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Beat the brain fog

Beat the brain fog

Nicola Hopes

2 December 2020

Hands up if your brain is trying to solve multiple ‘crises’, your end of year energy levels are sapping and you’re finding yourself in various states of inertia.

You too? You’re not alone.

This was the monologue from a coaching client last week:

“I don’t know whether to start that project next year as nobody’s available in December.

And I don’t know whether to take a long Christmas break myself as I’m knackered, and I have days to take.

But if I decided to be in over Christmas, I know it’ll be a quiet time so I could get lots done.

And I don’t know what my Christmas plans are anyway. Do I take the risk and spend time with family? If so, which family members make the cull…?”

Cut to me, not having spoken for 10 minutes (I know, right), staring empathetically into the video camera and asking him to just take a moment and a big deep breath.

Does that thought pattern sound familiar?

If so – it can be relentless. It’s tiring. It doesn’t actually move you forward.

Research quoted in a Harvard Business Review article from last year shows that the typical person makes about 2,000 decisions every waking hour.

“Most decisions are minor, and we make them instinctively or automatically —

what to wear to work in the morning, whether to eat lunch now or in ten minutes, etc.

But many of the decisions we make throughout the day take real thought,

and have serious consequences (heath, wellbeing, relationships, how we spend our time).”

 It seems that knowing how to make good decisions and forming habits that underpin good decision-making have a huge effect on how successful we are.

Decision Fatigue

As you’ve read, all decisions are not made equal. As an example, the (arguably) trivial decisions doing the rounds in the Hopes household include…

  • After reading an article on nutrition – how much granola is too much granola for breakfast?
  • After an expensive disappointment – should we just replace our high maintenance plants with artificial ones? Well it is their fault for being so needy after all…
  • Will putting up our Christmas tree this weekend ring in early Christmas cheer? Or just lead to two additional weeks of needle hoovering and replacing baubles the cat has decided to play hide and seek with?

These are clearly not worth the brain space they are taking. And I can’t help wondering what other more earth-shattering decisions they’re taking the limelight from.

Decision fatigue is a scientific fact. We all have a finite amount of brain power for decisions. And yes, you’ve guessed it – the more significant the decision or the its impact, the harder it is to make. For example, research from the same article:

“Prisoners are more likely to have parole approved in the morning than when their cases are heard in the afternoon.

With so many decisions to make, especially ones that have a big impact on other people, it’s inevitable to experience decision fatigue.”


However energetic you think you are, however sharp you are, however comfortable you are with decisions – are you really focussing your finite decision-making might on the right ones?

So, what are the two things you can do to counter decision-fatigue?

1.   Decision Bootcamp

First, identify the most important decisions you need to make.

Write down the decisions and options that are taking up precious brain space – I like to use a mind-map but you might prefer a simple list.

Use coloured pens or highlighters in the app to identify which are the most impactful decisions that really need your focus (due to e.g. impact on others, impact on finance or success, time to implement or effect on happiness or wellness).

Which you can put a line through or delegate because they’re just not worth it or time has moved on?

Which should you postpone because you don’t know enough to make it now? Ah, the sweet relief of parking a decision that’s caused much psychic noise.

Which you can frankly flip a coin over because the outcome really doesn’t matter that much? Try it, you’d be amazed by the freedom it brings.

2.   Timing is everything

For those decisions that do need your focus, prioritise your time so that you make them when your energy levels are highest.

For you that may be first thing in the morning (after exactly the right amount of granola, of course) when you’re fresh and haven’t got into the challenges of the day.

Or it could be the end of the day when you feel you have more time to reflect (particularly if you’re ‘commuting like a boss’, right?).

Is it a start of week, mid-week or end of week thing for you given how your week usually pans out?

Put time in the diary to do it justice and prepare. Make sure you have the notes, emails, articles, reports to hand to make the job easy when you start it. Keep focussed until it’s done and feel free to reward yourself when you have.

So, share with me the most important and the seemingly most frivolous decision you have found yourself contemplating recently and what you’ve decided to do about it. I’m all ears!

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