A study of a parole board found that prisoners chances of getting paroled had more to do with the time of their hearing than any other factor (such as the crime they committed or the length of their sentence). Prisoners with hearings at the beginning of the day had the best chance (70%) of getting paroled. Those with hearings at the end of the day had the worst chance (10%) of parole.
Why? After spending the whole day making important decisions that affect the prisoner, their families, and the safety of the community, the parole board as a whole suffered from what is now refered to as decision fatigue. When your mental decision making is “tired”, your body responds in one of two ways. You either act irrationally and make terrible decisions or you try to save yourself by not making a decision or putting it off till a later time. The parole board in this case would get “tired” of making decisions and to save themselves from having to make more important decisions, would just turn down the rest of the parole requests (in effect, not making a decision – because nothing would change, and putting off the decision for another day – the prisoners next parole hearing). An interesting note is that hearings scheduled directly after lunch would have a spike in parole approvals (60%), the researchers decided this was due to a mix of the board having both a brief rest and lunch (other research shows how glucose levels can alter decision making fatigue – improving self-control and the quality of decision making).
Okay, Bridgette, so what does this have to do with me? Oh, I’m glad you asked. Researchers have found that when we suffer from decision fatigue we don’t have energy left for any mental processes. Besides avoiding decisions or becoming reckless and not thinking through our decisions, we also loose our self-discipline and will power. Guess who figured this out first? – The marketing people who place candy bars and soda at the end of the store, near the check out. Just when we have finished making a jillion decisions about what milk, eggs, bread and cat food to buy we are faced with an exercise in self-control that also promises the glucose our body is now craving because it is so “tired”.
We can’t just blame the marketing people though. In actuality, the decision fatigue starts the second we wake up in the morning:
What shampoo should I use? What scented lotion or perfume should I wear? What should I wear today? What make-up should I put on? What jewelry should I wear? What shoes should I wear? What should I put on the TV? What should I eat for breakfast? What should I feed my kids? What direction should I drive to get where I need to go? What should I order at a shop?… The list goes on and on and that is probably just in the first hour you are awake!
So, what can we do about this? The answer is to make your life more simple. If you minimize your choices when it doesn’t really matter, you will still have the mental energy left to make important decisions later in the day. The rhythm and repetition of life can be a source of calm and limit the choices we need to make.
Here are a few examples:
If you have a capsule wardrobe, you will have less decisions to make when you get yourself dressed. Some people have a uniform that they wear (this can be the one you have to wear OR this could be a choice you make – this is what I wear for this type of thing.)
If you only have a few personal care items, you are not making choices about what to use, you are simply following your routine.
If your kids already know that you are going to say no to anything except cereal, eggs, or fruit – can they make their own (limited) choice?
If you make coffee at home you can save yourself about 134 decisions by not stopping at the coffee house. (Seriously, when did we get more options on a cup of coffee than on a luxury car?)
If you go to a store with a good list and don’t veer off of it, you can remove at least some of the decisions facing you when you get there.
Just like the decisions we are asked to make, the list of possible answers can go on and on. The point of all of this is that in minimizing our lives, we can maximize our ability to handle whatever it throws at us.
Take an honest look at your life and think about the rhythm of your day. When do you typically hit “decision fatigue”? Are you setting yourself up for failure, by choosing to start a shopping trip or looking online for something, after you have already hit this point, or even when you know you are well on your way?
Are there ways you can streamline your life to remove unnecessary decisions and to allow for important decision making to occur when you are best equipped to handle it.
George W. Bush would say that there is a great amount of stress involved with being what he called “the decider”. Can someone else make some of these decisions for you?
Researcher Roy F. Baumeister states that “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low. The best decision makers, are the ones who know when NOT to trust themselves.”
Making decisions (or removing them) is AMAZINGLY SIMPLE!