I remember those days (and I still have them now and then), when I’d be so “good” all day. Lemon water in the morning, green smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, healthy dinner and then…
The kids would finally be in bed and my favourite reality TV show would come on (don’t judge!) and I’d suddenly find myself on the couch with a bowl of potato chips and a chocolate bar.
How could I do so well all day, only to find myself elbow-deep in the chip bag as soon as Survivor came on?
There are several factors at play here, but a primary one is something we call “decision fatigue” and it’s a well-researched phenomenon.
It turns out that your brain has a finite capacity for decision making (until it’s given time to rest and recharge properly). You can think of your decision-making power as a bank account, and every time you make a decision during the day (what food to eat, what to say to that person at work, what Facebook post to like, what to text to the person who hurt your feelings, whether or not to go to the gym, etc. etc.) you drain a little bit more out of that account.
The more you drain out of that account the greater your decision fatigue will be, and the harder it will be for you to make tough decisions (don’t eat the cookies) later on.
Many successful entrepreneurs and leaders are familiar with this phenomenon and they work to counteract it’s impact on their day.
For example, you may remember how Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same clothes every day – that black turtleneck and jeans. He didn’t do this because he lacked fashion sense, and he certainly had the money to buy more than one outfit. He deliberately chose to wear the same outfit every day because it was one less decision he had to make, thereby protecting his finite decision-making power for more important matters.
The reason why IKEA and other stores put so many small things to buy near the cash register is related to this notion of decision fatigue as well. You just spent all this time making bigger decisions about what to buy, and what not to buy, so your decision making power is weaker by the time you get to the cash register and you are far more vulnerable to impulse purchases.
When you first walked into the store, it would have been easy to say “no” to all those little knick knacks, but after spending hours making hundreds of decisions about what to look at, what to buy, and what goes with what, suddenly it feels a lot harder to walk past the hot pink flower pot. “What the hell?” you say, and into the cart it goes.
So, what can we do to prevent decision fatigue and ensure that our decision-making powers are still strong at the end of the day?
The best thing you can do is be like Steve Jobs. That’s right, think about where you can remove decisions about food throughout your day.
Planning your meals ahead of time is a great practice that I do every weekend. This means that, when I’m tired on Thursday night, I don’t need to try to summon up any decision-making power, I just look at the list I wrote on Sunday and pinned to our kitchen bulletin board. Easy!
Batch cooking many of the ingredients you’ll need for you healthy meals is another great practice. If you have the rice or the beans already cooked and ready in the fridge, or the spinach washed, or the veggies chopped, you’re much more likely to simply use them instead of trying to make another decision and falling off track.
If you’re heading out to a restaurant, don’t wait until you’re there and bombarded by decisions (How do you look? What should you say? How should you respond? What do they think? etc.) to decide on what you’re going to eat. Take some time earlier in the day to review the menu online and decide THEN, when your decision-making power is at it’s strongest and then, when the waiter comes to the table, simply relay the decision you’ve already made.
The more you can plan ahead and automate your food choices, the more power you’re going to have when temptation strikes and the less likely you are to end the day with nothing left in your decision-making savings account.
I posted a video all about this in my Mindful Eating Facebook Group today. You can watch it here (apologies for my distraction in the first few seconds – I’m experimenting with a new video platform so please bear with me).
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