Between Amens — How a routine can help you beat decision fatigue and improve your spiritual life

Dr. Karen Shadle

What should I wear today? Which route do I take to work? What project should I tackle first? Do I “like” that post on Facebook? What’s for dinner? Is it leg day or arm day? Researchers at Cornell University found that the average American adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions every single day, ranging from the trivial to the deeply consequential. 

Having so many choices can seem liberating — it’s part of the privilege of living in a free society with relative abundance. But it can also be mentally taxing. Researchers have a name for this: decision fatigue. 

The theory of decision fatigue is that we all have limited capacity for making good choices, and as the day wears on and the sheer number of decisions piles up, we are more prone to make unwise or unhealthy choices. We are all familiar with this phenomenon. When we are mentally overwhelmed, we tend to resort to procrastination (“I’ll figure this out later”), hasty decision-making (“Let’s just get it over with”), over-thinking (“What if this doesn’t work out?”), and other such crutches. 

One of the best strategies for combatting decision fatigue is to pre-decide as many things as possible. Lay out clothes the night before or create a uniform for yourself. Package healthy lunches for the week all at once. Routinize as many things as possible. Simply do the same thing every day. Few of us actually “decide” to brush our teeth; it’s just a part of the morning and evening routine. Streamlining these easier choices keeps us fresh to make other, perhaps more important ones throughout the day. 

According to the most recent survey data, somewhere around half of American Catholics attend Mass only a few times a year. Presumably, these few times include things like Easter and Christmas and perhaps a family wedding or funeral. 

The reasons why so many Catholics have such a tenuous connection to the Church are surely complex and multi-layered. But I have to think that decision fatigue plays a large role. If going to Mass is a choice that waits until the last moment at the end of a busy week, that choice is likely to be a bad one. If we wait to see if we’re “feeling it” this weekend, if the weather is ideal, if the calendar of activities lays out just right, then it will be next Christmas before we get back in a pew. 

The healthy spiritual life requires regular, routine attendance at Mass. Every. Single. Week. 

The time to decide to go to Mass is not Sunday morning. It’s right now. Add it to your calendar and set it to recur indefinitely. This way, it can be your excuse for saying no to other things that might come up. It’s already planned. No need to think about it. No decision fatigue to fight. Brush your teeth; go to Mass. 

Easter is a season, not a day. Let the full church on Easter Sunday be a reminder of what could and should be on every Sunday of the year.

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