Talking with U of M

Talking holiday decision fatigue strategies with the U of M

Portrait of Professor Kathleen Vohs leaning against a pillar outside
Carlson School of Management Professor Kathleen Vohs

From making a gift budget to determining travel plans, the list of decisions this holiday season can feel never-ending.

University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Professor Kathleen Vohs is a consumer psychologist and has studied the impact of decision fatigue, the stress caused by making too many decisions. She shares what to keep in mind this holiday season.

Q: What does decision fatigue look like over the holidays?
Prof. Vohs: 
The holiday season is a time of a lot of decisions. Who’s hosting the family gathering this year? What should I bring to dinner? How many gifts should I buy this year? That can all be very taxing.

Q: How is decision-making different this holiday season?
Prof. Vohs: 
On top of usual holiday decisions, there are three factors that could be adding to this season’s decision fatigue. 

  • COVID-19: Some people are feeling unsafe about holiday gatherings due to differing vaccination status and new variants of the virus. 
  • Politics: You might be deciding whether or not to attend an event where opposing politics may come up.
  • Supply chain: People feel they need to make decisions about gift purchases right now due to delays. It’s adding the feeling of potentially losing out on something.

Q: What can you do to make these decisions more manageable? 
Prof. Vohs: 

  • Bundle: Switching decision-making between different tasks is more taxing than if you're grouping similar decisions. Instead of shopping for gifts while also making dinner plans, dedicate a time to specifically shop for presents.
  • Delegate: If you’re hosting a dinner, assign guests what side dish or dessert to bring.  This helps streamline the decision-making for each person involved.
  • Decide early: One of the reasons decision-making is so stressful is because people tend to put it off until it needs to be made. That just compounds the feeling of stress.

Q: Can making decisions be fun?
Prof. Vohs: 
Research shows choosing for others can be more enjoyable and less fatiguing. Trying to focus on another person can really help to alleviate some of the stressors that are involved with decision-making, because it takes you out of the equation. You just have to maintain that focus.

Q: What's a helpful tool to combat stress?
Prof. Vohs: 
When things get super stressful and you’re spinning, take a moment to refocus. Bring attention back to your body and put your attention on your breathing. When people engage in mindfulness, they feel calm, relaxed, and more centered.

Kathleen Vohs is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Land O'Lakes Chair in Marketing at the Carlson School. Her research specialties include self-control, the hidden costs of decision making, the psychology of money, the difference between a meaningful and happy life, and heterosexual sexual negotiations. 

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About the Carlson School of Management
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Media Contacts

Rose Semenov

Carlson School of Management, Twin Cities

Andria Waclawski

University Public Relations