This morning in the hammock (oh, how lovely that sounds, and IS), after I’d written in my journal, I was trolling through Twitter on my phone, and came across a fascinating article from Sunday’s New York Times magazine: “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?“
“Yes yes yes!,” I responded, silently, and clicked to learn more…and then read all seven pages of the article on my wee little phone. It is a fascinating read. In a nutshell:
No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain…
The article gets into the science of why this is true, and links the fatigue of too much decision-making with the erosion of willpower.
As someone who is constantly designing and redesigning my life, I can attest to the exhaustion of too much decision-making. On the one hand, what a wonderful freedom it is, to be able to be whoever you want to be in this world — to do whatever you want. Against the backdrop of so much suffering worldwide, this freedom is the most luxurious of luxuries. But ever since I graduated college and the world was my oyster, I’ve also been aware that the gift of choice is also a curse. Choices are stressful.
“An unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, but as I said to a friend of mine the other day — sometimes examining my life makes it feel more like a petri dish than a work of art. The constant dissection, analysis… and decision-making. What do I want to be when I grow up? Where do I want to live? What creative project should I pursue next? Again, with full humility for the luxury of being able to make such decisions… as the article illustrates, the more decisions we make, the more exhausted our brains become.And of course, these life decisions are on top thousands of other decisions — what to cover for a blog I’m writing for a client, what to eat, how to respond to a prickly situation, etc.
No wonder I get so damned tired.
I’ve often wondered – if I lived in a society where they assigned me a profession as a teenager, and that was just that – would I be happier? What about arranged marriage? I can’t imagine it, but what if I’d been assigned a husband before I ever met Jordan… if I didn’t know what true love felt like, would I be able to make a happy life with an assigned mate?
Is free will the only path to happiness?
What about surrender? In yoga, sometimes I find the greatest relief when my intention is just “surrender” — let go. “I’m not in charge,” I told myself in a yoga class a few weeks back, when I was feeling particularly stressed out. Because that’s the real source of decision-making stress, isn’t it? We begin to think that our decisions control our fate, when really… we’re never in control. Life surprises us. The most perfectly plotted script can be upset in a heartbeat.
And yet, we have agency. We are not placid amoeba, being nudged along by fate. We do have free will. But maybe the answer is to try to make the best decisions for ourselves while maintaining humility – awareness that while we can often shape our fate, we can’t control it. Maybe that makes decision-making less stressful, less exhausting… knowing that no matter what we choose, the outcome is only partially in our hands.
What do you think? Do you feel the weight of too many decisions in your life?
Photo above by Paul Barnett on Flickr