The existence of decision fatigue is not a new thing. It was existed long before from online shopping, travel to insurance.
But here is the thing: it was the fatigue that has been forced into our lives by the consumer society. If you had problems with management of your money, it meant making decisions like a roller-coaster about which groceries were affordable and what to buy at minimum to survive. For other, the ones who had better source or income or were better at money management, it was selecting between streaming services for movies, TV series or music. Choosing which productivity app is better to try. Checking out the dinner menu in San Francisco, CA which brings 250 items along with other variations. The list goes on and on.
The decisions we have to make now are way too many, and each with high stakes.
Yes, if you bought the Brand-A smartphone instead of the Brand-B smartphone, you would have a more powerful processor and a bigger AMOLED screen. Yes, buying Pudding X might make your mouth happier than the regular Yogurt with the fruit on the bottom. First-world problems, mostly (?).
These are the tiny decisions which we did not have to make many of them. And even if we failed at making the right decisions, the stakes were often low even though they still caused decision fatigue. The problems around tiny decisions are worldwide though they have the most monumental of potential consequences.
On one hand, like many of us, some of our decisions are now pre-made so there’s little debate about whether to stay home, order food to home or eat out. But that is offset by the fraughtness of other once-routine decisions.
There is an agonizing indication between best time to grab groceries or visiting the art gallery which you always wanted to visit but never did. To be honest, it increases your anxiety, hinders your focus, and has a negative impact on your productivity.
Social scientists will tell you that an agitated state is not the best moment to decide things and “we seem to do our best thinking when we’re feeling good (The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, 2004)”.
Decision fatigue is a part of our lives and it will go on to be a part of our lives constantly, but the question is how to ease the pain.
Imagine this now while we are having Covid-19 pandemic: You decide to go to the grocery store. You see blueberries. Are they bruised? Normally you would pick them up and check for freshness. Not now. So, you move through the supermarket landscape hyper-aware of decisions from social distancing to choosing a cut of meat and walk out to the parking lot exhausted so carefully by still keeping the distance from people.
You are up against decisions that never even crossed your mind before. You wonder what norms and rules you might have violated along the way from aisle 3 to aisle 13.
There is another problem. There always is a problem, right.
This one is that we are often making these tiny decisions with weight without ever knowing how they turn out.
Did we infect someone with corona virus by delivering their takeout order? Did we catch it by walking through air that someone with a cough just vacated? Did we get infected because we just got close someone less than 6-feet apart? Probably not. But hey, maybe, who knows.
The sheer strangeness of the decision-making process throughout the past month has been an aggravating factor in many lives. Nobody can deny that.
Not only do tiny decisions matter more now, but they must be repeated, contemplated again and again and they are changing daily. Just the notion of whether to wear a mask has evolved a choice laden not only with self-preservation but even morality.
In the past, you could say, “I’m a good person, I donate to charity, I am nice to the persons around me, I don’t kick dogs” but now you have to ask yourself: Does it make me a bad person if I go to the store to buy a pack of cracker? That is very heavy, and in many ways, it is new to our consciousness.
The Covid-19 brought a new perspective in our decision-making process such as being “good” has become impossible because life has grown so intricate that even good decisions can cause something bad anymore.
Perhaps even more relevant right now would be this scenario: a world where miniature decisions have multiplied and increased in gravity to the point where a paralysis of choice might seem a reasonable alternative.
Maybe it is useful that so many of us are locked down right now. Lots of time to think about this. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay conscious. Clean our house and wash our hands again and again.