The human brain is a wonderfully complex tool that has allowed our species to reign supreme over the earth, the means to create advanced technologies, sprawling cities, to make discoveries in math and science, cure diseases and help us understand the universe that we inhabit more clearly. But, just like your ultra powerful laptop, tablet or smartphone, all that computing power drains energy and comes at a price.
Decision fatigue is a major problem for millions of people and affects way more than just your decision making. Once your brain becomes fatigued, your thinking, will power and mood will all be impacted, making you irritated, irrational and temptation prone.
Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of studies on decision fatigue and found that the more mentally fatigued you become, the less will power you have and the easier you’re persuaded to do things like buy unnecessary stuff, give into a negotiation that you wouldn’t normally agree to, eat that carton of ice-cream, blow off practicing guitar or otherwise be taken advantage of/make terrible decisions.
Although decision fatigue is a serious thing and can have very bad consequences, you can beat it without having to completely change your 21st century lifestyle; you just have to follow these three easy rules.
Prioritise the things that you must use brain power for during your day and forget the rest. The old adage “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is a wonderful mantra to live by when it comes to brain conservation. Make sure that you’re saving your mental energy for the things that really matter like negotiations, important meetings, a meaningful conversation with your kids at dinner, working out or surprising your spouse with a date you planned.
Mental energy black holes are unavoidable, but we don’t have to let them suck up all of our brain power. The next time Jim from accounting wants to give you a play by play of his crazy weekend, ask yourself if that’s what you really want to expend your brain reserves on. If not, politely excuse yourself and keep it moving. Conserving your mental energy is all about deciding to get your priorities in order and sticking to them.
We know that taking breaks throughout the day may seem like a pipe dream but, we’re not talking about a lengthy, opulent mini vacation. We’re talking about a thirty to ninety second deep breathing break. Let’s be honest, we all have thirty to ninety seconds throughout the day that we can take in order to recharge. The question is, do we prioritise rejuvenation or not? Even though thirty to ninety seconds of deep breathing may not sound like a lot, you’d be surprised at how big an impact this little change can really make.
Studies show that doing breathing exercises has immediate impacts on our stress hormone levels, pH levels in our blood and blood pressure. Here’s a simple breathing exercise that anyone can do:
Breathe in through your nose as deeply as you can for three seconds.
Hold your breathe for three seconds.
Exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
Schedule these breathing breaks for yourself during the times when you usually start to feel run down. In the lunch line, after you eat, during your commute home, after an intense meeting or whenever else you could just use a little pick me up. You don’t need to close your eyes, light candles or make a big production out of it if you don’t want to, just breathe! You’ll be amazed by how this practice will impact your energy levels and your mood.
Eat and Sleep (Enough)
It’s no secret that sleeping and eating are your body’s ways of recharging and replenishing the energy resources. But, it’s also no secret that most of us don’t get enough sleep and aren’t eating as optimally as we should. Now, before you get all stressed out about your sleeping patterns and caloric intake, much like the first two rules, a little goes a long way.
Packing snacks for yourself that taste good, have both protein and sugar, that are easily accessible will help keep you on top of your mental state. Usually by the time you get to your actual lunch break, you’re already burned out and your brain is craving sugar and fat infusions to get back on track. Simply grab a protein bar, a piece of cheese or an apple with peanut butter in between breakfast and lunch and then again between lunch and dinner to avoid mental fatigue, sugar binges (then sugar crashes) and mood swings.
Which finally brings us to sleep, now sleep can be an elusive creature when we need it most. Even if it may not be possible to increase the amount of sleep you get, you can increase the quality of your sleep and maximise the hours you already get. When it comes to the quality of your sleep, it’s all about preparation. Don’t eat right before bed, this causes your body to kick into gear digesting and keep you awake. Try to place your last meal of the day at least an hour before bed.
Don’t watch TV, write emails, search on your tablet or do anything else with electronics right before bed. This is a hard one but, it makes a huge difference if you disconnect before going to sleep. Electronics stimulate our brains and keep our processors going. In order to sleep better, take thirty minutes and read a (physical) book, do some breathing exercises or full on meditate. You’ll be much better rested and your brain will love you for it.
The bottom line is this. Imagine if your boss used your skills as often and unrelentingly as you use your own brain, it’s no wonder that sometimes it just shuts down and says “enough is enough”. Respect your brain and don’t take its computing abilities for granted, there is a limit to how much you can push it in a day.
Now, once you start scaling back on your brain usage and only focusing on what’s most important to you, you’ll find that the quality of your days will begin to get better and, not only will your brain be a lot happier, but you’ll be a lot happier and more fulfilled.