How to Navigate Decision Fatigue When Working Toward Your Fitness Goals

Reviewed by Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD

We all make thousands of decisions every day, large and small.

What to have for breakfast. Whether or not to exercise—or when. Which project to tackle first at work. More coffee or not.

After a while, it’s only natural that decision fatigue sets in.

Decision fatigue can happen to anyone—but it’s especially disruptive when you’re trying to change old habits and make new (healthier) choices, but you lose steam by 10 AM.

Let’s take a closer look at what decision fatigue is, what causes it, and how to shake it off so you can continue to make good, intentional choices ongoing.

What is decision fatigue, anyway?

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made after a prolonged period of decision-making. Decision fatigue can also happen when faced with an overwhelming number of choices.

When working toward wellness goals, the mental exhaustion from constant decision-making can hinder your ability to make positive choices, especially in areas like exercise and nutrition. The constant evaluation of your workout schedules, meal choices, and other aspects of your lifestyle and routine can lead to decision fatigue.

Signs of decision fatigue

Decision fatigue can manifest in several ways. It might last days, weeks, or longer.

Here are six common signs that you might be experiencing it.

Sign #1: Procrastination and avoiding decisions

One of the primary signs of decision fatigue is procrastination and the tendency to avoid making choices. As decision fatigue sets in, you may find it increasingly challenging to initiate or conclude decision-making processes, leading to delays and lack of action.

Sign #2: Impulsivity

On the other hand, decision fatigue can also manifest as impulsivity. In an effort to expedite decision-making and alleviate mental strain, you may resort to impulsive choices, increasing the likelihood of taking less thoughtful actions.

Sign #3: Exhaustion

Decision fatigue often leads to mental exhaustion. You may feel tired and mentally drained, which may affect your overall cognitive functioning and energy levels.

Sign #4: Brain fog

A common symptom of decision fatigue is the sensation of “brain fog.” This mental cloudiness can hinder clarity of thought, making it difficult for individuals to focus, process information, and make wise choices.

Sign #5: Overwhelm

As decision fatigue accumulates, individuals may become easily overwhelmed by even minor choices. Tasks that would typically be manageable may seem daunting, contributing to heightened stress levels.

Sign #6: Irritability

Decision fatigue can lead to increased irritability and emotional sensitivity. The mental strain from continuous decision-making may impact an individual’s patience and tolerance, resulting in reactive emotional responses.

What causes decision fatigue?

A combination of factors can contribute to decision fatigue.

Cause #1: You’re always making decisions.

When you find yourself constantly making numerous decisions throughout the day, from choosing what to wear to deciding on work-related tasks, you may be prone to decision fatigue.

The cumulative effect of these daily choices can overwhelm your cognitive resources, making subsequent decisions more challenging.

Cause #2: You make a lot of decisions that impact other people.

Decisions that have a significant impact on others can contribute to decision fatigue.

When your choices carry weight and affect those around you, the mental burden intensifies. Balancing personal and professional responsibilities that influence others can lead to a heightened sense of responsibility and decision-related stress.

Cause #3: You make stressful or complex decisions.

Engaging in decision-making that is particularly stressful or complex can accelerate the onset of decision fatigue.

Evaluating intricate scenarios, especially under pressure, demands more cognitive resources, expediting mental exhaustion. High-stake decisions amplify the toll on your mental energy, making subsequent choices more taxing.

Cause #4: You’re experiencing a difficult or uncertain life situation.

Life situations characterized by difficulty or uncertainty can exacerbate decision fatigue.

Coping with unusually stressful challenges, whether personal or professional, consumes mental bandwidth. Navigating through uncertainty heightens decision-related stress, intensifying the impact of decision fatigue.

How does decision fatigue relate to your health and wellness?

Decisions related to diet, exercise, and overall health management can be overwhelming.

Constantly evaluating food choices, workout routines, and health-related decisions can challenge cognitive resources, exacerbating decision fatigue.

Further, when experiencing decision fatigue, your ability to make thoughtful, proactive health decisions diminishes. Fatigue may lead to impulsive choices, such as impulsive eating or skipping workouts, impacting your progress toward your goals.

How to overcome decision fatigue

Overcoming decision fatigue may not happen instantly, but by following these tips, you can significantly reduce its effect on your health and well-being.

All it takes is some careful planning and learning to let go.

Strategy #1: Remove choice from areas of your life where you can.

The intentional simplification of daily decisions not only streamlines your life but also enhances your cognitive capacity for more meaningful and impactful choices.

One approach is to establish routines to set some aspects of your daily life in stone—no decisions necessary. This deliberate structuring (such as predetermining what days/times you do your workouts) serves to reduce the ongoing need for decision-making in these areas.

Implementing routines also provides a psychological framework that turns repetitive decisions into automatic actions. For instance, adopting a regular weekly meal prep ritual.

Of course, this strategy is particularly beneficial for recurring activities, where predetermined choices can be consistently applied. This act of intentionally removing choices can give you back a sense of control and predictability in your daily life.

Strategy #2: Delegate where you can.

Whether in the workplace or at home, delegating decisions to others not only lightens your cognitive (and practical) burden but also promotes collaboration.

Distributing tasks at work fosters a sense of shared responsibility—and of course lightens your workload. By involving team members in decision-making processes, you not only benefit from diverse perspectives but also empower others to contribute their expertise.

Similarly, within the family or household, delegating responsibilities not only shares the cognitive load but also promotes a more supportive environment. This practice allows each family member to contribute their unique strengths, creating a more balanced distribution of decision-making responsibilities.

Strategy #4: Prioritize relaxation activities.

Relaxation activities are particularly effective in combating the effects of decision fatigue.

Quality sleep rejuvenates cognitive functions and replenishes mental energy. When you’re well-rested, you’re better equipped to face the challenges of decision-making.

In addition to sleep, try engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.

Exercise, too, not only promotes better sleep but also releases endorphins, which elevate mood and improve cognitive function.

Strategy #5: Manage stress and practice self-care.

Stress and decision fatigue are connected, so learning to manage the former will help alleviate symptoms of the latter.

Many of the relaxation techniques we previously mentioned are also great stress management tactics.

Try establishing a consistent self-care routine, like reading, taking a warm bath, or spending quality time with loved ones. These activities can provide a mental break and contribute to a positive mindset, which, in turn, helps prevent and reduce decision fatigue.

Strategy #6: Work with a coach.

By hiring a coach, you effectively delegate certain decisions to an expert.

By leveraging their knowledge, you not only streamline decision-making but also gain valuable insights and support on your journey to optimal health.

A health coach provides guidance on fitness, nutrition, sleep, stress, and recovery, and can design tailored plans to help you improve each of these areas.

Moreover, a health coach assists in establishing routines, contributing to the removal of unnecessary decisions from your daily life.

Working with a coach offers personalized support, helping you navigate health-related decisions while also enhancing accountability and motivation.

We’re here to help you reach your goals

At Precision Nutrition, our coaches are certified experts who can help you make positive decisions to improve your life. Decision fatigue ends with us, as every client receives a personalized, tailored plan designed to work with their personal preferences, lifestyle, and goals.

Learn more about how the coaches at Precision Nutrition can help you learn to live the healthier, more well-balanced life you deserve.

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