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A Non-Exhaustive Read On Fighting Decision Fatigue

| September 20, 2011

by Jim Bruce

You may have run across the term “decision fatigue” in your recent reading. John Tierney in a lengthy NYTimes article “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” writes:

“Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get anyry at colleagues and families, spurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, …  No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.  It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy.  The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two different ways.  One shortcut is to become reckless … [and] [t]he other is the ultimate energy saver:  do nothing.  Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.”

Today Reading, “A Non-Exhaustive Read On Fighting Decision Fatigue”, by FastCompany writer Kevin Purdy provides us with some key lessons and take-aways on the subject from John Tierney’s much longer piece.  Tierney’s article is drawn from the forthcoming book he and Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University and an expert on self-control, have written.

Baumeister’s “money” quote on decision fatigue in the book is:  “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex.  It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed or hold off going to the bathroom.  Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simly because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on-time.”

Purdy makes three recommendations based on the research:

1.  Schedule around temptations and weaknesses, not just time.  For example, consider the endless drip of your willpower that will occur before your meeting or activity:

  – don’t schedule meetings back-to-back

  – establish habits that reduce the number of routine decisions you have to make and promote healthy living

  – don’t be afraid to “sleep on it” – postpone decisions when you are experiencing fatigue.

2.  Respect the duality of sugar.  Blood sugar does an intimate dance with your willpower all day.  Eat a good breakfast and have healthy snacks available for stress eating.  A quick shot of calories can partially restore your ability to step back from the rink and make good calls.

3.  Make expensive decisions early in the day and in the process.  In working through a complicated set of decisions, make the most costly ones first when your willpower is high.

So, as you work your way through this week, be sensitive to your willpower reserve as you face the decisions you find in front of you.


.  .  .  .    jim


P.S.  And if you have time, read Tierney’s article which I mentioned at the beginning.  It’s really insightful.