A new study reveals how decision fatigue can affect our financial lives.
Exercise or sleep in? Eat breakfast at home or buy it on the way to the office? Meet friends for drinks or head home after work? We make thousands of choices every day—in fact, more than 200 are devoted to food alone, according to a Cornell University study. And according to a growing body of research, each decision, no matter how weighty or frivolous, affects our ability to make sound judgments.
It’s called decision fatigue, and comes from the theory that willpower is a limited resource that weakens each time we use it. “Decisions deplete our self-control, so the more decisions we make in a given period, the less energy we have to think clearly and rationally about the next decisions,” says behavioral economist Zoe Chance, assistant professor at Yale School of Management.
Just like it’s exhausting to run 10 miles, our willpower is wiped out at the end of a hard day. As we burn through mental capacity, the activity in the part of the brain involved in self-control decreases, triggering us to make poor calls. (Like, say, binging on Ben & Jerry’s and Game of Thrones till the wee hours of the morning.)