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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Decision Making

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Decision Making

We make hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions everyday. From the minuscule to the huge. From “Do I wear green socks or blue?” to “Do I really need to buy that car?” Every time we have to choose, no matter how small the choice may seem, we are depleting our energy and creating stress.

Making decisions is hard work. The key is to make fewer decisions and reserve your energy for the big ones. President Obama, in a Vanity Fair article, said, “You need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day… You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

1. Your brain requires glucose to make good decisions.

Psychological scientists X.T. Wang and Robert D. Dvorak from the University of South Dakota studied how blood sugar levels affect the way we think. “Volunteers answered a series of questions asking if they would prefer to receive a certain amount of money tomorrow or a larger amount of money at a later date. They responded to seven of these questions before and after drinking either a regular soda (containing sugar) or a diet soda (containing the artificial sweetener aspartame). Blood glucose levels were measured at the start of the experiment and after the volunteers drank the soda.

“The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that people’s preferences for current versus later rewards may be influenced by blood glucose levels. The volunteers who drank the regular sodas (and therefore had higher blood glucose levels) were more likely to select receiving more money at a later date while the volunteers who drank the diet sodas (and who had lower blood glucose levels) were likelier to opt for receiving smaller sums of money immediately. These findings are suggestive of an adaptive mechanism linking decision making to metabolic cues, such as blood sugar levels.”

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While drinking a soda before you make a choice is not the answer, keeping your blood sugar levels up by eating small amounts of healthy food throughout the day will likely improve your decision-making abilities.

2. Bad decisions come from mental fatigue.

Once you start getting tired, you start making bad decisions. Whether you’re not eating well, have had a long day or are simply tired, bad decisions will start to happen. If you’re “too tired to care,” then Oreos for dinner might sound like a great idea. Or instead of going to the gym or for a walk, sitting on the couch and watching TV becomes very enticing.

According to a research study published by the National Academy of Sciences, psychologists examined the factors that impact whether or not a judge approves a criminal for parole.

“The researchers examined 1,112 judicial rulings over a 10-month period. All of the rulings were made by a parole board judge, who was determining whether or not to allow the criminal to be released from prison on parole. (In some cases, the criminal was asking not for a release, but rather for a change in parole terms.)” While you might think the judges were affected by the type of crime committed, you’d be wrong. Instead, the judges choices were more influenced by whether or not they had just had a food break. Most — about 65 percent — of the potential parolees, received parole early in the morning or after a break, regardless of the crime.

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Those who had their hearings early in the morning or after lunch were much more likely to get parole than those who sat before the judge at the end of the morning or the end of the day, when the judges were likely, let’s face it, crankier.

3. Develop routines to overcome decision fatigue.

I have a pretty solid morning routine, no matter what my day is like. I wake up, make coffee, check email and social media – just to “wake up.” Then I get right into writing my first couple of articles. Then I eat breakfast. I do this every single morning. I get a lot done this way too. I also have routines for when I feed my dogs (I have 23) and different but similar routines for my workouts and different days when I have to be in different places. Routines are essential to good decision making because they eliminate the minor decisions that often take up the day.

4. Eliminate decisions.

Plan out your decision making before you have to make it. Put out what you’re going to wear in the morning. Decide what or where you will eat. Deciding these beforehand, eliminates the need to spend time on the decisions the next day — and potentially fighting your willpower. Be resolved to wake up and work out and you will.

5. Sleep well.

Sleeping better helps you make better decisions. If you are feeling rested, you won’t be tempted by that mid-morning doughnut or the temptation to not go for a run. Try and get to sleep about the same time every night. Make it a routine. If there is a day every week that plays a show you like on TV, incorporate that into your routine or record it for viewing at an earlier hour. It’s important to get the right amount of sleep for you. If you can, incorporate a nap into your schedule. Even 20 minutes can give you a boost and help you conquer your decisions.

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6. Make commitments, not decisions.

Don’t stand at the door trying to decide if you should go for a walk. Instead, plan it into your day. Think about the things that you want to do — I mean the things you really want to do and plan for them. If you want to lose 40 pounds, figure out the steps necessary to make that happen. Plan out your meals and schedule workout time. Making this a part of your daily routine means that you don’t have to decide anymore. You just have to follow your schedule.

I used to hate going for a walk or a run. I thought it was boring. But I knew I had to do it in order to lose the weight I had to lose and get back into shape. So I scheduled time in my afternoon. Coincidentally, this time (about 3pm) is about the time everyday when I used to want to lay on the couch, watch TV and take a nap. Now, even if I feel like laying down, I lace up my sneakers and start walking. Usually kind of slowly at first, until I get into the groove and start running or do some sprints. All of a sudden, I’m having a great workout. But I wouldn’t if left to my own devices. Plan. It helps.

7. Prepare for moments of weakness.

I know that everyday around 3 pm, I’m not going to feel like walking or running. I have to mentally prepare myself for this little argument I have with myself. Sometimes, it’s just about changing motions. I have to go and get a fresh pair of socks, put on my shoes. And then, well, I have my shoes on, I might as well just walk a little. I don’t have to go really far, I telly myself. Just get out the door and get some air. Then I grab one of my dogs and we walk along and pretty soon I’m running or jogging or climbing hills with them, having a good time. Now that I’ve done this routine everyday for about four years, I know I’ll feel better once I get going. But it wasn’t always like that. I had to prepare for that weak moment.

This is also true with food. I love carbs and sweets. Really. I would eat them all the time. Bread, cookies, you name it. I had to stop. I also had to learn to walk away when my cravings got bad. I learned that I would eat a treat around 9:30 or 10 pm in front of the TV. For a long time, I started going to bed at 9 pm with a book. I would read and then fall asleep, never getting the treat because it was down in the kitchen instead of staring me in the face. Learning to prepare and act before the weak moment comes is key to good decision making.

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8. Take time for yourself.

If you are at work and you are constantly confronted with decisions, you might, just like the judges mentioned above, start to get a little cranky. Take a break when this starts to happen. Go outside and walk or sit under a tree and read a book you like. Getting a mental break from issues that aren’t your own is essential to your own mental clarity and will help you make better decisions later on in the day.

9. Shopping is exhausting. Avoid it if you can.

Why is online shopping so much easier than shopping in person? You are making fewer decisions. If you know you want a certain pair of sneakers, online, you can just go get those sneakers and buy them. At the store, though, you have a multitude of options and then, decisions to make. Researchers found that those making shopping decisions gave up more quickly on a math test.

10. Let your unconscious mind work for you.

Have you ever felt confounded by a problem? Have you ever gone to “sleep on it,” and awoken understanding the problem better? Sure, we all have. Sometimes, relaxing, focusing on something else or getting some sleep, can help you clear away the detritus around the problem and let your mind do the work. Believe it or not, your brain is still working whether you are thinking about something or not. Relax. Go play volleyball and let your brain do the heavy-lifting for a while.

Featured photo credit: REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh via static6.businessinsider.com

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Michelle Kennedy Hogan

Michelle is an explorer, editor, author of 15 books, and mom of eight.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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