In a suburban mall, shoppers were randomly stopped and asked a series of questions about their shopping habits. The questions were designed to understand how many buying decisions the shoppers had made that day...
They were then asked to attempt to solve a series of simple arithmetic puzzles and were told that they could quit whenever they wanted.
Those shoppers that had made the most buying decisions that day quit sooner. They didn't have the same level of persistence as those shoppers that had made less buying decisions.
So what happened here?
Researchers believed that the shoppers that had deliberated the most over what items to buy had suffered from a phenomenon called decision fatigue.
In short: Making decisions for our brain is like doing exercise for our body. In the short term it fatigues us and leaves us with a diminished capacity to operate.
Prisoners, Parole and Decision Fatigue
This real-world example of decision fatigue left me speechless.
Psychologists Jonathan Levav and Shai Danziger reviewed over more than one thousand decisions made over the course of ten months by judges who took turns presiding over the parole board of an Israeli prison system.
They started to notice a rather remarkable decision making pattern...
If you, as a prisoner, appear right after a food break then you have around a 65% chance of getting parole. But if you are unfortunate enough to come right before a break such that the judges have been making decisions for the hours preceding your trial then that percentage drops to 20%.
Quite simply: The longer the judges are in the court without having a break, the less chance you have of getting parole.
Your chances of getting a good judgment depends on what time you're scheduled in court!
So what's happening here?
You guessed it.. The judges experienced decision fatigue.
Right after eating, the judge's blood glucose levels are restored and they come back to the court room re-energized and ready to perform the necessary analysis for each case.
But, as time proceeds and the judges are forced to make decision after decision, decision fatigue starts to set in. They slowly begin to lose their ability to do the analysis necessary to make good decisions and thus opt for the default or safe option, which in this case is not to offer parole.
What Happens when we Experience Decision Fatigue?
Decision fatigue leads to an inability to make good decisions. Instead of doing the necessary analysis, we default to the safe or recommended option and lose our ability to make compromises on things.
But, it gets worse than this....making decisions taxes your willpower. Every single decision you make in your life comes at a cost to your willpower...
The price you pay depends on the effort and difficulty of the decision involved, but even insignificant ones, such as what you're going to eat for dinner tonight, have a negative effect.
This is why the likes of Mark Zuckerberg tend to wear the same clothes every single day:-
Most of Us Need a Decision Diet
All these decisions that we make on a daily basis, a lot of them insignificant and unnecessary, are depleting our highly valuable willpower reserves.
This is that same willpower reserve that we often need to call upon when we're trying to ingrain positive habits into our brain's circuitry. It's limited in supply and should be protected at all costs.
Be mindful of the fact that every decision comes at a cost and simplify your life as much as possible.
For more ideas on how you can do this, read this post.