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Decision making — a massive underestimated force that can make or break your day

Decision making — a massive underestimated force that can make or break your day

Spoiler alert: There might be an energy drainer that you are not aware of

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Deciding, an eight letter word around which our life seems to revolve around.

Big or small. Urgent or not. Life changing or ordinary, we spend a whole lot of our time deciding things.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a decision is defined as:

“a choice that you make about something after thinking about several possibilities.”

From the moment we wake up and before we go back to bed we decide for A in detrimental to B in as many variations we can think of.

We choose to either hit the ground running and face the day (option A) or to hit that snooze button for those famous “just five more minutes” (option B) — I have to admit in this particular scenario I still go for option B in most occasions, no matter how many times I’ve watched Mel Robbins’s TED talk. So…I’m still working on that.

We choose to substitute breakfast for just a cup of coffee (or tea) and sometimes maybe not even that (option A) or we can’t even think about leaving the house without first making a stop at the breakfast table where a substantial meal awaits (option B).

We can decide to have a training session in the morning (option A) or leave it for latter in the evening, right after the working hours (option B).

You get the point, substitute any of the options above for whatever first comes to your mind and voilà, you’ve got yourself a decision.

As we go about our day, our choices can take a multitude of forms from the easy ones — choosing between the blue or the white shirt — to the harder ones, like whether or not we want to have that difficult talk with our friend/ family member/ coworker. Before we know it, night time comes and whatever choice we postponed or already took that day (because as you may have noticed many of the choices we make each day are repetitive in nature), will be there waiting for us as soon as we open our eyes the next day. I think I speak from both personal experience and common sense when I say that some days this whole cycle can become exhausting.

As a matter of fact, the scientific literature has highlighted in the recent years a concept known as “decision fatigue”. Pignatiello, Martin and Hickman Jr (2020) explain that the phenomenon appears after an individual has made a series of sequential decisions and define the concept as:

“an impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making”.

The main idea behind the whole construct, presented by the authors in their article, is that our mind, just like our bodies, gets tired from continuous effort — in this case, from the effort of integrating the necessary information to make a decision. In such instances, either the quality of our decisions gets poorer or we start procrastinating on making one at all.

In a way, we get stuck and the harder the choices we have to make, the authors say, the more we’ll feel the effects of decision fatigue.

Another trademark of this concept is the tendency to “take the easy way out” when we find ourselves at the crossroads. And more often than not, what this means is that we prefer not to rock the boat or get out of our preset and comfortable ways.

In my case, what I realized is that when I was postponing making a bigger decision — such as that of having a tougher but necessary conversation with a friend — for latter in the day, when the time came, I usually chose not to engage in that conversation even though all I was doing was avoiding the inevitable and adding more pressure on the tomorrow’s to do list.

In other words, I was taking the more handy option because it was less costly in the short term — but, as you may have guest, the effects on the long term were a totally different story (you can only avoid for so long doing a necessary thing).

A more familiar way in which you can imagine this, is from an example presented in the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. The author brings attention to the way supermarket stores place the sweet treats on your way out, closer to the cash register. Think about it, after spending the whole shopping process choosing the right products for a healthy diet — and budget — by the time you get to pay for your products, your hand will reach much more easily for a bag of treats and place it in the basket — guilty of this too.

The same can be told for other kinds of purchasing, for example Polman and Vohs (2016) suggest that towards the end of the process of buying a car (after many small decisions have been made in a short amount of time) clients tend to opt for a more default option — that means that instead of letting the whole decision making process unfold properly, they opt for the more handy option.

Can you remember an instance when by the end of a long decision making streak, you started to choose anything just so that you can get rid of the problem? I believe that for most of us, the answer to this question is probably, yes.

I remember going to buy school supplies for my college courses. No amount of lists in this world was able to help me against the variety of options that were presented to me every step of the way. By the end of the shopping day, any pen/notebook/highlighter/ sticky note was good enough if that meant I could just go home and take a nap.

By this point you may be wondering “Ok, so what are we supposed to do? It’s not like we can stop making decisions and neither can we control the amount of choices coming our way”.

That is true. What we can do instead is take a closer look at the way we spend our “decision making energy” and ask ourselves how we can optimize that process. These are some of the ways which I found helpful in gaining the upper hand in the decision making arena.

Routines

Remember how I mentioned that one of the signs of decision making fatigue was that our minds go into default mode and chose the more handy option? What if that handy option was actually something that would work in our favor rather than against us?

I have found that establishing a healthy routine, one that promotes our well-being and progress in the long term, has way more benefits than simply relying on our capacity of making the right decision when the time comes. That way, even if decision fatigue does appear, we can relax knowing that our default mode is one that helps us get closer to our goals even if we are not aware we’re even doing it.

For example, after taking my time to implement a workout routine in my daily schedule, somewhere along the line I have come to realize that it’s no longer a matter of choice for me. I just simply do it, in whatever shape or form that may look like — a stretching session in the morning, a full workout in the evening or sometimes even both. It has become my default option. What’s important to understand though is that a routine doesn’t form overnight. Consistent, small, every day practices go a long way when it comes to building lasting routines.

Also, Alicia Eichman has a great article detailing how routines can help improve your life and the strategies you can use to get better at sticking with them for enough time so that they can become your version of default mode.

As the actor Matthew McConaughey would say “Get rid of the excess”

A way in which you can spend less from your “decision budget” is by reducing the numbers of decisions you engage with. Hirshleifer and his colleagues (2019) explain in their article how important public figures, like President Barack Obama for example, cut down on the available choices they have for food and clothing so that they don’t spend too much of their effort and time in the wrong place.

For things that are repetitive, like what to eat, how to get dressed or what shoes to wear, planning ahead can help not only save time, which you could spend doing other things, but also preserve your energy for the more important stuff. For example, in the recent weeks I started planning what I would eat for each specific meal during the week and it has saved me a lot of time from staring at that open fridge or store shelf for decades at the time.

This gives me more control over what I eat and I can make sure to include the type of foods that are good for me. Also, since I know that I am a huge sweets lover, I can make sure to include those in as well without letting things spiral out of control.

I have to admit, this is not the smooth sailing that I wish it was since I’m only now starting to form this habit and, as it is expected, I run into the occasional bumps down the road but the results so far are pretty encouraging.

Make rest a priority

Taking a little breather from time to time, especially if your day is extremely busy at work or at home helps bring things back into focus. This helps to make the endless string of so many decisions a little more bearable. We are well aware that our control over what type of decisions we’ll have to make in a day can only go so far. That is why is important to try to maintain a fresh perspective by allowing our minds to disconnect. In this way, when those external demands come, we can bring our A game to the table.

A method which I find useful in giving my mind time to recharge is through guided meditation (that usually involves focusing on my breathing). I never thought that simply allowing myself to just breathe properly could actually help to quiet my mind and give it an energy boost.

But it doesn’t really have to be meditation, it could be any number of other activities you could try, like:

taking a walk;gazing out the window while focusing on simply observing the movement outside (this can help to bring the mind to the very moment you find yourself in, instead of letting it run endless scenarios in your head about the future or the past).listening to relaxing music;playing with a pet.

No matter what it is that you find relaxing try to slide it in your day as much or as little as you can. Sometimes, something is better than nothing.

The process of making a decision is so ingrained in our lives that more often than not, we don’t even realize we are making one. Sometimes, we can feel tired at the end of the day even if on the outside it might seem like we actually didn’t do that much at all. On the inside, however, our minds are running constantly, moving us from moment to moment — one decision at the time. This way, next time we feel tired for no apparent reason we can be more aware of how hard we’ve been working without even realizing it and give ourselves a well deserved rest.

Of course, there are many reasons and ways in which our decision making process can be affected and many other variables to be taken into consideration than what I’ve described here. Even so, giving the fact that the act of making decisions is such a big part of our lives, I believe that the more we know about how we can improve ourselves the better.

Woody Allen once said:

“We are the total sum of our choices.”

Maybe there is some truth to that and if there is, why not do our best to make better choices every day?

Decision making — a massive underestimated force that can make or break your day was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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A friend is someone who…

Issue #120 of the Better Humans Daily. Subscribe here for inspiration and knowledge.

I was thinking about chosen family as I wrote yesterday’s newsletter about the role of social connection and longevity. There’s an official definition of chosen family, often driven by alienation from your family of origin.

And then there’s just the looser definition of expanding your family to include life long friends. If they are at your Thanksgiving meal then they are family, blood relation or not.

Family, original or chosen, is an obvious deep social connection that boosts your chances for a long healthy life.

I realized that, for me, home is where my friends are.

That’s from a response to yesterday’s email about chosen family and relying on friends in an emergency.

And a friend is someone happy to take you to, and to pick you up from the train station, someone who wishes you “Bon voyage”, and tells you “welcome back”.

What makes a friend someone that could enter your chosen family?

A definition for “Chosen Family.”

Family of choice, also referred to as chosen family, found family, kith and kin, or hānai family is common within the LGBT community, sex positive BDSM community, groups of veterans, supportive communities overcoming physical or substance abuse, and friend groups who have little to no contact with their biological parents. It refers to the group of people in an individual’s life that satisfies the typical role of family as a support system. The term differentiates between the “family of origin” (the biological family or that in which people are raised) and those that actively assume that ideal role.

Source: wikipedia

Make friends as an adult.

Social connections are really fractured right now with so many people moving, a lot of work switching to remote, etc. Making friends as an adult is a skill we all need.

I learned how to be an extroverted introvert. Meaning, I’m as open and social as an extrovert and can make new friends with ease, but my natural disposition is still introversion. It takes more deliberate effort and energy, but it’s very possible.

There are a lot of good tips in this article: The Ultimate Guide To Making Friends As An Adult by Julia Blum

Do you like audio lessons? Why?I’ve been doing some work with Knowable to turn my best articles into audio lessons. Here are my first three. I’d most recommend the “awareness focus loop” one because it’s the mindfulness training that comes up the most often in these emails. Do you like learning this way? If the answer is no, pay it no attention. If yes, I’d love to hear more. Why do you like it? When do you listen to it? What do you get out of it?

A friend is someone who… was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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