Have you ever struggled with decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue is something that many of you likely experience, even if you’re not aware of it.
If you’ve ever gone through the day, only to get home to a million chores & food that needs to be cooked & a bedtime to hit, and simply just not have the mental willpower to do any of them, then you’ve battled with good ole decision fatigue.
Maybe you’ve set a really awesome plan for your evening snacks and meals, only to be so exhausted you go for what’s “easy” and opt for a takeout meal.
Maybe it’s ending up not going to the gym.
Or giving into snacks, snacks that earlier in the day you vowed to avoid.
While some of these could be due to other factors, likely a STRONG reason why these things are happening is that your mind is simply tired.
Because when your mind is tired, it’s less equipped to “run faster” and do the habits and tasks on hand that maybe aren’t as “easy” or as desirable. It wants to take the easy way out.
Fortunately, for you, not all hope is lost. There are a number of strategies that you can implement in your day to equip yourself for making the best decisions possible.
In doing so, you’ll save “room” for mental capacity and will have the ability to remain on track during the evenings. You’ll likely see improvements in your work life when you make fewer and better decisions for yourself. You’ll stick to your goals and habits with more ease. Most importantly, YOU will feel in more control and that is what is important.
Today’s blog is going to go all into decision fatigue and how our brains work...or at least like to work. Hopefully by the end of today’s blog, you’ll have a better understanding of how to structure and go about your day so that you not only have fewer decisions to make, feeling your mental capacity to tackle your day, but also you will have a better sense of control when it comes to making food choices in your life.
Our brains like efficiency...
In other words, they like to be easy.
When you learn something or do something for the first time, a network or “synapse” is formed in your brain. This neural connection is strengthened with repetitions. Some will say it take 10,000 repetitions for a habit to become automatic, but the number is not exact. The big takeaway is that it takes doing that desired habit or learning that thing many many many times before the connection really becomes automatic.
Think of when you first moved into a new city or a new home. You likely needed a map guide to get you where you lived. After a few reps, you no longer needed that map. After more reps, you learned back roads and alternates. Now, many reps later, you could probably get home with your eyes shut.
That is the basis for “neural plasticity” or “neural adaptation”.
Why do our brains like doing this?
Because it saves us energy.
Thinking new thoughts and learning new habits is an energy expensive process. Your body’s goal is to be AS efficient as possible and expend as little energy it can to survive.
[Combine that in a world where undereating and under-fueling your body is encouraged makes this even more dramatic & more necessary for your body to rely on efficiency].
I mean, think about it. Imagine if every time you tied your shoe, you had to relearn it or if you ALWAYS needed Google Maps driving home from work. If you’ve ever seen Parks and Recreation when Tom needed directions, it was a very frustrating experience...for everyone! You’d never get anything done & you would ALWAYS be tired.
SO a very long winded way of saying...
Our brains like to be lazy.
Because that saves us energy and time.
Most importantly, it leaves the door open to learn new things and form new habits. While the human brain is most “plastic” as a child, we see plasticity (brain changes) throughout adulthood!
Where cognitive ease comes into play with your nutrition and fitness is that you’ve likely learned “undesirable” habits you would like to break because they’re not helping you reach your goals.
A lack of exercise routine
Coming home to Netflix and chill
Post-work wine or beer
Reward a bad day with a binge
And more!! All of these are learned habits that likely are automatic for you...even though you don’t want to do them.
When you’re fatigued from making too many decisions, your brain relies (because it’s trying to save energy) on automatic habits OVER the habits that are less automatic.
Which is why it may seem like you never can make any real progress! When it’s good, it’s good...but when it’s bad, oh is it bad! (Sound familiar??? Keep reading!)
Humans have to make what feels like a million decisions a day. The more we make those decisions, the more we “fatigue” from them.
Just like a 26.2 mile run, if you run long enough, your muscles, your body, your heart, your lungs are going to fatigue. You’ll want to stop. Maybe you do!
Decision fatigue is the same thing. Your brain has been running a marathon all day and just wants to stop.
Your first decision to snooze your alarm & make yourself rushed could be the first decision you make in the day (that you didn’t necessarily have to do) that begins the fatiguing process.
You then have to decide what to eat in the morning & what to pack for lunch (if you do that).
You have to decide what to wear.
You have to get to work and then work at your job. IF your job brings you a lot of stress or doesn’t bring you a lot of joy, this adds to your decision fatigue because you’re constantly making decisions you don’t necessarily want to be doing.
Then you have to decide if you’re going to the gym that evening.
Then it’s dinner time. If you haven’t gone to the store yet or made your dinner, that’s another task.
Then it’s “chill” time.
You have to decide what to put on the TV (do you ever notice how easy it is to make a decision on what to watch in the mornings but in the evenings after a full day of decisions, you’re just staring at a blank screen??).
Then you decide when to go to bed.
That’s A LOT of decisions and there are a number I didn’t even mention.
When you make 100 more decisions than you need to make, it explains why you’re so tired later in the day.
When you get home, and in a massively fatigued state, your mind is not equipped to expend more energy and make a healthy dinner. Again, it’s going to opt for laziness and cognitive ease instead and go with the easier habits!
So how do you remove decision fatigue out of your life and help set yourself up to keep those “harder” albeit healthier habits a priority?? Keep reading.
A note on this year: Decision fatigue, procrastination, and mental “blahness” has been seemingly more prevalent in the past 1-2 years, really beginning with the COVID pandemic. The pandemic, regardless of political views & beliefs, has taken up a mental area in many people’s brains whether you realize it or not. In other words, it’s added to one’s mental fatigue. Giving yourself space to honor this & being patient with yourself will help remove the “stress” and fatigue around it.
Managing Decision Fatigue
There are a number of ways you can decrease your “fatigue” experienced at the end of the day.
Two main strategies we’ll focus on today are:
· Limit time for decision
· Limit the number of decisions you need to make
In a study where participants had 24 hours vs a whole week to make a decision, participants in the week-long group regretted their decision more than participants in the 24-hour group.
Limiting the time in which you can make a decision has been proved to remove decision fatigue. When you dedicate less time, you’re letting it take up less space in your brain, giving your brain room for more capacity in other areas!
Just think about when you procrastinate. How efficient are you? How fast and certain do you make your decisions? PRETTY DARN FAST.
Think about when you can’t decide what to eat at a restaurant. How many times have you made your decision when your server gives you more time? Rarely. How many times have you made your decision when you “go last” and then have to make a split decision? Every time.
When you’re making decisions, factor time into the equation. Dedicate more mental attention to it in a shorter time period. When you’re deciding what to cook for dinner or prep for the week, set a 30-minute timer and then simply move on to your next task rather than sit and obsess for the entire day.
Number Of Decisions:
You’re likely familiar with Steve Jobs. I want you to picture him. What does he look like?
Black shirt & jeans, right?
Steve Jobs only wore the same clothing to remove one decision from his day.
In other words, he automated habits that he could. That freed up mental capacity in his brain to run & build the Apple empire.
It’s well known that many entrepreneurs are biiiiiiiig in automating habits. That’s because it decreases their mental fatigue so they can make those bigger Fortune-500 style decisions.
Go back to the day I described earlier.
Imagine if you already had breakfast decided, clothes for the day laid out, lunch prepped the night before, dinner shopped for and decided, and workout clothes already in the bag. How likely would you be able to follow through on those habits when they’re set up ahead of time and automated?? Probably a lot more.
The habits you can automate are the ones that will free up your time so you can make those “harder” decisions, like going to the gym after work or coming home and cooking a dinner instead of opting for takeout.
Set a few minutes aside over the weekend, or on a day that works for you, and help automate some of these. Decide what meals you’re going to make for the week. Go to the grocery store & prep some food. Do laundry. Clean. The time you spend then will help save you decisions as you move through the week.
Take Care of Your Body
One last note here is how to reset each day with giving our minds...and bodies a break.
There’s a reason you have less decision fatigue in the morning and that’s because of sleep.
Recovery & recovery “tools” help combat decision fatigue because they are forms of “rest” that encourage & stimulate the parasympathetic, rest and digest, nervous system.
Food, sleep, movement, deep breathing, self-care (whatever that looks like for you), etc. that fill YOUR cup will help “reset” your decision fatigue. SO as always, make sure this is a priority. It doesn’t how many habits you automate if you sleep 3 hours a night. You’re going to be mentally exhausted & under-recovered.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, the message here isn’t that you can’t go out to eat and you must always choose the “healthier” option. Simply, when you have less decision fatigue, YOU are in a more rational state of mind. As a result, you are more equipped to make decisions that are best for you in that moment. When you do this, you’re in more control & THAT is what this is all about. If you choose to do takeout or not go to the gym, have it come from a rational mind making the best choice for you not from the mind that can’t possible make one more decision.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.