Submitted by Allison Allen
So, I’ve been noticing something recently. My previously maybe-not-perfect-but pretty-dang-good decision making regarding COVID has been slipping a bit. I’m still wearing masks in public places, washing hands, etc. But at times, around friends and family, I will admit I have taken some unwarranted risks.
This in itself is of course a problem, but it’s also extra weird given that right now we are currently at higher risk here in beautiful Northern Wisconsin than at any time previously. So why do I find myself dropping my guard now, of all times??
Let’s talk about decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue refers to “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.” It can lead to irrational decisions that don’t feel irrational in the moment, as the cost of having made a series of decisions previously. I think one way (I can think of better, more expletive-filled ways) of describing the past seven months would be as “a long session of decision making,” don’t you? Decisions about work, decisions about your kid’s schooling. Decisions about family, about health care, about the rapidly approaching holidays. About shopping for groceries, for the love of Pete. I mean, really!
Part of the problem is that we all, of necessity, geared up for this at a time when at least locally things stayed pretty low key. We did all the right things for a long time. NOW we are much more in the soup, as other parts of the country have been for some time, and we arrive at this point already feeling “so over it!” Of course, we can FEEL that way, but we cannot afford to ACT that way.
So what is a fed up decision maker to do? We have to keep on keeping on, so a few pro tips would be:
Sleep on it: this is time honored, and effective, for our bigger decisions. Also, eat well, get a little exercise and generally take good care of yourself.
Gather information: sometimes we just need to talk to a few folks and learn more for a decision to come clear
Don’t compare decisions: Your risk factors, risk tolerance, guiding concerns will be different from those of some others. Make your best decisions and live with them.
Autopilot: Yes! Finally a kind word from me about autopilot! Make some protocols, routines that keep you and your family safe, and then stick with them! That way they are no longer decisions, they are commitments, and those end up being less draining over the long haul.
Be conservative: when in doubt do the more conservative, careful thing.
And finally, practice self compassion. There will be slippage. Or, you will make what genuinely seems to you like a solid decision only to learn more later and then feel terrible about it. Consider the words of the great Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then do better.” We muddle on…
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer