Do You Know What You Want?

mindset Jul 13, 2020

Do you know what you want?

We live in a society filled with choice, and North Americans are truly blessed.

Store shelves are packed (and yes, I know there is some scarcity right now due to COVID-19 and disrupted supply chains, but realistically, other than toilet paper, have you actually run out of ANYTHING important?) Perhaps your particular favourite brand was sold out, but for the most part, we are still extremely well-supplied despite the pandemic.

With online shopping, virtually anything we want or need, and can afford, is at our fingertips.

Social media, the world wide web, and television provide us with an instant and vast array of information sources.

A teenager in high school is faced with an incredible assortment of possibilities for a career. And they are warned early on that their choice of study subjects in those tender years will lock them into a certain career path, or out of one. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who isn’t yet even allowed to drive.

Spotify, Google Play and Apple Music (not to mention Alexa and Siri) offer literally millions of music choices at the touch of a button or the sound of our voice.

I could go on, but…you get the idea.

“Decision fatigue” is a phenomenon whereby we end up making impulsive, often poor decisions, simply because we are overwhelmed with the available assortment of information and choice. Occasionally, it results in us making no decision at all. The cornucopia of options causes us to simply shut down and slink away.

If you are feeling stuck; if you feel like you just don’t know what you want; you’re probably suffering from decision fatigue.

You may be concerned that you’ll make the wrong choice.

If that’s the case, I have good news for you: there’s no such thing as a wrong choice.

Life is a series of experiments. It’s only by taking action that we figure out what makes us tick, and we sometimes learn our greatest lessons from doing the wrong things.

The trick is being able to get into gear so you can take that first step. No easy feat when your brain is tired.

Here are a few suggestions to help overcome decision fatigue:

  1. Make important decisions early in the day. Our decision-making ability is a finite resource, much like willpower. As the day goes on, we are gradually depleting this resource, on the myriad tiny and inconsequential decisions we make on a daily basis.

    Do I want coffee or tea with my breakfast? Should I change lanes to get ahead of this truck, or slow down and hang back behind it? Do I answer this nasty email from a customer, or pass it along to Customer Service to deal with?

    By the time we are finishing our work day, most of our best decision-making mojo is gone. Reserving time in the early morning hours to tackle those hard choices ensures that we bring all of our cognitive faculties to bear on the problem, and thus end up making better choices.
  2. Deliberately limit your choices. If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices available to you, developing simple criteria that help you to eliminate some of the options can be extremely helpful.

    A great example is Courtney Carver’s Project 333 capsule wardrobe experiment, where the assortment of clothes and accessories you can wear is limited to 33 items over a period of 3 months.

    Some people take this to an even greater extreme, adopting a “uniform” of sorts and wearing the same thing every single day. Steve Jobs and Matilda Kahl are two examples.

    This is one of the key benefits of minimalism: it helps us distinguish between “essentials” and “optionals”.

  3. Routinize your life. Making decisions uses brain power, as we’ve already discussed. But there are things you already do on a daily basis, that you don’t even have to think about. We call these things “habits” or “routines”, and they are managed by a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This part of the brain has encoded a series of standardized steps, much like a computer program, and executes that program as soon as the “cue” triggers it. It takes little to no decision power to initiate.

    The more aspects of your daily life you can codify into standardized routines or habits, the more decision power you free up in your prefrontal cortex for the truly important choices with which you are confronted.


Overcoming decision fatigue can be one of the most transformative changes you will make in your life.

This is a bold statement. But “life”, at its core, is a series of decisions and choices that a person makes, moment by moment. Every single decision we make is creating a tiny piece of our life. 

We can’t get those moments back.

So let’s make sure they’re good ones.





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