Subconsciously, our decision making skills are consistently under attack. 24 hrs a day, 365 days out of the year, we are presented with decisive moments that require us to refrain from making poor choices. All in all, our thought process is tested daily more than 35,000 times before our head hits the pillow each night. High five to the hardest working part of the human body. Yet, as a society, we still choose to neglect the training of our decision maker. There is a phycological term for what you have likely known for some time: As your day progresses, your ability to make quality decisions deteriorates. Decision fatigue is a real thing, and it’s killing your dinner plans. Let me explain.
There is a calculated reason why candy bars, gum, and other impulse buys are put at the cash register of your local super market. By the time you reach the register for payment, your brain has gone through several decision-making and trade-off opportunities during your shopping trip. The more decisions and trade-offs that you’ve made, the more likely you are to make an impulse buy. The reason? When you have two choices, and both have positive and negative elements, you are participating in an advanced and energy consuming state of decision-making. The more energy you’ve expelled, the less likely you are to make rational decisions (and more likely to make mental trade-offs). I know there’s an easy way to alleviate decision making gaffes at the super market (Making A List for 100, Alex), but what about important matters of the body like exercise; Or matters of the heart; Or the all important “What’s for dinner?” How can we create a game plan to ensure we’re making well informed, anti trade-off decisions? Plan, prioritize and commit.
Plan. As busy as you are during your crucial off-work hours, I might suggest you add one more thing to your nightly ritual. As you finish your night, make a cognitive effort to plan daily decisions you know you’ll need to make the night before. Layout your clothes, know what’s for dinner and review your schedule so you know when and where you need to be.
Prioritize. You’ve already chopped off the low hanging fruit decisions by planning in advance, now it’s time prioritize what’s left. Remember, as the day goes on, your subconscious is more at risk to making silly, out of character decisions. So tackle the most important tasks first. Finish that big project at work, deal with relationship issues, and hit the gym, all before lunch. Trust me.
Commit. At some point, you’re going to have to act. Concentrate on making less decisions, and more commitments. Don’t decide to go to the gym, commit to going to the gym by showing up when you’ve promised yourself you would. Don’t decide to eat healthy, commit to eating healthy by buying only healthy products at the store. The more decisions you replace with commitments, the more energy your brain has stored up for the important decisions later on in the day like what’s for dinner (if you didn’t plan it the night before like you’re supposed to).
Your propensity to make good decisions is not a “you either have it or you don’t” trait. I know it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all sudden decisions from your day, but I’m telling you there is hope. By making a few changes to how you attack your day, you can stop sabotaging your relationships, health, and decision-making skills. And one last thing, if you must make critical decisions late in the day, please eat something first. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.