We’re forced to make hundreds of small decisions daily that for the most part we take for granted: Do I answer that friend’s email now or after lunch? Should I buy that slow cooker while it’s still on sale? One-click shopping, email, and social media newsfeeds allow us to be consistently “on” while myriad streams of information assault us. All demand action in the form of a decision.
Every choice we make is precipitated by a decision—and a barrage of decisions can literally drain our mental reserves. The resulting fatigue is what causes us to make irrational decisions or to give in to something unreasonable. “Decision fatigue” is a real disorder made worse by the intensity of our technologically driven lives.
Too many innocuous decisions can degrade our ability to make the appropriate decision about urgent matters, points out Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, psychologist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex,” he says. “Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier.”
Too many choices limit our ability to focus and critically assess a situation. Decision fatigue, a term Dr. Baumeister coined, also contributes to higher stress levels, particularly people in positions that require endless crucial decisions.
The solution? Get rid of unnecessary decisions in your life!
One of the easiest ways to combat decision fatigue: Take charge of the things that you can control—such as what you wear every day. Your closet and wardrobe may seem like incidental things in the big picture of decision making but consider this: Dozens of successful leaders in business and government don’t waste time trying to decide what to wear. They wear the same thing every day.
President Obama only wears gray or blue suits. In a 2012 Vanity Fair interview he said, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Similarly, Mark Zuckerburg famously wears grey T-shirts, claiming, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” Steve Jobs was known for his signature black turtleneck and jeans and Einstein was famous for having several versions of one gray suit in his closet.
Matilda Kahl, creative art director, has been wearing the same thing to work for three years, according to an article on businessinsider.com. While preparing for an important meeting, Kahl completely stressed out about what to wear and as a result arrived late: “My stress level only increased as I saw my male creative partner and other male co-workers having a ‘brodown’ with the new boss… I just stood there paralyzed by the fact that I was not only late, but unprepared.”
Kahl realized that her male colleagues never dealt with the problem of trying to decide what to wear because men have a socially acceptable uniform: a suit. So she created her own uniform and settled on something simple and elegant: a white shirt and black pants. Kahl now has a dozen white silk shirts and black pants in her closet. Removing the task of trying to decide what to wear every day allowed her to devote her energies to tougher business decisions. Kahl sums up her newfound freedom: “The simple choice of wearing a work uniform has saved me countless wasted hours…and in fact, these black trousers and white blouses have become an important daily reminder that frankly, I’m in control.”
Confidence is a byproduct of feeling in control. “When you wear something that just feels right, you are confident. It makes you memorable and distinctive,” says personal brand guru William Arruda.
While you don’t need to toss or ignore your entire wardrobe, streamlining your closet will help you focus and claim authority over the important decisions you have to make.
Financial reporter Kathleen Elkins took up the challenge and pared her closet down to only 30 items. She retained what she calls a “capsule wardrobe”—a term coined way back in the 1970s by personal fashion guru Susie Faux. The idea is to curate only the most versatile and best quality clothing that can be mixed and matched for all occasions. This eliminates the daily decision-making process of what to wear and allows you to corral your reserves for more critical issues.
Fretting about inconsequential things like wardrobe drains your brainpower before the day even begins. Everyone’s life could use a little simplicity, especially as daily tasks escalate and compete for our attention. Streamlining your wardrobe is one easy way to reclaim confidence and strengthen your decision-making prowess.