I was having lunch with friends the other day, and our conversation took us down the path of living better. For the past few years, I’ve been on a quest to simplify my life. And with that has come the re-evalution of how I make decisions.
The anatomy of decision-making
Every decision starts with sensory stimuli. Science says that “our brains are registering 40 million bits of sensory information per second and most of it is processed subconsciously or preconsciously” (Presentations with Results). Our subconscious brain is exposed to so much information that it follows a set of guidelines to determine what to process and not to process. Stimuli that are deemed essential for survival get priority. From the stimuli marked for processing, we form subconscious and conscious thoughts and assumptions, which become our baseline for decisions. It is believed that an average adult makes about 35,000 decisions a day, while a child decides about 3,000 times.
Is decision fatigue real?
No wonder that with so much going on in our heads, we often feel mentally drained by the end of the day. This affects our ability to make good decisions or any decision at all.
In fact, studies done with judges and doctors confirm that as the day goes by, their ability to make sound decisions or decide on more complicated matters declines. Parolees coming in front of judges in the hopes of positive outcomes have seen larger rejection rates later in the day than at the beginning. Patients seeking medical attention 4 hours after the start of office visit hours have been 26% more likely to be prescribed antibiotics without a strong reason than at the beginning of the day (New York Times).
5 habits to minimize decision fatigue
The good news is that there are things you can do to avoid decision burnout. While our subconscious minds are flooded with information, we make plenty of decisions consciously as well. Some decisions are simple, while others can be more complex and even daunting to make. Learning how to manage our energy as it relates to conscious decision-making can save us a lot of headache—literally and figuratively speaking.Check out 5 simple habits to help avoid decision fatigue #productivity #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
1. Learn your patterns
Before you can make a sustainable change, you need to learn your patterns. Become conscious of your mental energy fluctuations, what decisions drain you, when your decision-making ability starts to dwindle, and what decisions you tend to spend a lot of unnecessary energy on. Realize when you are going in circles on a decision.
As you explore your patterns, be sure to look at your life holistically. It doesn’t matter if a question is personal or professional; it’s still a question you will exude mental energy on.
2. Give yourself mental space
Your brain is like a battery. When the battery is always on, it will burn out. When you’re always on, you will burn out. When you burn out, you lose your ability to make sound decisions. Don’t let yourself get to that point. Be proactive in disconnecting mentally, taking breaks during the day, getting enough sleep, and reducing the amount and frequency of sensory stimuli you’re consciously putting into your brain. You’ve probably heard the first few tips before so I want to pause on the last point. Sensory overload is not only a decision killer but also a source of disease.
We live in a society of choice…maybe too many choices. The myriad of choices can easily distract us and we end up spending too much effort on things that don’t really make a difference. Learn to ask the right questions and stay focused on the ones that will get you closer to your decision.
Not all decisions are created equal. Some decisions will be of higher priority depending on their implications on the quality of your life. How do you know how to prioritize? We’ve talked about the importance of values and priorities, and structuring your life around your values here and here.
If you have a high-mental energy decision to make, if you can, don’t overtax your system with other significant decisions at the same time. Remember habit #2, and recognize that sometimes the best decision is to delay or delegate a decision.
5. Plan ahead
If you know that you have a mind-consuming decision to make in the morning, make simple decisions, such as what to wear and what to eat the day before. Many people advise that you should automate certain decisions. While in some situations automation can work, for example, wearing a black shirt and jeans to work every day; in other situation automation can hurt, for example a doctor going on autopilot to prescribe antibiotics more frequently as the day progresses. If you’re a fan of automation, be mindful of what decisions you put on autopilot.
I much prefer planning ahead or turning repetitive decisions into habits to limit the amount of energy I spend on them. What once was a series of decisions in the morning for me is now a routine I follow. The bonus is that these simple shifts have made me calmer and more productive during the day.
In this complex and overstimulated world, let’s help ourselves by understanding our decision patterns, managing our energy wisely and focusing on what really matters. Are you in?
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