Decision fatigue, its real and it may be one of the biggest reasons why your new year’s resolutions fail every year, even when your resolution is to never make a new year’s resolution again. We all have experienced decision fatigue whether we realize it or not. Giving in to a child who is begging to have a piece of chocolate for the 100th time before dinner, saying no to the 10 different types of extended warranties when you buy a new car but purchasing the prepaid maintenance plan, because you just want to be done. There have even been studies showing that experienced judges’ decisions are heavily influenced by how many cases they have tried and how long it has been since their last meal. Here is a graph from one such study
I don’t know about you, but if a judge who is deciding the fate of another human being is vulnerable to decision fatigue then I don’t have high hopes for my decision making capabilities when I have to choose between a salad or bacon cheese fries at lunch.
The good news is there are some things we can do to combat decision fatigue and boost our willpower along with our chances of keeping a resolution (new or not).
First thing is always first, you have to prioritize. Make your most important decisions first. If your goal is to walk 30 minutes every day then plan to go on a walk first thing in the morning before your day has a chance to drag you down and you run out of power to make the decision.
Second, is to reduce the number of decisions that you have to make. The more things that you can automate the better. Spend a few minutes at the end of the day or first thing in the morning to plan your schedule for tomorrow or the next week. If every morning I force myself to decide if I am going to go to the gym or not eventually I will decide not to go. If every afternoon I have to choose where I am going to eat lunch eventually I will choose the all you can eat pizza buffet. On the flip side if I put going to the gym on my calendar and think about it as an appointment and not a choice I am more likely to go, if I make my lunches for the week in advance, or even schedule where/what I am going to eat then I am more likely to make healthy choices. Even automating unrelated tasks like what you are going to wear to work can help reduce your overall decision fatigue and thereby conserve your finite amount of will power.
The third thing you can do to promote or conserve will power is to give yourself a break, and don’t forget to eat. If you look back at the graph above you will notice that the number of favorable decisions from the judges steadily went down as the day progressed, but it also rose very quickly after the judge had a meal break. Obviously you cannot automate all of your decisions, or make all of your choices at the beginning of the day, but if you take time to recharge, you can also give your will power a boost and help yourself make better choices throughout the day.
Here are some links to a few editorials on decision fatigue and the above referenced article on judicial decisions if you are interested:
Extraneous factors in judicial decisions
NY Times on decision fatigue
Lifehacker on decision fatigue