Most people make about 35,000 decisions every day. From deciding what to wear to choosing where to sit, most people have a lot of decisions to make every day. In fact, you’re making hundreds of judgments about food alone.
What researchers have found is that all that decision making can be mentally and physically draining. The idea of willpower as a finite resource is now contested in the field of psychology. It’s well documented that humans have a limited reserve of daily energy that’s dependent on adequate rest and sustenance.
As the supply gets low, the supply of our ability to make good judgments declines. This can mean buying on impulse, skipping the gym, or over reacting to a minor irritation. For example, if you’re asked by the judge if you want to change a word, you might want to agree and make the edit, or maybe disagree, offer your own suggestions and then wait for the judge’s decision.
Studies have shown that judges make their most favorable rulings in the mornings, gradually decrease their rulings as the day goes on. Why? As the day wore on, judges needed a break to refuel. A favourable ruling for the plaintiffs was confirmed by the court, only to be reversed again when the defendant was able to successfully oppose the decision.
In order to make better decisions, you need to figure out how to manage your internal resources and recognize your limits.
I’m a human behavior expert and executive coach. I find that one of the most effective ways to handle decision fatigue is through an exercise called “Halt.” It helps you to manage stress, which makes you less likely to be overwhelmed by the decisions at hand.
Take a break
We’re often unaware of our physical limits. Instead, we work long hours, keep up a high pace and ignore our need for rest and recovery. Decision fatigue switches off your ability to self-monitor.
Even if you don’t feel like you need a break, a break might be what your body needs to refresh and reenergize. When you do a personal inventory of the habits and behaviors that you want to change, it helps you identify where you are vulnerable to making poor decisions.
This means regularly having moments in your day to ask yourself if you are doing something with your energy that’s really important to you.
The Framework is made up of the basic needs that are hardwired into our biology. We all have moments when we feel stressed or don’t react positively to a situation. This tool can help you better care for yourself and stay in control of your reactions — whether in personal relationships or in business.
If you’re hungry:
Anxiety disorders are common among people who experience low blood sugar levels, studies show. So it makes sense that controlling these blood sugar levels might help manage the symptoms of anxiety. If you skip a meal, it might make you feel like a crazy person.
If you’re angry:
Anger is an unpleasant human emotion. But when we deal with it constructively, it can give us the strength to deal with other unpleasant emotions in our lives. Research suggests that venting does more harm than good, so think twice before lashing out on Twitter or passively-aggressively slamming doors to let your partner know you’re mad.
Ignoring them isn’t working either, but bottling them up doesn’t work either. Instead, try writing in a journal, taking a few minutes to relax, or practicing mindfulness.
If you’re lonely:
Feeling rejected, misunderstood, or alone can lead to self-imposed isolation and withdrawal. Interaction is a basic human need, so it’s important to tend to your social needs. Sometimes we make emotional decisions without reason. For example, if you have been single for a long time and are now dating, there could be a reason why you’re suddenly single.
Call a friend, force yourself to go to book club, or ask a co-worker to coffee. You can also make some time to tackle the rest of your task list. It’s much more likely that you’ll make a sound choice if you’re emotionally prepared to do so.
If you’re tired:
Living in a constant state of exhaustion is not sustainable. If you’re going to be working out, make sure that you’ve built enough time into your schedule to adequately recover from it. A digital detox can help your body recover from years of stress and negative habits.
Make HALT a habit
One problem with the HALT method is that it requires you to use it when you aren’t in a frame of mind to do so. That’s why I’ve systematized it into my routines and daily practices, which I’ve come to call my personal scheduled maintenance.
This includes: HALTER, DECOMPRESS, AND REPLENISH. When you eat the same thing every day, you don’t have to waste your time making decisions about what to eat. This saves you mental energy.
To avoid the loneliness of working alone, I make sure to end each day by doing something that will get me around other people — whether that’s a networking event, yoga class, or even just spending a few hours writing in a café.
A well-balanced diet should help you overcome decision fatigue. Try asking yourself: “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” Your body will thank you for a healthy snack, or a bite to eat.