A 2011 New York Times article was likely the first one to introduce me to the idea that we don’t have an infinite amount of energy to make each decision in a day.
Decision fatigue implies that our decisions deteriorate in quality as our self-control and mental energy get depleted—usually as the day progresses and as we have to make one decision after the other.
(The article goes on to present examples such as a parole officer who is more likely to grant freedom in the morning compared to the afternoon and disastrous business decisions late at night.)
The part that was the one to strike me as crucial: the decisions we make that deplete us from the energy for the next one aren’t huge, life changing decisions (as you might expect them to be).
They’re small, frequent choices you have to make.
What to wear.
What to cook and eat (and, by extension, what food to buy and how to store it).
Who to meet.
What to do with your next hour and the next day.
What to pack in our backpack for the day.
Which route to walk or drive.
The list goes on.
I’m tackling this topic because once I was deeply aware of how this drove my days and my energy to do pretty much anything, I made crucial changes and it completely flipped the way I go through my day.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all for approaching decision fatigue in one’s life, I hoped that by sharing my experiences, you might get some ideas you can implement yourself.
The 180° change of the way I eat
I’m one of those people whose physical energy very immediately correlates with the type and amount of food I’ve consumed over the last day.
Although I’m not any better of a cook than the average person, I’ve always liked cooking. I’ve also always been fascinated with the way various food groups and choices impact human body.
So when at some point in my adult life started despising (maybe even hating?) cooking, it felt wrong, but it also felt like there was nothing to do about it.
My wonderful husband—my forever life partner—noticed this, and picked up on this chore whenever he could. He’d already liked cooking, but was now doing it probably 90% of the time.
Our grocery shopping looked like this: “Let’s buy some chicken. Maybe some minced beef for a bolognese. Oh, mushrooms would go great with scrambled eggs. What about some fruit, and maybe a few peppers?”
At the end of it, we’d have a full fridge and almost nothing to do with it. Every time it was time to eat, we’d open the fridge and say: “What shall we cook today?”
This is difficult even if you only do it a few times. But do it twice a day, every day, when all you want is to just eat and not have to think of solutions, and you’ll hate cooking, too.
Then, as we took our first ever break from work without any traveling (the Christmas break 2018), we had lots of time and mental space to just think. So we started listing all the meals we liked cooking and eating, and we found some new recipes to play with. We kept listing new ones we tried and liked.
Then, we started mapping them out for the week ahead: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Then, we’d make a grocery shopping list based on it, by hand, on paper, meal by meal.
WE LOVED IT.
Then, my husband built an extremely basic but ridiculously functional web app that lets us store our recipes and add a number of servings they cover. We then have a weekly map we can fill out with these meals, and the app generates a shopping list for us.
Because we order our groceries online, my husband also categorized the groceries in the app based on the categories in online ordering. (We’ve started using a different software solution since then, but that’s beyond the point!)
We plan and order on Saturday and Sunday.
When the week comes, we simply look at the schedule and run with it. There’s no staring at the full fridge, no mental acrobatics to combine the groceries we have into a decent meal.
Our decisions have been made over the weekend, and now we just follow what’s already there.
This has been a massive change for both of us. For me, it was particularly special, as I work from home and want to eat food that makes me energized with minimum time spent cooking… And deciding.
And with the plan in place, we can also cook meals ahead, store them, freeze them, do all the things that will make us simply take action instead of having to think about it multiple times a day.