Decisions, decisions. With so much happening in our day-to-day lives like virtual school, working remotely, and managing a packed schedule, not to mention making time for nourishing ourselves, we can easily feel overwhelmed and opt for next easiest thing- with food, with responsibilities, all in an attempt to reduce the energy we expend on daily decisions. Enter the idea of "Decision Fatigue." Ever heard of it? It's a real thing and something that Whole30 Certified Coach Megan Hable is here to walk us through- from navigating why we make decisions to how we can set ourselves up to keep our energy reserves high- she's sharing these tips to avoiding Decision Fatigue inside and outside of the kitchen.
ABOUT MEGAN HABLE
Megan Hable lives in Las Vegas with her husband, Igor, and chiweenie, Peanut. She works as a senior quality assurance analyst (just fancy words for saying she breaks software programs), yoga instructor and Whole30 Certified Coach. She's an enneagram type 6w7, Taurus, Early Bird and Gretchen Rubin Rebel. Her favorite form of self care is future self thinking -- what can I do for myself now to help out my future self? As a Rebel, she's all about that "Can Do" list life. Give her a "To Do" list and she'll do anything to not do that. She really loves to read, hike, do yoga, hit the gym and hang out with her pup.
"Think about your mental energy like a bank account; most days you start with a pretty full account. Each decision you make is a withdrawal – more for complex decisions, additional stress makes withdrawals from your account, and there is only a finite amount of mental energy for exerting self-control. "
Do you ever notice when you’re trying to make healthier choices that you do great in the first half of the day but then you begin to falter later in the day?
It’s not because you’re weak or because you don’t have enough willpower!
Enter the concept of Decision Fatigue: when perfectly sensible people start to make decisions and trade-offs not in their best interest. It explains why you can make it through the day eating balanced and healthy meals, but by 5 pm you throw up your hands (literally or figuratively) and eat the next thing in sight (um, like a 2-week old stale cookie!) or stop at the drive-thru – you’re mentally exhausted and looking for shortcuts which usually results in one of two things: acting recklessly or avoiding any further choices.
Think about your mental energy like a bank account; most days you start with a pretty full account. Each decision you make is a withdrawal – more for complex decisions, additional stress makes withdrawals from your account, and there is only a finite amount of mental energy for exerting self-control. On average, we make 35,000 conscious decisions daily according to Cornell University researchers. It’s no wonder that at some point during our days we just say eff it and start down a potentially unhealthy path.
While there are a whole host of decision-making areas in our daily lives, let’s focus on our food choices. If we can lessen the amount of energy some of these choices take, we can free up energy for other decisions. On average, we make 226 decisions daily about food – so many more than we probably thought! We can save our “decision balance” by making daily decisions easier to make and we can fill our bank account back up when we recognize that we’re overdrawn. Typically, when we’re running low on mental energy, we feel our emotions more intensely, act more impulsively, find ourselves taking illogical shortcuts, and/or favor short term gains and delayed costs. So, you might be asking: how can I make my preferred choices AND have a Plan B if I find myself running low energetically?
Arrange your environment so that your preferred choice is the easy choice. Easier said than done, I know. Everyone will be different and maybe, a little weird, but when your ‘account balance’ is high, think about how your future self could succeed easily in your environment. Start small and then build yourself up from there:
Here are some ideas:
- Fill your water bottle with water (and lemon) the night before
- Order favorite pantry staples on subscription plans so you can set it and forget it
- Cook meal components to easily assemble at mealtimes
- Pack your lunch the night before so it’s ready to grab and go in the morning
- Have pre-made meals in the fridge or freezer (hello, Model Meals!)
What else comes to mind for you? Not directly related to food, but I started putting my coconut oil for oil pulling on the shelf above my kitchen sink so that it is the first thing I do in the morning when I feed my dog. If it’s not there, it doesn’t happen. Same with my face moisturizers; in fact, I am staring at these right now and they are not there and therefore haven’t happened regularly.
Relief from decision fatigue: You will find yourself faltering at different times and it really is more a when than an if. So, how can you help yourself in those tough moments? I like to think of this step as “depositing” into my account:
- Hungry? Eat something! I know it sounds a bit counter-intuitive, especially since we are taught that less food is “better” and that we’re “dieting correctly” when we eat less, but we need nourishment. One study found that when parole board members took a mid-morning snack break, they granted parole more often just before the break (they also granted parole more often first thing in the morning, before any other big decisions had been made).
- Create the conditions for a positive mood: watch comedy (who else is binge-watching Schitt$ Creek?!), get outside, listening to your favorite music – there are so many options. Figure out what works for you.
If we can take anything from this, realize that you’re not weak, have no willpower, or any other story you want to tell yourself – this is your biology! Decisions take energy. Other extenuating circumstances and stress take energy, but we can help ourselves by making the healthy decisions we face in our lives the easiest ones and give ourselves grace when we find ourselves in those depleted moments. If you want to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal, as well as work by Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Levav.
Thank you SO MUCH, Coach Megan! Whether you're deciding what to have for a snack or if you should take that job offer, we know that you'll be considering all these helpful tips and tricks around decision fatigue. You can connect with Coach Megan on her website and on Instagram @megansmovement for more thoughtful tips and information on coaching.