Decision Fatigue

Two weeks ago, I went for my long overdue eye appointment. My doctor is a matter of fact fellow, not easily excited, and when I complained to him that I was playing trombone with reading material and my headaches were increasing, he suggested progressives. 

“Or,” he offered. “You can just do this all day.” And he brought his glasses to the tip of his nose and looked at me over the top. Not wanting to look like a high school librarian just yet, I opted for progressives.  

After my eye exam, which included many of the “is it better like this? or like this?” questions, I met with another fellow to order my new lenses. I’ll skip all of the jokes about how old that makes me feel for the time being, but suffice to say, I expect to wake up with gray hair tomorrow. 

The list of questions about my glasses was endless - from what kind of coating I wanted to whether or not I wanted blue screen protection for computer screens. I’m pretty sure at the end I agreed to adopt a miniature donkey. Because at that point, I was saying yes to anything. 

Conveniently, my eye doctor is located in the same building as Starbucks, so I left my appointment and promptly order a large mocha latte and a chocolate chip cookie - warmed of course. 

I sat down with my latte and cookie and dove further into a book on willpower, and read the chapter on decision fatigue. Realizing, as I ate my cookie in three bites, that I had just experienced exactly that. 

I don’t know how many decisions I made at the eye doctor that day, but I’d guess no less than 50. And that was just at the eye doctor. Leading up to that point I’d take the dog to the vet, and started packing my house. 

By the time I walked into Starbucks, I’d probably made 200 hundred decisions for that day. Some of them tiny - like when you’re packing you’re deciding what to keep and what to throw away - and some of them major - how much did I want to spend on glasses? 

As a coach, I often hear people say “I know what I need to do, I’m just not doing it.” As I am trying to find out what comes between those two concepts, will power creeps up over and over again. And decision fatigue plays a big role in our self-control. (To be clear, there are many other factors that go into will power and self-control, but decision fatigue is a big one). 

If by the time you get to the end of your day, you’ve already made 200 hundred smaller decisions - whether or not to send an email, respond to that phone call, walk down the hall and talk to Nancy, do a noon workout, go for a run, wear these shoes or those shoes, by the time you get to the end of your day, it becomes increasingly difficult to care what you have for dinner. Or whether or not you have that cookie. 

Had I not walked past a Starbucks that day, I’m not sure I would have gone looking for chocolate - (though I might have, since I’m 40 years old and just ordered progressives..) but because it was right there in front of me, I had it. 

So what can you do? Prepare, as best as you can. If you have a nutrition plan and chocolate isn’t on it, then you shouldn’t have chocolate easily accessible if you can help it. (And with co-workers and family members, you can’t always help it). 

Be aware of what’s happening. The best thing I’ve learned in reading the book is that will power is a limited resource. 

Let me say that again. 

Will power is limited. 

You use it in a variety of ways throughout the day - which means by the end of the night - it might very well be gone. 

Next week I’ll get into part two of willpower where we talk about specific actions we can take to negotiate these situations.