Tiring Decisions…

I have made a decision. I will never be politician at local or national level. This is not that much of a surprise of course. We currently have many politicians – good and bad – and I don’t have any of the skill sets or experiences necessary to be a good politician. So in the scheme of decision making, this one was not difficult.

Conversely, at many times of our lives, or weeks or days, we all have to make many important and significant decisions. In many ways this is true. On the other hand we all have to make lots of decisions every day anyway – decisions we don’t ever think about that much. So perhaps in truth the difference is our perception of the importance or impact of specific decisions at certain times.

I have long since realised that my decision-making ability varies depending on how I feel and even what time of day it is. I consciously try to avoid making significant decisions when I am tired – for example late in the day or when jet lagged. I also try to run my meetings to ensure we keep to time. Not only does quality of debates seem better with regular breaks, but quality of decisions (and decision making) is better.

Turns out, all of this is a well-known phenomenon – Decision Fatigue – a phenomenon researched and understood by neuroscientists and psychologists alike. In effect, decision fatigue describes how quality of our decisions deteriorates the more decisions we make in sequence.

The classic example of decision fatigue is parole boards make a higher percentage of favourable (or at least clear) rulings for hearings held early in the morning, and many fewer later in the day.

My own example of decision fatigue would be how, if I find myself making important decisions late in the day, I inevitably find myself looking back a day or two later wondering, ‘what on earth was I thinking?’

So we now know that decision fatigue is not so much associated with physical tiredness, but it is more to do with mental energy….and this compounds the issue by making it harder for us to recognise decision fatigue in real time. Each and every decision we make drains ‘mental energy’…so as we make more choices during the day, our next decisions become progressively more difficult (no matter what their complexity). Sooner or later we end up taking shortcuts and make impulsive decisions (as opposed to expending energy to think).

Decision fatigue is well known in retail. Car salespeople know they are more likely to sell expensive options near the end of the sales process (when we are tired from making decisions) than at the beginning. And it why supermarkets place impulse purchase items (sweets, candy and batteries!) next to the cash register!

So what hope is there for us? How can we avoid decision fatigue? Well planning helps. Scheduling important meetings with significant decisions early in the morning. Preparing ahead of time but avoiding late night decisions. And taking breaks and letting our minds relax throughout the day always helps with decision quality.

But there’s also a solution from science. Decision fatigue neuroscientists and psychologists believe the answer is glucose! They have data to show that as glucose levels decrease, our brains stops doing some things whilst continuing to do others – hence our ‘mental energy’ can decrease without us feeling physically tired. A boost of sugar replenishes brain glucose and can restore will power, increase self-control and improve decision making.

Sounds like a pretty good solution for politicians or business, but sounds like a bit of a conundrum for anyone trying to lose weight…




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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