Decision fatigue is a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Decision fatigue is 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. Your brain eventually looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways: act impulsively or avoid any decision.
Decision fatigue routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and non- executive, rich and poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it. One of the experiments showed that the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time. The research also observed decision fatigue in doctors, pilots, shopping and planning for a wedding.
Research indicates that glucose is a vital part of willpower and decisions. When glucose is low, your brain responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects. Decision fatigue explains why dieting is so difficult. Dieters start out with good intentions and can readily make the tough choices to eat healthy. But by the end of the day, their brains are running out of the energy needed to keep fueling those good decisions. They run out of willpower to resist the sweets or other temptations.Sugar is an obvious way to get glucose, hence the reason why so many dieters crave it. But spikes of glucose that come from sweets are much worse for both our brains and our bodies, because they don’t help the brain with long-term glucose levels. The brain quickly consumers the temporary glucose spike, then settles back into its glucose deficit an hour later.
Tips for combating decision fatigue.
- Make important decisions when you’re well rested, usually in the morning.
- Schedule and structure your days as much as possible so you don’t have to decide what you’re doing at each moment.
- Eat fewer simple sugars and emphasize foods that supply the brain with a slower, steadier supply of glucose (such as complex *carbohydrates and proteins).
- Try to limit the number of choices and decisions you have to make each day.
- Work as a team. Teams appear more highly motivated and can compare solutions to reach the best decision when they are fatigued.
- Finally, you can probably improve your willpower if you practice using it systematically, much like you could improve your muscle tone. In one study, cadets in the military did not show signs of decision fatigue due to training exercises to enhance decision making.
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