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Willpower and Decision Fatigue

Remember years ago when you laid out your clothes for school the night beforehand?  Did you teach your children the same practice as they were growing up?  It turns out there is actually some solid science behind why it’s a good practice to implement.

Wait, Willpower is a Muscle?  fit woman

Our willpower is not an infinite resource.  Think of it like a muscle – after consistent use it needs to rest and recharge before it’s back to its full capacity.  Ever stick to a diet diligently throughout the day but then couldn’t resist that cookie or slice of cake after dinnertime?  Yes it may have been delicious, but you still may be kicking yourself. You turned down donuts at the office, candy at the convenience store, and that soda in the afternoon.  Why then, did you give in to the dessert?  The answer may be because your willpower waned later in the day, and you fell victim to something called “decision fatigue.”
This concept is one of the reasons why Steve Jobs frequently donned his blue jeans and black turtleneck – to cut down on the decisions he had to make to save as much willpower throughout the day as possible.  It’s much more important that Steve used his willpower make choices on the future of Apple, its products, and its strategy, rather than his outfit.  He didn’t even need to make decisions on what he wore, because he essentially automated that choice by wearing the same thing.  Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, and Barack Obama do the exact same thing, they consistently wear the same outfits, or they have someone else decide what they’ll wear.  It’s to keep their brains as sharp as possible to focus on the decisions that matter.
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The Choices you Face Each Day Add up Quickly

With this in mind, try to think about how many decisions you might have made thus far today.  I bet it’s more than you would have guessed.  What am I going to wear?  What errands need to be done today?  How will I get to work?  Is it trash day today?  What should I eat for breakfast?  Should I go to the yoga class later today?  Am I going out to lunch today?  What are my plans this weekend?  They add up pretty quickly, don’t they?
Clearly we’re all faced with numerous decisions throughout our days and our lives, and that’s likely not going to change.  But with this understanding, there are a few tweaks we can use to really maximize the impact of our willpower and decision making.

Decide your Outfit the Night Before.

This one makes your morning routine significantly easier.  Choose the outfit you’ll wear, pack your lunch, decide how you’ll get to work, what time you’ll leave, and plan what you’ll do as soon as you get into the office in the morning.

Stick to the Plan.

Whether it’s a to-do list, your Google calendar, or in a daily planner, write it down and stick to it.  Having a plan or a strategy around what you want to accomplish helps you waste less energy because you don’t have to decide on what to do, it’s already scheduled into your day.

Prioritize the Most Important Tasks.

Now that you have your plan, make sure that tackle your most important tasks early on in the day.  This ensures that your mind and willpower are sharpest with the obligations or choices that are most valuable.  I know it seems enticing to knock out all the little tasks early, but really this is just a form of procrastination to avoid the to-do’s that really matter most.

Automate the Small Choices.

Wear the same outfit every day.  Eat the same meal several times each week.  Post to social media at the same time each day.  Pay your bills the same time each month, or better yet, use Autopay so you don’t even have to think about it.  Whatever task or decision it is, try to automate it so it’s one less choice slowly chipping away at your willpower.
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Eat Healthy.  Exercise Often.

Nourishing our bodies with the proper nutrients, and exercising on a consistent basis ensure that our minds are as sharp as possible.  By now you’ve automated what you’ll wear, what you’ll eat, and your schedule, why not throw some physical activity into the mix.
Over the long term, our lives are dictated by the choices we make on a day to day basis.  Some are big, some are small, but all of them tend to slowly take away our willpower and decision-making potential.  With that in mind, focus on what’s truly important to you, and build your schedule and your life around achieving those goals.  Don’t waste time or brainpower deciding on things that you can automate, save that willpower for the the aspects of life that matter most.
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