Did you ever find yourself making bad decisions because you were tired? Buying something you don’t need, eating that whole bag of cookies or picking a fight with someone? You are not alone. Decision making becomes more difficult when you have already made many decisions that day.
Decision Making And The Brain
Without explicitly noticing, we make decisions all day long. Researchers at Cornell University found that people make an average of 226.7 decisions a day about food ALONE. Study shows that our brain has a ‘mental energy pool’ for decision making. The more choices we make, the more depleted it becomes. Professor in psychology Kathleen Vohs has shown that the act of making a selection depletes our executive resources. She studies everyday choices, like what to have for lunch or what to wear that day. Her study concluded that making repeated choices depleted the mental energy, even if those choices were simple or fun to make.
We could say that decision making and willpower act like a muscle: using it will make it stronger but when you use it too much at once, it becomes less effective. This is called ‘decision fatigue’. It results in us giving in to unhealthy temptations and making bad choices.
Knowing this, we can take this into account when making a decision. If you have just had a busy day it may not be wise to make a major decision that night.
The Power Of Routine
What is one habit that most successful, productive and creative people have in common? They structure their lives.
Be boring and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
The more structured your days and weeks are, the more mental energy you save. If your brain does not have to think about what to pick for lunch, it can use it’s resources to make wise decisions or come up with great ideas. Routine does not inhibit creativity, routine enables creativity. Structure allows us to focus and do more with our time at hand.
That is why Steve Jobs wore the same kind of clothes every day: a black turtle neck, blue jeans and sneakers. And he is not alone. To quote Barack Obama: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He also limits his low-priority email responses to “Agree,” “Disagree” or “Discuss” to simplify the mental burden of his small decisions.
Tim Ferriss, best selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek has the same breakfast every day so he doesn’t have to think about what food to prepare.
If you are looking to have more mental energy throughout the day, you should routinize your day. Eliminate as many choices as you can.
Will you try this out?