Undergraduate: Decision Fatigue

A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine wrote an article about the science behind decision fatigue. The article described wedding planning as the worst of the worst when it came to exhausting our brains and wearing out our decision making powers. I immediately figured that I needed to write a post on the subject. But it turned out that before I even could, a post was submitted by someone in the midst of their own planning hell, and it was funnier than anything I could have written. So I bring you a post by the writer of A Mouse Bouche. It’s a good one.

I just got an email informing me that this is possibly my last chance to order those personalized napkins I absolutely must have. “YES!” I thought, “That’s exactly what I need! Here you go, loved ones, please wipe your faces and clean your fingernails on the names of me and my betrothed!”

I am officially over the wedding industry. (And have officially been driven slightly insane by it.)

Episode one:
Everyone’s favorite bride sits on the couch, sobbing, midst meltdown over some decision that had to be made yesterday. The Fiancé, a pillar of patience, strokes her hand and coos, “It’s fine. We don’t have to decide. We just won’t have a ceremony.” More crying.

Episode two (a short play):
The Fiancé and Yours Truly are leaving a visit to a jewelry store at which they have just found out that they can add ring shopping to the list of things “You really should have started months ago.”

Fiancé: So if they tell us it might take four weeks, and then it’s not ready by the time our wedding day comes around, what are we going to do? Are you going to be okay with a place-holder ring?

Yours Truly: (striding energetically/crazily down the block) Well, if they say four weeks and something happens on their end and it’s not ready, then it’s their problem and they better find a way to fix it and get it to us before our wedding day.


Fiancé: I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to start a fight between you and our Imaginary Jeweler.

(and, scene.)

Episode three:
The Blushing Bride and her Groom sit, oh, anywhere. On the couch. In bed. At a table in a restaurant. On the subway. Talking about the latest in a string of decisions that must be made or else.

Fiancé: So what do you want to do about _______?

Yours Truly: I don’t know.

Change locale. Repeat an infinite number of times.

I recently said to the Fiancé that I felt my decision-making muscle was exhausted and unable to function at its full capacity anymore. Never a great one for making choices to begin with, the near-daily workout of being faced with utterly absurd and unnecessary decisions like choosing between this linen and that one, this non-stick skillet or that one (pick this one—America’s Test Kitchen does), to veil or not to veil, what friggin song best represents us as a couple, and are we really missing out by not getting our invitations hand-cancelled at the post office (No, and who has ever heard of such a thing?), my capacity for differentiating between choices and making a decision based on sound information and good judgment is severely impaired.

Turns out the science world has my back on this one. In this New York Times article, they discuss Decision Fatigue as a very real thing with very real, sometimes devastating consequences (judges who hear multiple cases in a day are more likely to deny parole to those later in the day, and this phenomenon takes a particular toll on the poor, who are constantly being depleted by the continual trade-offs and sacrifices of poverty). It goes on to explain how, like will power, our capacity to weigh options and make decisions can get maxed out if we’re calling upon it too often. That dieting phenomenon of waking up with the best intentions for eating well, sitting down to a breakfast of grapefruit and egg whites, and then pigging out at 9pm on nachos and beer, is actually that the will power muscle, the power to make a decision based on long vision and practicality, is just plain worn out after a day of work. AND, the article specifically talks about the process of wedding planning as a virtual marathon for this part of the psyche—the article actually calls it “The decision fatigue equivalent of Hell Week”! I couldn’t agree more. This also sort of hit upon the irony of the “wedding diet” I keep talking about starting. If I’m totally depleted in the decision-making department, and have virtually no judgment or good sense left by the end of a day of phone calls with vendors, isn’t the deck sort of stacked against me getting my butt to bikini bootcamp and forgoing alcohol and chips for steamed kale? The answer is yes.

Which brings me to our next set of decisions: The Menu.

As a food person (and writer of a food blog!), our food was pretty high on my list of priorities. Not to mention, after the dress, it’s pretty much the first thing anyone who knows me asks about. As in, “I can’t wait to hear about the menu! It must be amazing, since you’re such a foodie!” So I sat down to look at hors d’eouvres options with some trepidation. Should we go with the Anise Scented Duck and Foie Gras Empanadas? Or the Smoked Duck and Scallion Crepe Roulade? Too fussy? Overdone? Not us? And how does one determine if one preparation of duck or another best represents us as a couple?

And then it hit me. When I woke up this morning—the best time to make decisions, according to the article—I thought about this whole to-do, these months of “this or that,” “for a small upgrade you can get this,” and “well if we invite him then we have to invite her.” And I realized that the hardest decision of all—or I should say, the most significant one—has already been made. I picked him, and low and behold! He picked me. The rest, if you ask me, decision fatigue and all, is small potatoes. Fried or mashed—don’t ask me—they both sound great.

And so I sat down with our long list of menu choices and asked, do I want people to leave this wedding saying, “Wow. That food was incredible and inventive and original!”?

Or do I want them to leave saying, “Wow. Those two people sure do love each other.”

And it turns out that decision wasn’t so hard after all.

Photo: Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor)

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