Advertising

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Decision Making

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Decision Making
Advertising

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.”

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

Advertising

More by this author

Michelle Kennedy Hogan

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

10 Benefits of Deadlifts You Probably Never Knew 8 Things to Remember When You Don’t Know What to Do with Your Life 30 Fun Things To Do With Your Friends Without Spending Much 9 Benefits of Jumping Rope You Probably Don’t Know 9 Signs It’s Time to Quit Your Job

Trending in Productivity

1 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 2 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 3 5 Values of an Effective Leader 4 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 5 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Advertising

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next