Sunday, September 4, 2011

Decision Fatigue

One morning last week, Little A and I went to the Minnesota Children's Museum. We haven't gone this whole summer and even though it was a beautiful summer day, it was pretty easy to decide to spend the morning inside. My sister gave us a membership last year so other than the $4 parking fee, it's "free" to us. There's an outdoor, rooftop art garden area, so we'd be able to be outside at least a little bit and the outdoor area is only open part of the year, so the days when we'd be able to visit that part were waning. Little A is finally old enough and big enough to enjoy areas outside of the toddler room (and I'm confident enough that she won't get plowed down by big kids that I can relax a little).

Not all decisions about how to spend our days are so easy. What am I in the mood for? What is she in the mood for? How much will this cost? Will we bike, drive, walk, or take public transport? What will we do for food? What is the weather going to be like? Is this an event, like the State Fair, that will only be around for a limited time? Will we be able to do this in the winter? Will she be stimulated enough? Will she end up over-stimulated?

By the end of the morning "what are we going to do today" planning session, I've reached near complete exhaustion.

I know: feel free to give a giant eye roll here. Trust me, I've rolled my eyes at myself often enough. It's not as if we're making decisions about curing cancer or brokering peace treaties. These are the small, day-to-day minute decisions of a stay at home mom and her toddler.

So I was kind of relieved when I read this article from the New York Times Magazine about "decision fatigue." This is the thrust of it: making decisions is tiring. We can only make a finite number of good decisions in a day before we run out of decision-making juice and start making bad decisions. Also, one so-called (at least by me) "decision-making juice" is basically sugar. Eat a candy bar, make good decisions again.

I realized that this daily question of "what are we going to do?" was using up a lot of my decision-making juice. On the one hand, being at home with a toddler is great. We have a wide-open schedule. We can do what we like, when we like. We can have picnics when the weather is beautiful. We can go for bike rides. We can take trips to the zoo. We can finger paint. We can wake up when we want to. And both of us have loved not having to be anywhere at any particular time. I noticed that tears and frustration (from both of us) mostly come up when we have to be someplace at a specific time. The running around to pack a lunch and a diaper bag and to get loaded into the car has us both in a bit of a panic. We're used to running on our own schedule. The problem is when just the mere act of deciding what to do is so exhausting that we end up doing not much more than playing around the house (which, granted, is something that Little A does need every so often). The problem is when I use up all of my decision-making juice on just getting us out of the house so that by the time I get to "what are we going to have for dinner?" I'm exhausted. I've been making decisions for two every day. "Throw another brat on the grill!" I've said, too often, perhaps, this summer. I've been too tired to blog or to write because what is writing, really, other than a series of decisions about which word to put on the page next.

I have sometimes scoffed at the idea of having a schedule, of strictly enforcing a routine, but after months and months of us flying by the seat of our pants (and reading that NYT Magazine article), I can see the beauty of a routine and of scheduled activities. I'm looking forward to our regular ECFE class this fall, to Little A's scheduled classes at the Y this winter. I'm looking forward to having some of these daily decisions made for me -- for us. I'm looking forward to more trips to the Children's Museum. I'm looking forward to something other than another brat thrown on the grill at the end of the day. And I'm looking forward to choosing more words to put on the page.

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