The Demon of Decision Fatigue

Americans make an average of 70 decisions a day.  Should you hit the snooze bar?  What shirt do you pull from the bottom of your closet?  What do you eat for lunch?

As these choices pile up, we can suffer from something called “decision fatigue.”  The longer we take agonizing over early decisions, the harder it becomes to make a wise choice later on.

You’ve probably experienced this in shows.  If your show starts quickly and decisively, that bodes well for the rest of the performance.  If your team spends the first three minutes frantically grasping at straws, you’ve got a wobbly foundation.

There’s a misconception that it’s rude to be declarative in an improv show.  Some of us think that making and declaring a choice somehow robs the other performers of their freedom.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every decision in your show is influenced by the decisions that came before. The audience simply loves watching the decision Domino chain unfold.  If someone slaps you, we’re interested to see how you react to that slap.  If there is no slap, you have nothing to react to.*

It can be daunting to start a scene.  Your scene could be about any characters in any time in any place.  So why not make a choice?  Declare one thing about your world or your relationship.  Let’s say your scene partner calls you “Mom.”  Great.  Now you can stop fumbling around and behave like a mother.  This is not to say you should be a stereotype.  You can be an evil mother or a helicopter mom or an alcoholic.  You can be whatever you want.  But the sooner you make your decision, the easier it will be for your scene partner to do the same.

Consider marriage.  City-dwellers often wait far longer than country folk to get hitched.  Why should they hurry?  In a city we’re surrounded by attractive people.  People get married earlier in rural areas because it’s easier to choose among 200 options than 200,000.

Too often, we spend a lot of time in our scenes looking for “the one.”  But there’s no magic bullet choice that will deliver the perfect scene.  The only certainty is that waiting to make choices will deliver worse scenes.

A good scene is like an arranged marriage.  You and your scene partner didn’t necessarily ask for the circumstances thrust upon you.  But you’re in this thing together.  And it’s your job to make the best of it.

Don’t waste tears on your great ideas that never came to fruition.  Your job is to be in the present with your scene partner.  Make those choices.  Move on together.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with infinite choices in your shows.  So make it easy on yourself.  Narrow the world as quickly as possible.  There are still amazing discoveries to be made in every moment.

* Please don’t slap your teammates.


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