Mid-afternoon, you’re feeling like a champ. You started the day strong. You’ve worked out at the gym, you’ve taken the dog for a walk, and you’ve been sailing through your tasks for the day. No wonder you’re riding high on the wave of accomplishment and feeling great about yourself.
And then you get home.
You remember you’re having people over tomorrow night for dinner. You scan the house with a sense of slight dread: there are dishes to wash, laundry to fold, floors to be swept. It’s too much. You’re not sleepy, but all you want to do is lie on the couch and do nothing.
You really just don’t want to do get organised!
And you ask yourself: “Where’d that person go, the one who was ticking off everything on the to-do list all day long?”
Turns out, this lack of self-control – specifically after a day when you’ve exercised a lot of willpower – is perfectly normal.
According to Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State, willpower is like a muscle. You can build up its strength, but at some point it will deplete. It’s not an infinite resource, and requires recovery time.
Roy and his colleagues conducted some very clever experiments and found that after making a lot of decisions, our self-control lowers. We’re tired.
It’s called “decision fatigue.”
Once we’ve exercised self-control, our capacity for making decisions lowers.
When you notice you’re having trouble with a decision, stop and think about what happened earlier that day; you probably exercised a lot of self-control somewhere.
It’s no wonder that researchers at Duke University estimate that 40% of our daily actions are habits, not conscious choice.
That’s like six of our waking hours on autopilot! It’s likely the best we can do. It makes sense to want to change our habits.
So I’m wondering… how are your New Year’s resolutions going?
Apparently only 8% of people who make them achieve them, so don’t be too hard on yourself. At least we know, thanks to Roy and his colleagues, that willpower is a finite resource. But that’s not a reason to give up.
Here are five ‘easy’ things you can do to help with that dreaded decision fatigue:
1. Eat one jellybean
The part of the brain in charge of our willpower runs on glucose. When the glucose depletes, so does our willpower. A small sugar boost might help – temporarily (and I did say small). If you only need a brief pick-me-up, this might hit the spot.
2. Pick one thing
Set yourself up for success: Pick one achievable thing to improve at a time. Visualise what that looks like and go for it.
3. Go for small wins
To build strength, Roy and his colleagues recommend doing something small enough that you can do regularly. Make sure it’s meaningful enough to make a difference and keep you motivated. It’s about getting better – small wins. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
4. Remove temptation
That chocolate stash that’s out of sight and out of reach? That’s good. Even better would be having it out of the house. We prefer instant rewards to long term payoffs; it’s how we’re wired. Remove temptation. It helps.
5. Track your progress
We have a negativity bias: we tend to focus on our slip-ups more than our successes. So track your progress. Celebrate your success. Go for the “Seinfeld streak.”
Remember, too, that your perception is key. If you don’t like how things are, you either change your perception, or make a change.
If you made a resolution, then it’s clear you want to make a change. The next step is to do what it takes. Do you know what that is for you?
It’s not always clear.
I’ve opened up spots in my calendar to talk with people who are ready for a different kind of year at work. If you want more confidence, clarity, direction or motivation, I can help.
If that’s you, let’s talk. I’m looking forward to it.