Decision Fatigue: Are You Suffering From It?
There may be a simple reason why responsible people splurge on crazy shopping sprees and eat junk food at 3am: decision fatigue. Life revolves around the choices we make; yet today we are bombarded by so many opportunities, schemes and offers it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Research shows that something as simple as the time of day can deeply affect the choices we make.
Decision fatigue is quite simply brain fatigue. The more choices we have throughout the day, the harder each choice becomes for your brain to process.
In an exhausted state the brain either wants to shortcut by throwing discernment out the window and giving the conscious go ahead to buy “whatever”, or it engages a full stop – commonly known as analysis paralysis. It refers to the diminished quality of choice that can occur after processing a high volume of options.
Choices often give us a sense of freedom, yet with too many choices freedom can give way to overwhelm. Even though our lives revolve around decisions, constant small distractions can literally eat up the acuity needed for important life changing decisions.
Fatigue: Low Willpower or Low Blood Sugar?
Social Psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues at Florida State University conducted research showing low blood glucose levels have a negative impact on our perception, willpower and choices, and that replenishing glucose levels restores our ability to make effective decisions.
The study suggests: “The brain’s activities rely heavily on glucose for energy. The metabolization of glucose from the bloodstream allows each brain region to carry out its given functions. It has long been known that action consumes energy. More recent evidence has indicated that some brain and cognitive processes likewise consume substantial amounts of energy—indeed, some far more than others. The present findings suggest that relatively small acts of self-control are sufficient to deplete the available supply of glucose, thereby impairing the control of thought and behavior.” This could explain the lack of ability one has to avoid enticing “naughty treats” displayed in the checkout aisle. No matter how strong-minded you are, willpower is no match for blood sugar levels.
“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low. The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”
Understanding the impact of low blood sugar levels explains why diets don’t work. No matter how strong you think your willpower is, biology will win over psychology every time. The body’s and therefore the brains prime directive is self-preservation.
Vulnerability to Sales Pitches
We all know that it’s hard to think straight when we are tired. But could subliminal mental tiredness be affecting our daily choices without us even realizing?
Jonathan Levav, Associate Professor of Marketing at Stanford University, designed a series of experiments showing how decision fatigue can leave a person vulnerable to sales and marketing strategies. No matter how strong-minded you think you are, it’s not possible to make decision after decision without physically putting a strain on your brain.
After spending time working through the many shopping choices, decision fatigue can soon set in leaving one with diminished willpower and vulnerable to buying things you didn’t really want. Decision fatigue explains how intelligent people can make rather silly choices on a whim.
Decision fatigue may have far reaching effects including debilitated self-control. While heightened mental energy is demanded at work, the fallout can spill into ones private life through reactive social behavior, love affairs, debt, unhealthy food choices and lack of motivation, to name but a few.
In the paper “Out of Control”, researcher George Loewenstein suggests “People often act against their self-interest in full knowledge that they are doing so; they experience a feeling of being ‘out of control’. This paper attributes this phenomenon to the operation of “visceral factors,” which include drive states such as hunger, thirst and sexual desire, moods and emotions, physical pain, and craving for a drug one is addicted to. People underweigh, or even ignore, visceral factors that they will experience in the future, have experienced in the past, or that are experienced by other people.”Loewenstein suggests the diminished self-control within the private lives of men in high office could be attributed to decision fatigue.
When decision fatigue finally hits saturation point, one may fall into decision avoidance. Research has found that people who have more choices are often less willing to decide to buy anything at all, which suggests that an onslaught of choices can be overwhelming and may result in an unproductive outcome.
So How to simplify daily decision making:
1) Decide in the Morning. For most people post breakfast is the best time to write shopping lists, make plans and make decisions. If mornings are not the best for you, choose the time of day when your energy is highest, to arrange business meetings, etc.
2) Limit Your Options. If you have too many, narrow it down to three choices. This gives you enough to satisfy your need for variety and it prevents those moments of overwhelm that can often lead to bad choices or no choices.
3) Keep it Simple. What choice feels the lightest, least resistant and least overwhelming? Find that balance of function and beauty in all areas of your life. Avoid the accumulation of clutter. Remember spring clean often. If you haven’t used it in a year, give it away.
4) Do the Best You Can, Nothing More. Rather finish a task the get caught up in perfection. Overextending oneself can either disrupt your current task or deplete other areas of your life, such as driving skills or communicating with your spouse.
5) Step Away. Learn to identify a distracting situation or place and simply remove yourself. You are not hear to please other people’s whims, focus on what is really fulfilling in your life and move towards that. Think carefully before committing to an engagement. Use social media purely as an avenue for connecting with loved ones and for work. Don’t get distracted by drama and give yourself time limit each day.
6) Prioritize. If it is not important now, either put it on the to do list or say no. Don’t let distractions override priorities, this will also take away from time doing things that you really love. When you go shopping, do it in stealth mode. Read your list before entering and give yourself a clear time limit.
7) Follow through. Once you have made a decision, stick with it until the en until moving onto the next decision. It it becomes clear that decision really is not working then make the change.
Unschedule your weekend for some stress and decision making relief. Follow the link to read more.