I can now scientifically excuse being cranky when I get home from the grocery store. I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to cut costs (especially on groceries), and I’ve stumbled onto an interesting area of discussion: decision making and willpower.
Have you heard of decision fatigue? It means that the quality of the decision decreases with repetition: the more decisions we’re forced to make, the worse those decisions get. It accounts for the “irrational trade-offs” we often make. For example, working for several hours gathering coupons to save $10, then spending $8 on 4 sodas in the checkout line.
Turns out there’s a scientific explanation for this: “dwindling supplies of glucose in the brain,” according to Dr. Roy Baumeister. He’s a social psychologist, and he says that we have limited decision-making energy, and once we’ve made a lot of decisions, the quality of those decisions starts to decrease.
Like a muscle that gets tired, fatigue sets in. When you’ve resisted something once, twice, eight times, it’s going to be harder to resist the ninth time around.
We all know this. Willpower can only take you so far. There’s a spiritual application here that explains why “self control” is a fruit of the Spirit – and a miracle. Those major decisions that have to be made have to be made with this in mind, and that’s the reason that “In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom.”
For our day-to-day (and specifically financial) decisions, the practical solution lies in our habits.
Automate as many decisions as possible.
We know we spend less money at the grocery store when we make a list. This is the why. (I think this also accounts for some of the savings that couponers brag about. They’ve spent their time making decisions at home before being confronted with temptation. By the time they get to the store, they don’t have many decisions left to make.) In the article cited above, another psychologist, Dr. Shelley Gorman, says that habits “take the workload off our willpower.” We’ve already made the decision; we don’t have to make it again.
Eliminate decision-making whenever you can.
In a work context, this could mean turning off your phone (or using the wonderful Do Not Disturb function on the new iPhone), closing web browsers, and disabling notifications while you’re in the middle of a project. You don’t have to MAKE the decision not to answer the phone when you’re not even aware it was ringing.
Since this is a physical phenomenon (lower glucose levels), sometimes a snack can help. (Maybe that’s why I’m so hungry when I’m finished grocery shopping.)
Make your most important decisions in the morning, before you experience “ego depletion.”
This is an incredible tip – the decisions that matter the most should be made with all of our best resources, so make them first.
The last tip I found was a fun one:
Make the wrong choice sometimes.
You know how good you feel when you’ve splurged at the mall after a bad day? Turns out it really can invigorate you and get you ready to make good decisions again. The problems come when you make a “wrong” decision that has long-lasting consequences. (It’s one thing to splurge on a new pair of shoes at the mall when you have some extra money in the bank, but spending the last of your gas money is a bad way to recharge.)
Since I’ve had to make too many decisions today, I’ll leave you to make the decision on how to apply all of this interesting research. Let us know in the comments or on Facebook what you think!