Depleted by decisions (how your brain makes choices that sabotage you and what to do about it)

In the digital age, information comes at you like a tsunami.

From the moment you wake up, notifications (news, social media, email, chat channels) fight for your attention.

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With all of the information vying for your attention, you make choices and use a lot of your mental energy before the day even starts.

Even ignoring information is a choice.

The more choices you make, the harder it becomes for your brain to make more because it gets tired.

And your brain makes impulse decisions when it’s tired.

It’s similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.

Without your awareness, your brain creates shortcuts in the form of cognitive biases to help you process the influx of information as the day progresses.

In many cases, it doesn’t want to make decisions at all.

The brain takes these shortcuts to conserve energy.

Short-term gains are a priority for our brains especially when your willpower is running empty.

Think about how many decisions you make the moment you wake up till you go back to bed again at night.

By the time you’re winding every day, you’ve made an average of 35,000 decisions!

What to wear, what to eat, how to take care of your home and family, what to do at work, how to approach a task.

These are all important decisions.

This is why conserving energy is so important to your brain.

Here is the problem.

No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

Low mental energy is a problem we all face.

The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, hence the need to take shortcuts at the expense of what will really benefit you in the long-term.

In his research about self-control, Baumeister and his team explained that there is a link among decision-making actions, self-control, and willpower.

Self-control appeared to deteriorate over time from repeated exertions, such as decision-making.

The brain uses two approaches to take shortcuts

The first shortcut is to become thoughtless or careless: it acts impulsively instead of using the energy to first think through the consequences.

The second and most preferred for a tired and depleted brain is to do nothing. Instead of thinking about the impact of the decisions, it avoids any choice and goes into strict energy saving mode.

If you have ever “ducked” a decision, your brain was heavily conserving energy for the future.

Ducking often creates bigger problems in the long run, because the problems, issues and what needs sorting don’t go away.

Your brain doesn’t care about long-term effects.

It’s designed to conserve, ease mental strain and keep you going for as long as possible.

Which is why it’s insanely important to make life-changing decisions early in the day when you are most active, mentally alert, and can think clearly.

If you want someone’s best attention, energy, and focus to go toward the decisions that are important to you, schedule it in the morning.

And, don’t hold important business meetings late in the afternoon.

You may not get the best results.

But if you are holding a creative brainstorming meeting, schedule it at a time when you are tired because your brain does creative work better when you’re tired. This sounds crazy, but it actually makes sense when you look at the reasoning behind it.

In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue is one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.

Start your day right

What’s the most important decisions you have to make every day?

Is it about life, family, work, or long-term financial goals.

Whatever it is for you, put your best energy toward it every day.

Start your day by working on the most important thing in your life.

I’ve written previously about the importance of morning routines.

Start your day right and you will have the

Automate decisions you make over and over again
For millions of people, the decisions that drain them are the ones they make over and over and over again.

Put less mentally demanding decisions on autopilot.

Save yourself the energy and automate some of your decision-making processes.

Don’t waste precious willpower on some decisions.

Make fewer good decisions by automating “inconsequential” choices.

Things like food, clothing and media consumption can be planned in advance whilst you save mental energy for important life and business decisions.

Schedule purposeful brain downtime

It makes perfect sense that our attention spans and concentration need to be rebooted, at several points throughout the day.

According to research, the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

Studies have shown that workers are most focused and productive when following the rhythm of a work/rest ratio.

When faced with a long creative problem, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task and improve your idea generation approach.

A structured downtime can help you do your best work.

By giving your brain a break, you allow it to make improved neural connections and ultimately better decisions.

Conserve your brain space and energy for larger decisions by building better routines.

Dig deeper

My new course, Thinking in Models is open for enrollment. It’s designed to help you to think clearly, solve problems at multiple levels of depth, and make complex decisions with confidence. Join the community of people on a mission to think clearly, work better, solve problems at multiple levels of depths, and make complex decisions with confidence! Click here for details.

You can also subscribe to Postanly Weekly (my free weekly digest of the best posts about behaviour change that affect health, wealth, and productivity). Subscribe and get a free copy of my new book, “The Power of One Percent Better: Small Gains, Maximum Results”. Join over 45,000 people on a mission to build a better life.

Oppong is the founder @Alltopstartups. Curator at, Columnist at Inc. Magazine. Featured at Business Insider, Quartz, CNBC, Entrepreneur, HuffPost, etc.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted with permission.

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