Various internet sources suggest we make about 35,000 decisions a day as an adult compared to about 3,000 as a child. I am not sure this is an accurate number; however, I did find a study that says we make 227 decisions a day just on WHAT WE EAT!1
If you wonder why you end up giving in or failing to resist temptation, it could be because of decision fatigue. As it turns out, the same cognitive resources used in problem solving, decision making, and concentration are also used in willpower and it can easily get depleted.2
To make matters even more complicated, you may not feel physically tired, to be low on mental energy.
This makes self-awareness a power tool in the arsenal of great leaders. When you are tuned into you, noticing an increase in irritability or overindulgence in sweets or arguing more with your spouse, you have some clues that you are probably low on mental energy and need a recharge.
5 Steps to Avoid Decision Fatigue
1. Make the most important decisions in the morning. Use a problem-solving approach when you are fresh and energized with your best resources available.
2. Make one decision to limit many unimportant decisions. Many people eat the same thing for lunch or have their clothes color coordinated in their closet and outfits prearranged, or even better, wear the same color suit. Limiting decisions that will not impact your day frees up these mental resources you need for the unexpected.
3. Control your hunger. Decide on Sunday night what you will eat for the week and prepare your meals. Be sure to have the right amount of protein balanced against carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar stable. Low blood sugar has been found to predict poor performance.
Resisting the urge to eat is the number one test of willpower. If you are using up your resources to resist temptations, problem-solving and decision-making may suffer later in the day.
4. Minimize distractions. Structure your day so that you have uninterrupted time. Many leaders try to be all things to all people and the “Open Door” becomes a trap for not finishing important things. Set boundaries for when you are available and stick to it.
5. Say no. In order to say “Yes” more often, you have to learn to say “No.” If something is not on your “To Do” list, then say “No” to requests – at least for that day. In this age of distraction, there can be an overwhelming “fear of missing out,” and the tendency to try to do everything. It only gets in the way of doing “the most important thing.”
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1 Wansink, B. & Sobal, J. (2007). Mindless eating: The 200 daily food decisions we overlook. Environment and Behavior, 39:1, 106-123.
2 Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252-1265.
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