How to Overcome Decision Fatigue with Daily Routine

How to Overcome Decision Fatigue with Daily Routine

“Decision fatigue” is a term currently used in Western science to describe a newly-coined, but likely ancient phenomenon that most of us probably experience on a daily basis.

One of Ayurveda's powerful tools for healing and change is healthy daily routine, also referred to as dinacharya. A healthy daily routine may help correct physical and mental imbalances, but a less obvious benefit is its effect on the phenomenon of “decision fatigue.” 

Did you know that our brains use more than half of the glucose available to us for functions such as thinking, memory, and decision-making? And like physical exertion, there is biological fatigue that sets in after a strenuous bout of decision-making. 

Excessive decision-making may lead to a decreased ability to make appropriate or good decisions and choices.

But does this phenomenon really apply to us? Do we really have to make so many decisions in a day? When we consider carefully what decisions are, the answer probably is yes.


Banyan friend Jen gazes out of a window.

Decision-Making as an Act of Willpower

Generally, when we think of decisions, the bigger ones come to mind: Should I go to school? Should I become a carpenter or an engineer? Move? Marry? Divorce?

But many decisions aren't so easy to identify as decisions, and yet we encounter them on a daily—sometimes minute to minute—basis, especially when we consider that the act of decision-making is intimately connected to exerting willpower.

Such decisions might take on an inner dialogue: Should I meditate today? Should I walk or do yoga? When should I walk or do yoga? When should I eat, and do I have to cook? Do I need to go to the market? Should I shower tonight or in the morning?

Should I or should I not eat that tasty ice cream, buy that shiny thing, have sex, listen to this gossip, watch this episode of Friends (again), say what's on my mind, show certain emotions, eat alone or with my co-workers? Each decision made, or act of willpower executed, contributes to decision fatigue.

Some activities require us to make a surprising number of decisions in a short time. With an average computer-user looking at over thirty-six websites per day, online activity is very decision-making intensive. Should I check Facebook? Follow this or that link? Purchase that sale item? Go get a snack?

Marketing gurus and seasoned salesman are well aware of this phenomenon and how to exploit it.

It is no accident that impulse items are positioned at the checkout counter.

You've just navigated yourself around the grocery store, managing some possibly fifty decisions regarding what to buy, what to leave, which brand to purchase, what to make for dinner, and on and on and on. You are likely to suffer from decision fatigue by the time you reach the checkout lane, where the candy bars and magazines await your decision-fatigued self.

Studies show that when we use willpower to avoid buying or eating impulsively, our willpower becomes fatigued. Studies also show that when we repress tears, emotions, and natural urges, our willpower also becomes fatigued. As with other forms of decision fatigue, when we repeatedly exert willpower to repress urges, at some point the dam gives way and we begin to make poor choices.

So how do we walk this world when we are required to constantly flex our willpower under an inundation of decisions each day without wavering, without throwing our hands in the air and shouting “I give up!” as we dive headlong into our impulses and cravings?


Banyan editor Kathleen shopping at a farmer's market

Conserve Your Energy with a Daily Routine

Thankfully, we have a simple remedy through the practice of dinacharya.

Studies show that people who have an established healthy daily routine, make better life choices and suffer less from decision fatigue.

What are some of the common denominators to how these folks spend their days?

  • These successful people rely on a daily routine to direct many important elements of their day, and save decision-making energy for other important things.
  • They have a fixed schedule for self-care and are careful about when they make the other necessary decisions.
  • They schedule important meetings and make important decisions in the morning, after breakfast, or just after lunch, when glucose levels support healthy decision-making, and avoid making decisions when they are tired, or on an empty stomach.
  • They give themselves reasonable deadlines and don't allow themselves to be scheduled back to back.

Engaging in these habits helps us make better decisions more regularly, thereby avoiding crises.

Once we adopt a routine that makes sense to us and serves us well, and discard habits that do not, we corral our daily activities and behavior onto a track we have previously decided upon.

We no longer have to decide when to eat, exercise, meditate, what ethical behavior we wish to adopt, and how we will spend our days. Thereafter, routine becomes a discipline. Discipline becomes habit, habit eliminates the need to make decisions, and our mental resources are freed up for new possibilities.

Getting Started with a Daily Routine

To get started with a supportive daily routine, here are some simple practices and supportive Ayurvedic products you can build into your day:

  • Wake before dawn each day and spend some time in meditation or contemplation.
  • Practice healthy oral hygiene. Along with regular brushing and flossing, use a Tongue Cleaner to scrape out and remove toxins, and finish your oral hygiene by swishing with Daily Swish Oil. Gently swishing this lightly infused herbal oil pulls natural toxins from the oral tissues, leaving them fresh and clean.
  • Use Nasya Oil. In Sanskrit, the life force is called prana. In Chinese medicine, this same energy is called chi, or qi. We draw this life force with the breath. Nasya Oil soothes and protects the nasal passages, while also relieving tension and stress. This allows the body to breathe in prana, where it travels to every tissue in the body.
  • Practice self-massage with Daily Massage Oil. This is another vital element of a daily routine. With warm oil, self-massage calms the nervous system, stimulates the circulation and lymph, and nourishes the skin. Daily Massage Oil is balancing for all three doshas and can be used any time of the day.
  • Set aside some time, preferably at the same time each day, to engage in a form of exercise best suited to your constitution.
  • Eat meals at the same time every day.
  • End your day with triphala, the “three fruits” of Ayurveda. Triphala is recommended and used more than any other formula for its ability to support the body's digestive process, including the assimilation of nutrients and the elimination of waste products. It is a natural antioxidant and is nourishing and rejuvenating to the body's tissues. Taken before bed, it works with the body's natural cleansing rhythms.
  • Go to bed, lights out, every night by 10 p.m.

For added convenience, Banyan has put together a Daily Routine Bundle with the five Ayurvedic products listed above to help you form the core of your self-care routine.

While it is useful to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner to formulate a daily routine tailored to our particular needs, these are a few simple components you can start with.

These starting steps are rooted in honoring and living within the natural circadian rhythms found in yourself and in nature. Interestingly, I recently read that as many as 15% of our genes are thought to be controlled by circadian rhythms. So if you structure your life consciously around these rhythms, you are living within the rhythms of your genetic design.

The ancient sages of Ayurveda knew that how we spend our days alters the course of our lives and emphasized the practice of dinacharya. While times and experiences may change over millennia, the need for a daily routine may be more important today than ever.