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Robert Stevenson’s Thoughts on the Pursuit of Excellence

The Paralyzing Effects of Decision Fatigue

December 11, 2017

by Robert Stevenson

Decision Fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. Researchers have discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year ... Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about 33% of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day.

Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70% of the time,while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10% of the time.

The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of Decision Fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to bad choices late in the game and senior management prone to disastrous decisions late in the evening. Decision Fatigue will warp the judgment of anyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor. “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts … one shortcut is to become restless and make a quick (poor) decision and the other is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.” - NY Times

Decision Fatigue can also lead people to avoid decisions entirely; a crippling phenomenon called "Decision Avoidance.” Research by Lyengar and Lepper "found that people who had more choices were often less willing to decide to buy anything at all, and their subsequent satisfaction was lower when they had been confronted with 24 or 30 options than when they faced six options"; which suggests that choice, to the extent that it requires greater decision-making among options, can become burdensome and ultimately counterproductive. Henry Ford solved the decision problem when he stated: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that they want, so long as it is black.”

One way to help reduce Decision Fatigue is to create certain habits you follow throughout the day. Habits eliminate the need for a decision. You get up at a certain time, exercise at a certain time, check the news at a certain time, study/read at a certain time, plan your day before reading any emails, check emails and texts at a certain time. I find that I write better in the morning and study better in the evening. Writing requires creativity and decisions on what to write … studying requires NO decisions at all. The brilliant mind of Steven Jobs, even took it so far as to wear the same clothes every day; jeans, sneakers and a black turtleneck shirt. No decision required… stress eliminated and no energy exerted.

If you have an important presentation to make to influence “the” decision makers … and if you have the option, you might want to make your presentation earlier in the day, when those “decision makers” are fresh, receptive and energized, rather than beat-up and worn down; worn down people tend to make NO decisions at all. Have no doubt, Decision Fatigue is real.

"Your only true security in life
is your ability to perform."

About the Author

Robert Stevenson is an expert at building a high-performance business culture, improving efficiency, and accelerating growth. He is one of the most widely sought-after speakers in the world today, as well as a best-selling author. He has owned five companies, sold internationally in over 20 countries. Robert has spoken to over 2,500 companies throughout the world and his research in the area of corporate and entrepreneurial success is extensive. Over 2 million people have benefitted from his powerful, practical, and thought-provoking programs. He is a true master at blending facts, inspiration, conviction, and humor into all his programs.

Companies like FedEx, Prudential, Lockheed Martin, Anheuser-Busch, Chevron, American Express, and Berkshire Hathaway continue to rely on him for a fresh, unique perspective on businesses’ most crucial issues. To learn more about Robert and what he can do for your team visit his website at

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