others,” says Polman. “When we are brainstorming ideas to other people’s problems, we’re inspired; we have a free flow of ideas to spread out on the table without judgment, second-guessing, or overthinking.”
“Active change always carries risk, which is something we avoid when we’re stressed. But objective observers will be less risk-averse. They have less on the line. This is one reason why collaboration can lead to better decisions.”
Three keys to making better decisions:
Enlist a “mentor or a blunt friend.” Why blunt? Polman says a high-empathy person will share the stress of your decision making, which will make them risk-averse on your behalf. That’s what you want to avoid. The best decision advisor is dispassionate, not personally involved, confident, and knowledgeable.
Step back and observe yourself. Polman describes this as a fly-on-the-wall perspective. Another analogy is to picture yourself having an out-of-body experience. As you deliberate the question at hand, he even advises that you talk to yourself: “(Your name), what about this? I think you should…” Become your own advisor.
Outsource decisions. You don’t have to go it alone. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. For instance, business owners often ask us to consult when they have marketing decisions to make. We open the creativity gates, so to speak, work with their team, and advise on problem solving and growth strategies from our experience.