Decision Fatigue

On the way to work, you stop for your usual coffee. As you walk through the door, 20,000 cups of coffee are laid out all across the room, covering the floor and tables. Somehow, you need to choose the one you’ll like best.

Tasting all 20,000 is impossible. So after trying a few, picking your favourite, and going on to work, you may not feel too satisfied with your chosen coffee. With so many options, there’s no way to know you chose the best- the very next cup could have been even better. (20,000 sounds absurdly large, but that’s fewer options than some big-name shops offer.)

During the day there are only more choices and decisions to make; from the best way to get your work done, to meetings, to the quickest way home. By the end of the day there probably isn’t much room left for thinking about anything difficult, such as starting that project you’ve been putting off or resisting the cake in the cupboard.

Although we hate not being able to make our own choices, it turns out that having too much choice is just as much of a problem. Making choices, major or minor, drains us. It leaves us less able to resist impulses or see through illogical options. Psychologists sensibly call this decision fatigue.

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Review | A Mind of Its Own – Cordelia Fine

Books that ask “what’s wrong with our brains?” are a current pop-psychology staple. Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own was ahead of this trend, as it was first published in 2005.

A Mind of Its Own explores ways in which our brains don’t make sense and cognitive biases that funnel us down faulty mental shortcuts. The book starts with the bias equivalent of little white lies, detailing how almost all of us are biased to see things as a little easier, happier, and less flawed than they really are. From this gentle introduction, Fine talks us through the progressively larger mental failings discovered through social psychology studies.

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