Research suggests that our willpower could be reduced by more than 50 per cent by having to make decisions. In an experiment by Jean Twenge, college students were asked to make a series decisions about what type of free gift they would like. A second control group was just asked their opinion of the products and whether they had used it in the last six months. Both groups were then asked to hold their hand in cold water for as long as possible. The group that had to make decisions, lasted on average 28 seconds compared with the non-deciders who lasted 67 seconds.
Baumeister et al have done a number of studies on decision fatigue and “ego depletion”. The term “ego depletion” is used to describe the phenomenon of reduced self control after decision making. They have found that people with the most willpower structure their days to conserve their willpower and use it when it is most needed.
Why is this important in your life?
We each have to make thousands of decisions each day and if decision making is a limited resource then we have to be mindful that we make our decision making count.
I know in my own life that I achieve the best results when I keep things simple. Consistent habits are easier to stick with than the latest fad or shiny new plan. If I think too much about what to do, I get far less done – we call this procrastination.
Some tips for reducing decision fatigue in your own life
1. Create systems and automations
What in your life are you able to do consistently the same, to achieve success and eliminate the need to decide what to do. Morning and night time routines are great examples of this. For example, I eat the same breakfast everyday (overnight oats) which I usually make in advance and I read first thing in the morning when I am still waking up. These are great habits in my life but I do them automatically which frees up resources and energy for other things.
2. Choose 3 key behaviours and make a plan
Choose 3 things you can do every day that will make your life better. Examples including having a healthy breakfast, exercise, meditation, relaxation, what you eat for lunch. Make a plan in advance how you can make all these decisions easier.
3. Do the most important task first
If you have control over your workflow, do your most important task that requires the most willpower and decision making first, when you have more willpower and are better at making decisions.
4. Pre-plan your exercise
Make decisions about how to live a healthy lifestyle in advance, what exercise are you going to do, when, where, how? Use your willpower to execute your plan rather than create it.
5. Take a break
Our best ideas often come when we take a break, either to do some exercise or even to have a shower. This is thought to be because we literally give our brain a break from having to make decisions thus replenishing it’s resources and leading to better decisions.
Consistency is key
It’s easy to think that results will come from some new exciting method that we have just learnt about. In my experience the greatest success in life comes from completing often simple tasks consistently. I am often described as resilient, dedicated and tenacious. In certain contexts I am, the trick is to be consistent, keep things as simple as possible and use your willpower for the things most important to you.
Set your goals, then work out what you need to consistently do to achieve them. Do you think that decision making is a limited resource? What habits do you have in your life that help you to achieve the life you want.