A few years ago (maybe as many as ten or twenty, I’m not sure about things like that) it seemed that the idea of “decision fatigue” was in vogue. Or, at least, I read one or two articles about it and ran with it. The idea is simple. Making decisions, even small ones, involves an investment of energy. The more decisions we make, the more energy we use up and therefore the less we have in reserve even for basic things like eating and activity. This also translates into decreased willpower or an ability to say no to poor choices (or yes to good ones).
I’ve thought about this a lot as each of our three kids have moved through the phase we are currently in with the youngest wherein we are encouraging him to make “good choices.” But I’ve also waffled between wanting to teach them to make good choices and wanting to protect them from experiencing decision fatigue. Fatigue is, after all, the mother of poor choices. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Surprisingly, it’s also one that has become easier under pandemic conditions. In part, this is due to the fact that we simply have fewer choices to make. The museums, for example, have all been closed and even when they have been open, with three unvaccinated kids, I’m not likely going to be spending much time in public indoors with them soon. Without having even the option of going inside a museum (or any number of places like to a movie or a play or live music), I have one fewer decision that I have to make in any given day or week. I think of this a being able to drop one more marble into the decision making energy jar. Had all of these optioned for activities been open to me, to us, I would have been spending a lot of time and energy fretting about what I was not doing with my kids and I would have spent far too much time and energy concerned that each day NOT spent at a museum was a day I was depriving my kids.
My brother recently posted a video to the group chat of a man who had been incarcerated (I seem to recall about twenty years) and was standing in the cereal aisle overwhelmed by options. In this case, he couldn’t believe all of the different flavor options for cherrios. For me, it was toothpaste. When I was living in a small town (a handful of shops and restaurants) in Thailand for a while and I would return home, I would sometimes have to go shopping. I most distinctly remember standing in the toothpaste aisle wondering to myself “where do I even begin?” In the coming years, I was acutely aware, at times, of all of the time, energy, and resources I had to commit (felt forced to commit) to toothpaste. It was simultaneously frustrating and foreign. We are often taught in the US and perhaps in the western world in general that having options (Whitening! Sensitive gum?! Herbal?) is good, even when those options are ultimately and completely meaningless.
(To be continued…)