Published: 16.04.2021 | Edited: 09.05.2021 | Tags: 100daystooffload

On warning fatigue or why not paying attention

Do you ever actually feel fatigue? How do you think about it?

What is a fatigue?

The definition that fits the term fatigue in the discussed context the most, found on

A lessening in one's response to or enthusiasm for something, caused by overexposure.

If I had to interpret the above, I would say that when something bothers me, but I couldn't do absolutely anything about it for an extended period of time, I would just stop giving a f...I would simply stop caring at all.

This might seem like a conscious process, but it very well may be rooted in the unconscious part of the brain. If you knew all your life that the particular traffic light is always red, would you ever look at instead of checking the street?

That may have not been the best example of the unconscious behavior, but this story goes on around situations that are very similar to the traffic light scenario. I have just picked up traffic lights, because it is easy to imagine.

Can fatigue be felt?

I am no expert on medical conditions, and I did not do much research either. But it seems to me, that fatigue is commonly connected to the tiredness, cynicism, hopelessness, exhaustion, trauma and burnout.

All these terms have some meaning and there a slight difference in definition and an actual meaning between one a another. Covering all these is not the point of this article.

What's more, digging deeper, there are some more specialized terms or medical conditions that are connected to fatigue, namely a compassion fatigue, a vicarious trauma or even emotional exhaustion. I would argue that some of these are quite far from what I am conveying here, so let's get back to basics.

I think fatigue can be felt on some levels, otherwise there would not be that many terms describing some of it's symptoms. What I also think is that, when there is no punishment for ignoring something, for instance that ever-glowing red traffic light, the brain starts to ignore it actively.

Something doesn't feel right

And surely, if that red light for once was green, I would unconsciously know something is different, and that would in turn made me consciously look around for cues, making it highly likely finding out that the traffic light has finally changed the color.

Precisely because of the fact, that the brain sends the signal telling us that, something doesn't feel right or that something around here is different that it used to be, we start ignoring things that doesn't change.

For instance, would you start thinking about the shape of the tree you always walk around in the park, until it gets cut? Probably no, because only after the tree gets missing from the landscape, the brain starts nudging to look around for more details, as with the green light. It is also connected to an another, somehow more famous example - what color is every letter on a logo of the search engine (you know which one)?

The reason I am writing about all this is not because I experienced a burnout in my job and I had to quit it because I did not see absolutely any way of continuing and now I am mistakenly calling it fatigue. No, even though burnout happened to me, my motives here are more profound.

Different forms of fatigue

Unlike a compassion fatigue, which leads to a diminished ability to feel for someone, which is a medical condition, a decision fatigue for instance appears to be something different. Apparently putting a different noun in front of another one can change it's meaning profoundly.

Decision fatigue can occur to us on any given day. After we do some individual amount of decisions on any given day, we simply don't feel like doing any more decisions. We simply want to rest. I would not describe decision fatigue as a medical condition, as the effects are more tight to the person's energy levels at any given time. Next morning after a dose of good sleep, we are fresh and ready to do some good (and some bad) decisions during that day.

Once I was talking to my dad about decision fatigue, that I have first read about in the book Atomic Habit by James Clear and he surprised me that he already read about that before, although in a different book. The book described why one man, that went on and built a billion dollar company with a fruit logo almost everyone around the world knows, wore a black turtleneck every day. He did not want to do mundane decisions every day, so he would not feel fatigue when doing decisions that mattered.

A warning fatigue

Warning fatigue is similar to a decision fatigue in a way that it is not a medical condition as far as I can tell. Where these two differ however is on the replenishment. While decision fatigue needs an actual rest and a brief disconnection from the cause of the fatigue (the decision making), the warning fatigue replenishes only on a cue change.

What might be even more surprising is that the term warning fatigue appears in a connection to the design of User Interfaces (UI). I have learned about this term while reading some interesting post by Vincent Breitmoser. While I am not entirely sure who coined the term, many hints point to the researcher and author Jens Grossklags.

In a simple terms, we tend to pay very little attention to warnings message appearing on the screen of the device we use actively. More specifically, if the message can be dismissed or even has to be dismissed to continue further, every time we do that, the warning becomes less important to us. Eventually we dismiss the warning without thinking about its message at all.

This is, loosely put, why we don't pay attention to warnings on the screens.

This is a 37th post of #100daystooffload.

Further reading