Bad choice battles and how to win them

woman-674977_1280 (1)Bad choice battles are a tough gig. You know what I mean. It's been a difficult day: work pressure, people behaving badly, things going wrong. You've just got in the door. Theoretically you will cook a healthy meal/spend time with people you love/tick a few jobs off and relax. Instead you find yourself scoffing chocolate or chips, yelling at your kids and spending the evening numbing on Facebook. Or worse!

I didn't even know decision fatigue existed until a few years ago, although I felt it! Decision fatigue isn't new, but it is an overwhelming component of our modern lives. It's literally the exhaustion which comes from making so many decisions all the time. Which leads us to fuzzy headedness and a diminished capacity to make good and clear choices even though we'd like to. It tends to get worse over the day and has a scary impact on our will power!

Our advanced, complex society is responsible for much of the pressure, because we have choice in so many areas. A hundred years ago you walked down the street and bought whatever the local grocer had in his shop, added to that whatever you'd managed to grow in your garden and that was dinner. If you didn't get there between 9 and 5, bad luck. Now you get to choose which supermarket, which shopping centre (online, maybe?), what time you'll shop and which brand you'll choose all before touching your supplies. Maybe you'll just have takeaway! Thai, Indian or pizza? You get the drift…

Our problem lies not in having so many options (we like them!) but in the fact there are so many in every area of our lives. This is because our decision making brain operates more like a muscle, and the more decisions we make in a day the more fatigued it becomes. This makes it harder and harder to stick to 'good health, good life' decisions as the day goes on and is why so many more unhealthy choices happen in the evening. The woman who works a job all day then comes home and does the traditional kids/meal/house run apparently doubles her stress load between the end of her paid work day and bed. Decision tiredness will be part of that.

However, it's not just the end of the day where we find the effects of tiredness affecting our decisions. A long session at work (meetings, anyone?) can dull our good thinking processes too. This study found the chance of a favorable ruling from a judge is greater at the very start of the day or after a food break. Scary, isn't it, that our own and other people's lives can be affected by a coffee break?

So is there any way to win these bad choice battles and get through our day with a clean bill of health? Well, there are certainly some tweaks we can make to how we do things that give us a better chance. Here's a few I've been working on this year:

1. Let the pressure by making some blanket decisions.

If what streses us is the sheer quantity of decisions we have to make in a day, it makes sense to simplify parts of our lives to release some pressure. Choosing to always shop at Coles, or catch the 6.45 bus or meet at the same pub means future decisions about those things are temporarily off our list. The principle is, make a good decision once and stick to it for a while. Fewer decisions ought to equal beter ones. According to the web, this is why Obama's suits are only ever one of two colours.

2. Plan when you're fresh

If you don't like the idea of eating Italian every Friday, perhaps you can plan in advance at least some of your choices. I've been working to a weekly food plan this year, and it certainly cuts the empty-eyed staring into a fridge at 6pm game. Once a month I simply think up a week's worth of meals. I then stick it on the fridge and repeat four times. Voila, decisions made! Someone else I know every Sunday afternoon pulls out all the work clothes she's going to wear for the week and lays them on her bed. Once she's sorted, she puts them back into her wardrobe in day order. Come Wednesday morning, all she has to do is reach in and stumble to the shower! It works for her!

3. Decide and schedule in the things that matter to you

A bit like the point above, this is especially important for the things you want to do/know you should do such as exercise or build a new skill, but you give up to fit everyone and everything else into your day. It's a key component of what I suggest in my training. First of all you have to decide it's of high enough value to want to do, and then you have to put some energy into making space in your week for it. Adding it to your electronic calendars is your next step. Of course, you still have to keep the appointment, but if you give it the same priority you'd give an appointment with your GP or a girlfriend, you'll be on your way to succeeding.

4. Do the most important things first in the day

Since our good choice muscle wears out with use, it seems very obvious to put the things which matter at the top of the list. But lots of us don't! Instead, we spend the part of our day with the most energy clearing our inboxes or chatting or running little messages. Reverse the order! Chat with your school mums in the afternoon and leave your work buddies alone til morning tea. Put the most challenging and high value tasks to the top of your list and get them done while you still have good energy! Moving most of my writing to first thing in the day has helped me substantially, and I find my meetings are most efficient then, too.

5. Rest and eat before a big decision.

If a judge in a courtroom benefits from a break before deciding on a good judgement, why wouldn't we all? Take yourself for coffee or a walk round the block before making your important choices. Or put them off until you're fresh. I first came upon this idea as a tool for pressured or impulse buying. It's amazing how much money I've saved by putting something back on the shelf, walking round the shop and then looking at it again. I know it irks some salespeople, but that's because they weren't thinking about me in the first place! The more important or previously unconsidered your decision is, the greater the value in this tweak. Don't discount calling a friend for an extra opinion either, if you think it might help. With the change in some company's return policies, this becomes all the more valuable as an idea for shopping, and for life in general.

This is the fifth and final post in our series on small tweaks we can make to improve our lives. In case you missed them, here are the topics again:

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Take small steps often
  3. Stop sometimes
  4. Control your electronics
  5. Fight decision fatigue

In each of these we've looked at some little adjustments we could consider as we work towards our dreams and yet still live within the confines of a busy life. I hope you've been able to find some quality ideas to apply into your circumstances. I know they've been a good reminder for me, and a chance to consider again just what's important. A good life, lived positively and well, doesn't happen by accident!