Decisions, decisions - a column by Beth Ritchie

By Swindon Link - 19 July 2021

Opinion and Features

Swindon Link columnist Beth Ritchie explores one of the many downsides of being a grownup…

By Beth Ritchie of 

Someone posted a meme on social media yesterday saying that the hardest part of being an adult was having to decide what to have for dinner night after night. And I have to say I absolutely concur.

Because it’s not just choosing dinner, is it? It’s the little things like deciding how to structure your day, what to have for breakfast, where to park, deciding what to watch on the telly, what to listen to and what to wear (particularly in this random weather – incidentally, where did the summer go? It was here and then it went away again).

Then there’s the big stuff; deciding where to live, deciding what to do with your life, deciding on big purchases.

And if you’re a parent, you have to make a million decisions on someone else’s behalf too, what they will wear, eat, and do each day. Frankly, its exhausting.

When you really think about the number of decisions we have to make on a daily basis, it’s terrifying.

I was in The Big Tesco yesterday (other supermarket chains and sizes of Tesco are available) and as so often happens to me, about halfway round I suddenly became absolutely gripped by complete overwhelm of how huge it is, and how many choices there were. I mean, yeah, it’s great to be able to get our hands on literally anything we could ever want, but do we really need it?

It’s no wonder that so many of us get decision fatigue (it’s an actual thing), which contributes to us struggling with our mental and physical health.

I recently visited a kinesiologist about my constantly painful shoulder. She held two points on my forehead and said to me “Now, I just want you to talk for five minutes about your experience with responsibility in your life.” “Well… where do I even start?” I said, launching into a ten-minute diatribe and realising as I did so that barely a moment has passed in my life when I wasn’t laden with the burden of making responsible decisions. She actually had to stop me. “I think that’s enough,” she said, releasing my forehead (and yes, my shoulder has been so much better since).

A billion years ago, we didn’t have to make any decisions. It was literally: get up hunt bison/deer/lizard or whatever (whatever happened to be around at the time), cook it up, eat some berries (again, whatever what around at the time) and then go to sleep in a cave. Then do it all again the next day.

As we have evolved and become more intelligent, we have made more stuff, and that stuff, while great, necessitates added decisions. (You can give me my Anthropology degree now).

Roy F. Baumeister, the guy who coined the phrase decision fatigue, said that the emotional and mental strain from a burden of choices can reduce our ability to make the right decisions.

This is why the cleverest people on the planet do everything they can to avoid making little decisions that might impact their ability to make the big ones. It’s well known that Obama, Zuckerberg, and other insanely successful people tend to wear the same thing every day, so they don’t waste precious brain space on needless decisions.

It also explains why so many of us thrive on routine. When you do the same thing every day at the same time, it removes the need to decide what to do moment to moment.

I am a bit of a control freak, and I do like having control. But it would be nice, just for one day, to have someone else (that I love and trust of course), to make all the decisions for me. Pure bliss. I think I’ll pop that on my Christmas list.

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