Choices: easy you think? Having just had a marvellous trip to Italy I found myself standing in front of the gelato stand trying to choose between all the amazing flavours. Nocciola (Hazelnut), Stacciatella (Vanilla Choc Chip), Cioccolato Fondente (Dark Chocolate), Caffe (Coffee), Fragola (Strawberry) and on and on. How many scoops? Easy? For me I am choosing two scoops “un gelato, due gusti di caffe e nocciola in un cono, per favore”. Ha ha. Yum. If you have the ice cream flavours in front of you now... it shouldn’t be hard, just a quick choice and you may think it’s an easy decision right. What do you pick and how many scoops?
So, we are in Italy so of course we have the same decision the next day and the next day and the next day. Ha ha. (Don’t worry we won’t get fat, we are going to do lots of exercise running and cycling and exploring amazing towns from the Amalfi Coast to Tuscany). So, what do you pick every day? The same, something different.
Day after day you make these decisions. If you didn’t make the decision, you get what? No gelato. Argh! That’s no good.
Every day we make somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 decisions. What to wear? What coffee shop to go to? Espresso, latte, flat white, long black, cappuccino? Lots of coffee in Italy too. What to have for breakfast, what to do first at work? If you’re in a standard job that’s got strong structure and routine, it might mean less decisions. If you go to school or have a work uniform, that’s the same every day, that’s less decisions. For those with almost no structure, no set outfits, no routines or habits even, we are constantly making decisions. By the time we get to the end of the day, we are tired. Tired of making decisions all day, tired of having the discipline to do the priorities at work, do the exercise we need to do in the day, make the effort to look our best for work or a date.
There is a well-known scientific phenomenon known as “decision fatigue”. In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.
So why do you think we lose our discipline and eat takeaway at dinner? Or eat the ice cream? Or watch tv after a long day at work when we know there are better choices. Our decision and discipline muscle is tired.
Erin Wildermuth “The Science of Decision Fatigue” (https://michaelhyatt.com/the-science-of-decision-fatigue/) (accessed 27/9/2019) provides a good description of decision fatigue and offers four strategies to combat decision fatigue.
- Limit unnecessary or unimportant decisions. This helps you save energy for the more important decisions. Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all choose to wear essentially the same outfits each day (Obama – Grey or Blue Suit, Jobs – Jeans and a polo neck sweater, Zuckerberg – grey t-shirt) to get them more energy for their important decisions.
- Make important decisions first thing in the morning. These decisions are then made when you have maximum energy
- Indulge in sugary snacks. A 2007 study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17279852) (accessed 27/9/2019) found that self-control requires glucose to function unimpaired. I knew there was another good reason for my need for gelato in the afternoon.
- Be self-aware. When you feel exhausted after making lots of decisions don’t make that big life changing decision now. Save it until the morning.
Another article “What is Decision Fatigue? And How to Avoid Bad Choices” (https://www.developgoodhabits.com/decision-fatigue/) (accessed 27/9/2019) is also a good read. It offers a few additional strategies to help with decision fatigue.
- Make your most important decisions in the morning. As per Wildermuth (2)
- For less immediate decisions, choose the simpler option. I think they mean less important decisions and this seems a variation on the theme of limiting unnecessary or unimportant decisions. That is, making them a non decision.
- For daily decisions, plan them the night before. Or you could plan them any time in advance at any time after the big decisions are made and you don’t need a lot of energy after the planning.
- For decisions later in the day, eat first. Don’t make any decisions when you are hungry. Similar, to eating sugary snacks and eating gelato, yum, as per Wildermuth (3).
- Limit and simplify your choices: where and what to eat, what to wear, etc. Pretty much the same as 2 above and Wildermuth (1). It’s like I always have “un gelato, due gusti di caffe e nocciola in un cono, per favore”.
- Go minimalist. Again, as per 2 and 5 and Wildermuth (1). Minimalist by its very definition requires less stuff and less decisions.
- Aim for “good enough” instead of perfect. The article gives an important caveat, ”if you are working on something that is not helping you achieve your final goal, leave well enough alone.” This is an important distinction for us goal kickers because on our key goals we only want complete success as we have defined it.
- Don’t make decisions in places that are full of distractions. Set aside specific parts of the day to tend to any distractions such as social media and email. Give yourself a small set amount of time to do these things and then get back to the important stuff.
- Focus on making decisions for items on your to-do list only. If you put too much on your plate, it is likely to get in the way of accomplishing your main priorities. This is why it is important to have those important activities and goals on your goal sheet so that these get first use of your energy.
I would like to add my own ideas to how we can support ourselves to make better choices.
- Create positive habits. Habits become automatic responses. They don’t require decisions and don’t use a lot of decision making energy. They also mean the activity generally gets done without thought including deciding not to do the activity. A morning mediation and 5 km run is a great daily habit to set you up for the day.
- Plan/schedule out your week ahead of time. This enables you to make decisions in advance. This leaves you with more decision making energy for the rest of the week. Examples include:
- Set up outfits to wear during the week so you just get up and put one of 5 options on depending on weather.
- Create a meal plan for the week.
- Food preparation to make cooking dinner (when you’re the most tired) a healthier and easier choice, to prevent buying takeaway.
So how does this all apply to MGS’s goal setting and goal kicking framework??
#1 When we are doing our vision, values and 3 year, 2 year and 1 year goals 1 on 1 sessions you need to have good energy to be positive and creative and to make your best choices. These are your big choices. That is one of the reasons we like to make these sessions in the morning and also to make them fun and to help you relax and see your possibilities because that creates its own energy.
#2 You also need energy when you are initially completing your goal sheets. We need to get super clear on your goal sheets and have the steps broken down to monthly and weekly actions. What are you going to do and by when? Just like we shouldn’t go to the supermarket hungry. We shouldn’t write out goal sheets tired, feeling negative, doubtful or lazy.
#3 Now that your goal sheet is set up you don’t have to think too hard each week and month. You just need to go out and take action. If that action requires some important decision making then make them in the morning. Or after a gelato! Two scoops please.
#4 Accountability calls aren’t about decisions they are about a discussion on how you are going and what help you might need to assist you complete your actions and reach your goals. Sometimes you might need someone to cheer your successes and sometimes you might just need a swift kick up the butt.......