Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve given a great deal of thought to an article I read in The New York Times by John Tierney called, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? The article comes from a larger body of work which Tierney co-authored with Roy Baumeister – a book titled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister notes, “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they are not rested and their glucose is low. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4:00 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. The best decision makers are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”
The concept of decision fatigue takes many forms, whether it’s understanding the best time of day to make decisions, knowing when are least likely to accept tradeoffs, or connecting our eating habits to our personal willpower.
For example, Tierney explains, “…even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens later in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give their body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.”
Since reading the article, I haven’t spent time contemplating the challenges, so much as thinking about how, once empowered with this information, we can better understand and modify our behavior. How can we make adjustments that will help us make better decisions and remain disciplined, both personally and professionally? How can we combat decision fatigue most effectively?
To use the diet example, we know that skipping breakfast and eating a small lunch is likely to catch up to us by the end of the day. It’s probably best to modify our eating habits so we can fuel our willpower as we’re trying to lose weight. The many findings from this article, combined with some honest reflection about our daily routines, may be extremely helpful to learning more about ourselves as leaders and as people.
So do you make better decisions in the morning or in the afternoon? Under what circumstances do you believe you negotiate best? At what part of the day are you a more effective listener? Or a better writer? I invite you to read the article and share your thoughts about when you trust yourself, when you don’t and, most importantly, what you try to do about it!