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Decision overwhelm theories & hacks

There is a theory that there are only so many questions we can answer, or decisions we can make in a day. This is why so many successful people wear the same thing every day, or have someone they trust pick their outfits out for them.

As both an author and a parent of a young child, I can attest to this theory's accuracy. They say an average toddler asks about 300 questions p/day, or roughly one question p/five minutes. And, while writing is often performed in a flow state, plot decisions, and editing (for me) are certainly not.

So, I got to thinking: How does it actually work, and how could we hack this system? The analogies we use to view the world are very important, so... how do we view this?

Theory 1: "The Ammo Clip"

This is a fairly simplistic and literal interpretation of the theory.

We have so many questions we can answer in a day (ammo clip of questions) and when we sleep, we effectively "reload" that clip for the next day.


Clip Size

Speed of Reload

Theory 2: "Halo"

In Halo, your character has hitpoints, and shields. The shields automatically regenerate after a short period of rest, while the hitpoints do not.

I have a theory that decision overwhelm is similar - that there is a "shields number" of questions where we bounce back faster, and are able to get back at it faster, and, there is a "hitpoints number" where the shields are depleted, and we're losing blood. At that stage, I find myself burnt out, and craving mindless entertainment, distractions, and sleep.


Shield Size

Shield Regeneration Speed

Number of Hitpoints

Hitpoint Regeneration Speed


Clip Size:

I imagine that the more questions we typically answer in a day, the greater our capacity for answering them becomes. Whether or not this is true, I am not certain, but it does make logical, neuroplastic sense.

I am curious if there are other methods to expand this clip size.

Reload Speed:

I've found transcendental meditation to be highly effective at this - however, it requires 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence.

It would be handy if there were an option one could do "in the thick of things."

Shield Size

My gut tells me that this has mostly to do with emotional state.

If I'm in a playful, happy state, I feel like my shields are bigger. Conversely, if I'm stressed, I feel they are smaller. Now, this could simply be reverse correlation - I'm stressed because I'm being asked more questions in a shorter time frame, and the shields failing is stress.

But, in the case of say, playing D&D there are dozens of questions that need to be answered in a short period of time, and I do not require a rest period...

Shield Regeneration Speed

Within shield regeneration, there are actually two variables. Speed at which the shield regenerates, and the length of time I have to be stationary/not under "attack" before it begins regenerating.

The implication of this is that we could find a short rest period - say, going to the bathroom, or even taking a drink of water, and regain the ability to answer more questions than if we'd burned ourselves out and pushed through.

Masterful fighters recuperate not just on their stools, but in the fight itself. Is there a way we could be in the midst of a press conference, business meeting etc, being bombarded with questions, and still find a way to regenerate our shields?

Number of Hitpoints

I have a feeling this has to do with grit. Biting down on the mouthpiece, digging into the darkness, refusing to quit, clinging to my identity of a person who doesn't quit, and answering a few more questions.

But to do that cheerfully... that's a struggle. (That might be a whole other article)

Hitpoint Regeneration Speed

Sleep is, obviously, the most efficient way to regen hp. But music designed to change my state has shown to be partially beneficial as well. Interestingly, I would say that blasting myself with loud, angry music to be more effective than calming, peaceful music. I think that's because, by this stage, I'm tapping into grit/hitpoints, rather than shields.

However, this analogy would imply that I could have low hp, but manage to regenerate my shields to full. I think this is what speakers like Tom Bilyeu and Tony Robbins are capable of doing - running on empty, but still in a masterful state.

What are your thoughts?

Are any of these theories accurate for you? What are some ways you've found to recover, bounce back, or get back into the fight?


As I wrote this, it occurred to me that within the ammo clip theory there might also be a whole other section on decision accuracy... firing one bullet instead of 3... but I'll leave that for now, as I think it would degenerate into the use of VAs and gatekeepers...


I realize it would be a huge challenge to measure or quantify any of these for a study.

I imagine you could have someone follow you around with a compubox clicker for every question you answer throughout the day, plot it on a graph and measure the hack results - but, as far as I know, there'd be no way to measure the internal decisions a person made in a day - logging those decisions as having been made would certainly disrupt the flow of the decision-maker.


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