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  • Writer's pictureRodney Alkins

Why some Managers don't like Making Decisions

Decision making uses mental energy that eventually runs out. The more decisions you make, the more depleted you become. A decision is not static but it is a process, that can either be relatively easy or difficult based on your acumen or scenario.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Everyone has to make a number of decisions in life, whether personal or professional. If I am looking through my closet to see what I should wear on a particular day that is going to be an easy decision simply because I don't have many options to chose from, however, this is not the case for some people who have closets as large as my house. They also can afford to hire a stylist and personal shopper to make those decisions. The fact is, living in a world with endless choices can be downright exhausting.

So how do we know whether it is just a case of not wanting to make a decision because of fear or some other factor. Well the experts say that there is something called Decision Fatigue; like your physical energy might be low after a HIIT exercise, your mental energy to make good decisions can also run low when you're overly taxed from the burden of a large number of decisions. As a manager who is suffering from decision fatigue, you will be tempted to find an alternative decision process, which will more than likely be ineffective and inefficient and may result in costly expenditure.

A Social psychologist who coined the term decision fatigue says, "People can make an impulsive decision, or they can really think things through carefully,” He believes that the latter is what causes decision fatigue build up. Gut feeling is not effective thinking, but it surely doesn't make you tired.

When making any choice — whether it’s buying a KitKat bar or whether to invest in an equity join venture — our brains go through a decision-making process. All decisions fit into two types of processes: perceptual or value-based decision-making. Perceptual decisions are based on sensory information, such as deciding if you have enough time to walk across to a colleagues office before your meeting starts. On the other hand, value-based decisions exist when neither option is necessarily a bad one. When making value-based decisions, the choice is easy if there’s a large difference between the options. But when the choices are similar, decision-making becomes more complex and time-consuming.

To assess the advantages and disadvantages of the options, our brains perform calculations using a certain kind of logic called transitive inference. It’s a form of reasoning used when comparing two objects never directly compared before, drawing on past experiences and memories to use learned information to form decisions. This process is more difficult when the choices are similar because we need to draw on more memories.

And once this mental energy is depleted, you become unwilling to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly draining form of decision-making: compromise. In an effort to store energy, you’re inclined to either look at only one aspect, like price, and choosing the lowest cost. Or you instead indulge by looking at quality, choosing the very best.

This state of mental depletion causes activity to rise in some parts of the brain while declining in others. As the brain takes in more information, the prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for strategic planning and decision-making, becomes more active. However, at a certain point, the brain can no longer handle any more information, and so activity in the prefrontal cortex ceases when overloaded. Your brain doesn’t stop working, but it responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to the long-term value.

Making decisions wears down willpower, but this energy doesn’t run out forever.

The depletion is like your muscle getting tired after exercise “but once you get over being tired, it comes back and regular exercise makes it stronger. Just like lifting weights to strengthen your arms, will make your arms better for all sorts of strength challenges. Similarly, there are all sorts of things that a managers can do to strengthen their willpower.”

So strengthening willpower makes everyday decision-making less tiring by prolonging your ability to make good decisions. An easy way to exercise your willpower is to find a habit you’d like to break — for example, if you slouch, every time you remember to sit up straight you’re using willpower to consciously override your normal habit, therefore building that weak area.

Decision fatigue isn’t always easy to detect and may be called laziness or incompetence. Unlike physical fatigue, you’re not necessarily consciously aware of how tired you are. However, if you notice that you’re procrastinating, acting impulsively or avoiding choices, the signs might be pointing to decision fatigue as the culprit.

Beyond willpower exercises, there are some other strategies that work to lighten the load of decision-making. Making important decisions earlier in the day when the most mental energy is available, creating a consistent routine to lower the number of daily decisions and regularly sleeping and eating works to avoid decision fatigue.

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