Decision Fatigue and Persistent Kindness

In my last blog, I wrote about ego-depletion. Another related phenomenon is decision-fatigue. Think of all the decisions that have to be made in a day: Should I get up when the alarm rings or press snooze, what will I wear, what do I eat for breakfast, what time do I need to leave to get to school on time, how will I get there, what do I do first, how do I restrain my frustrations and make the effort to contain normal impulses, etc.

As the day progresses, each decision we make depletes us of a little more mental energy. Have you ever gone home at the end of the day and can’t even think what to eat for supper? Let alone have the mental energy to make important financial decisions, think about what needs or does not need to be purchased, or even plan your next holiday. This is called decision-fatigue.

How do we support ourselves with this? We create structure and routine so that we don’t need to make so many decisions. The alarm rings, we get up. We eat similar things for breakfast every morning, we leave at the same time to get to school, we have a routine for the day, we know when we will eat lunch and where because we do the same thing every day, etc. And we know that the best time to make important decisions is when we are feeling fully-fueled.

The Third Teacher tells us about how our environment influences us. Mostly we think about our physical space, however, we are also highly influenced by the environment of our daily routine and the people with whom we spend the day.

How do we support our children with decision-fatigue? All parents and teachers know the importance of structure in a child’s life. By taking away the routine choices, we leave energy for the more important and deeper learning choices. The more structure we have, the less we have to worry about.

Helping our students know what is expected of them by modeling the expected behaviour, creating a structure to the day and keeping it, always responding in the same way to a certain type of behaviour, and being consistent. It is not about militaristic, unforgiving daily routines, it is about persistent kindness. It is about respectfully teaching our children how they might interact successfully with others, and how to follow social pragmatics so that they use their energy to think creatively, be empathetic, and innovate their world.

I wonder, if we give our children and ourselves the gift of externally generated discipline vs internally generated discipline what might we do differently?



3 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue and Persistent Kindness

  1. Great post! Better to be proactive than reactive. Or…if we are proactive with our structure, we are better equipped to be reactive to the situations that arise…


  2. This is so true!
    I have been told by OCD people in my life that they have a very well organized lifestyle which helps them being very successful at avoiding the mindful stress of daily decision making. It may help becoming less stressed over the small day to day decisions, and thus free our mind for the unforeseen, daily challenges.
    Teaching organization to free our minds so that we can get to the things we want as a treat to hard work should in itself be very liberating.
    The mind should be our tool, not our enemy as science is trying to get us to believe.
    Mindfulness is about knowing as an observer of the Self thinking, problem solving and giving our Self the rewards of experiencing life through the people, nature and events in our own lives.
    We are experiencers, not victims of experiences.


  3. I could not advocate more for the importance of structure and routine. As an educator, being introduced to Responsive Classroom has been absolutely invaluable. As a specialist/subject teacher, setting simple routines that students can easily familiarise themselves with and act on independently saves an enormous amount of time and mental energy (on both the part of the students and the teacher!).

    As an adult, being diagnosed with ADHD (just last year) has helped me to understand how my supercharged mind works and helped me to target the triggers to the decision making/procrastination paralysis that has wreaked havoc on my life. In addition to setting structured routines for each day, a simple checklist written before you go to bed of all the tasks you need to accomplish the next day is key.

    I have now started using simple checklists with my most energised students, who also struggle to stay focused. It has worked a treat!



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s