Why do successful people wear the same outfits every day?

Why do successful people wear the same outfits every day?

A few years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in the headlines because he told the interviewer that he has a closet of the same T-shirts. He explained that dressing the same way every day allows him to save his mental capacity for making more significant decisions at work [1].

It is estimated that an American adult makes 35,000 decisions a day [2]. Try to consider the number of decisions you make each day, from picking which outfit to put on, choosing what to eat for lunch, and making important business decisions at work. It might be tempting to think that nowadays, as we have more options (i.e., online shopping), the more likely we will be able to find the right thing [3]. In contrast, psychologists found that people are more likely to purchase a product when given fewer options. Furthermore, people who bought from fewer options were also more satisfied with their purchases [4]. This phenomenon is explained by "Decision Fatigue."
Decision Fatigue: The idea that: 1) you are capable of making a limited amount of good decisions each day, and  2) the more decisions you make throughout the day, the worse you are at making them[5].

You might ask, but doesn't having more choices give us more autonomy?

Yes, but at the same time, more choices increase the time and effort it takes in decision-making, giving rise to:

  • 😣 Anxiety (which one is the best!?)
  • 😩 Regret (I should've chosen the other one...)
  • 🤨 Excessively high expectations (I spent so much time deciding, it'd better be good)
  • 😵 Self-blame if the decision didn't work out (ugh, I'm so bad at making decisions) [3].

In addition, psychologists suggest that humans have a limited "mental capacity" to regulate behaviours. The decision-making process drains our "mental capacity" because it requires our brain to process tons of information while undergoing intense coordination of executive functions and regulation of emotions. In exchange, the activity in brain regions involved in reasoning and decision-making is lowered [2]. More importantly, while we are able to rank the importance of decisions when asked to, our brain is unable to automatically prioritize our decisions. Therefore, even decisions as small as which T-shirt to wear in the morning can drain this "mental capacity"[6].

Consequently, when required to make important decisions, our brain under decision-fatigue will either take the "easiest way out" by making poor decisions (i.e, impulsive purchases) or procrastinate [7]. So now you probably understand Zuckerberg's clothing choice. By minimizing the number of meaningless decisions he has to make in the morning, he reserves mental capacity for more meaningful decisions at work.

What are some things we can do to avoid decision fatigue?

1. Limit unnecessary decisions by building habits

Habits/routines help automate the decision-making process, reducing the number of day-to-day decisions we have to make, such as: When should I go to bed? Should I go to the gym or stay at home? For things that occur once in a while, such as grocery shopping and doing laundry, you could also set notifications to remind you [8].

2. Make a list of the decisions that matter to you

Jot down the top priority decisions of your life and remind yourself to tackle these things first (ask yourself: how much impact on my life will this decision have?) [9]. When you can't help spending hours shopping online, this list could help you prioritize.

Or, if you want to save time and energy, you could make a decision ahead of time to get our attention journal with one click below:

3. Do important things when mental acuity is high

To avoid decision fatigue, you should schedule work meetings and critical decision-making:
1) At the beginning of the day, when your mental acuity is the highest due to increased cortisol levels [10].
2) Shortly after lunch, when your glucose level is high (our brain needs a consistent supply of glucose to function [9]).

Fun-fact: People are more likely to make impulsive purchases when grocery shopping on an empty stomach [9]. 

4. Plan your day the night before

Making smaller decisions the night before (i.e., meal plan for the next day, picking out tomorrow's outfit, making a grocery list ahead of time) can reduce the many decisions you have to make the next day, freeing up more mental capacity for tomorrow [1].

5. Take breaks to free up mental capacity

Besides having sufficient sleep, mindfulness practices, and breathing exercises are powerful tools to give your racing mind a break from exhausting decision-making.

There, you just made one step closer to becoming a wiser and more rational decision-maker. Recognizing that "more choices isn't always better" makes us re-examine some unconscious thought patterns that are not serving us. Just like what we've always emphasized: your life is the sum of what you pay attention to.


Stay lucid :)



[1] Gamb, M. (2019, May 13). How to identify when you're experiencing decision fatigue. Forbes. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2019/05/13/how-to-identify-when-youre-experiencing-decision-fatigue/?sh=1d727a687fb4.

[2] Pignatiello, G. A., Martin, R. J., & Hickman, R. L., Jr (2020). Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis. Journal of health psychology, 25(1), 123–135. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318763510

[3] Schwartz, B. (2006, June). More isn't always better. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2006/06/more-isnt-always-better.

[4] Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(6), 995–1006. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.995

[5] Hirshleifer, D., Levi, Y., Lourie, B., & Teoh, S. H. (2019). Decision fatigue and heuristic analyst forecasts. Journal of Financial Economics, 133(1), 83–98. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfineco.2019.01.005

[6]Levitin, Daniel J. “Organized Mind : Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (9780698157224)。” Apple Books.

[7] Lamothe, C. (2019, October 3). Decision fatigue: What it is and how to avoid it. Healthline. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/decision-fatigue#how-to-handle-it.

[8]Wildermuth, E. (2018, September 11). The Science of Decision Fatigue - Erin Wildermuth. Michael Hyatt & Co. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://michaelhyatt.com/the-science-of-decision-fatigue/.

[9]Decision fatigue - biases & heuristics. The Decision Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/decision-fatigue/.

[10] BBC. (n.d.). How to plan your day to get the best out of your brain. BBC Worklife. Retrieved October 16, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190130-how-to-plan-your-day-to-get-the-best-out-of-your-brain.

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