Deciding is mental work and has a mental cost. Just as physical labor tires us, so too does mental labor. The product of a rapidly-emerging field of research, the concept of decision fatigue explains many dubious choices we make. More importantly, it offers solutions and techniques to improve our decision making.

“No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price…. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts…” (The New York Times, August 21, 2011, “Why You Need to Sleep On It” by John Tierney)

When tired, our brains tend to either:

1. Act rashly or in an undisciplined manner, favor short-term gratification, take illogical shortcuts, and more easily yield to impulses to eat, drink, indulge in budget-blowing spending, or say stupid things we later regret.

2. Do nothing, avoid any choice, procrastinate.

So what is the answer? Where lies the solution?

Like any muscle, mental muscles tire with use but can be strengthened by appropriate techniques

— Making the practice a habit so that a decision is no longer required

— Or any other method of removing or restricting or pre-directing choice:

° making an appointment with a friend to exercise

° avoiding buffet dinners

° declining social occasions involving massive quantities or fatty food

° forsaking friends whose lifestyles do not align with your future vision for your life

° choosing new friends who inspire your best self, pre-choosing a healthy distraction to indulge in when temptation comes (as it always will)

As with many things, self awareness is key to improvement. Observe yourself, learn your triggers, journal, plan new responses, visualize yourself making new, empowering choices in the moment of decision. See it as an investment in a better life, not as a sacrifice. Celebrate and cherish the smallest victories as proof of your ability to change and grow. Learn from your mistakes and then forget them. Focus all your thoughts and energy forward on your growth and your boundless potential. Love yourself, accept plateaus as normal and setbacks as inevitable. The secret of life lies not in avoiding all stumbles but in getting back up with a smile on your face and resolve in your heart.

Closing quotes:

“It (self-discipline) really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted. The experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation.” — “Why You Need to Sleep On It,” by John Tierney; The New York Times, August 21, 2011

“Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, (the best decision makers) conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.” — ibid

“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. The best decision makers are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.” — Roy F. Baumeister, social psychologist, author, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”