Vanlife is freedom. When you live in a van, you are free to go anywhere. The choices are limitless. Though spontaneity is one of the biggest draws to the vagabond lifestyle, this unlimited ability to “choose your own adventure” comes at a price and it’s called: decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is the psychological concept that the quality of our decisions deteriorates over time each day. We only have the mental capacity to make a finite number of decisions each day before our judgment lapses, we experience ‘analysis paralysis,’ and our self-control goes out the window. It’s estimated that we make over 35,000 decisions each day and every decision—whether to put salt on your food or which way to walk down the street—deteriorates your energy.
Vanlife is unique because there are so many extra decisions to make on a daily basis: Where should I go? Where should I get gas? What should I do today? Where should I park for the night? A regular vanlife day can leave you feeling exhausted, even if you haven’t exerted much physical energy.
Thankfully, though, there are ways to combat decision fatigue so you can stay sane and energetic on the road! Individuals like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Ferriss, and biohacker Dave Asprey recognize the negative impacts of decision fatigue, and us vanlifers can learn something from their behaviors. Here are 5 ways to help combat decision fatigue while living on the road:
- Put less important decisions on autopilot.
Since every decision causes fatigue, it’s best to put the less important decisions on autopilot. Two great examples of this are wardrobe choices and meal plans. Mark Zuckerburg and Barack Obama wear the same basic outfit each day, so they can focus their energy on more important decisions. Eating the same thing or having a list of a few go-to meals can also help (we make over 200 food decisions per day). Personally, I eat the same thing for breakfast and have a short list of simple meals I circulate for lunch/dinner.
- Make your most important decisions in the morning.
Decision-making energy peaks in the morning, so spend your morning making your most important decisions of the day. This might be your driving route, your outdoor hobbies, or where you want to camp for the night. Whatever it is for you, try to knock this out early in the morning.
- Create patterns and systems for daily chores and activities.
If you’re traveling with a partner, you may notice that you naturally do this. One person is the more frequent driver, while the other is the navigator. One person cooks and the other cleans. Get into this routine on your own as well—when you cook, make a consistent decision whether or not to clean up your dishes right away. When your gas tank drops down to a certain level, make the decision to always refill at a specific point. Consistency in this inconsistent lifestyle can help you put your mental energy towards focusing on the fun stuff, rather than things like whether or not to make the bed. Having an organization system in place will help avoid an explosion of “stuff” in your 60 square feet.
- Limit your distracting stimulation.
This is a difficult one and one I am definitely guilty of: spending a lot of time on social media. The issue here is that every time you look at a post, you make a decision: To like or not to like? To comment or not to comment? This takes so much mental energy! My best advice for this is to set a timer when you go on social media (I use an app called Focus Keeper for both my work tasks and social media posting). This way you won’t wake up in a daze hours later with your face glued to your screen.
- Go with your gut.
Don’t spend too much time making any one decision. If you’re agonizing over which town to visit or which hike to go on, go with your first instinct and keep moving forward. Studies have shown that we don’t become better decision-makers when we overanalyze, we just become more tired and less sure of ourselves. Just got with your gut and make a move!