Life is a list of endless decisions. It’s the big ones that stump us because we fear that making a wrong decision might have dire consequences for the rest of our lives – deciding who to marry or live with would fall into this category.
We don’t consider the everyday mundane decisions like deciding what to wear or what to have for dinner as life-threatening, but they are exhausting. They wear us down and lead to what scientists call decision fatigue.
And decision fatigue can have a serious negative effect on more important decisions as this New York Times article reports.
Moran Cerf, professor of neuroscience and business at the Kellogg School of Management and the neuroscience program at Northwestern University, studies the neural mechanisms that underlie decision-making. His work and personal experience has given him first-hand knowledge of how draining constant decision-making is.
Cerf has found a simple solution to the mind-sapping drudgery of continual low-level decision-making: he makes one decision from which he believes satisfaction, even happiness will follow.
What is this one decision?
Choose the people you spend time with carefully, he advises.
“The more we study engagement, we see time and again that just being next to certain people actually aligns your brain with them, based on their mannerisms, the smell of the room, the noise level, and many other factors. This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike,” he told Business Insider.
Cerf thinks the most important decision we can make in our lives is who we spend time with. If we decide to spend time with someone whose company we enjoy, that decision alone will ensure a certain level of happiness.
According to Cerf, we can’t rely on our general decision-making to ensure happiness. He told Business Insider that “our decision-making is fraught with biases that cloud our judgment. People misremember bad experiences as good, and vice versa; they let their emotions turn a rational choice into an irrational one; and they use social cues, even subconsciously, to make choices they’d otherwise avoid.”
Our ability to make decisions that will bring us happiness is so unreliable that this one decision, to spend time with someone whose company we know we enjoy, is a sure way to experience at least some measure of happiness.
Cerf practices what he preaches. How?
He limits the number of small decisions he takes. He told Business Insider when he dines out, instead of deciding which restaurant to pick and what to choose off the menu, he chooses who he wants to eat with and trusts that person to choose a good restaurant. Once there, he routinely chooses the second item on the specials menu. Sometimes it works out perfectly and other times it’s a miss.
At any rate, he doesn’t have to bother with a decision, and besides, leaving your food up to chance is just as risky as deciding what to order, isn’t it?