Decision Fatigue Is Destroying Your Focus, Motivation and Drive
The following article is based on Ben Angel's book, Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound, and kickstart your own journey to become unstoppable with The Unstoppable Journal, a one-of-a-kind companion planner curated by Ben himself and designed to help you reach your goals with neuroscience, psychology and biohacking.
Have you ever gotten to the end of a long day in the office only to collapse the moment you walk in the door as if you'd just run a marathon? Or do you find yourself struggling to string together more than a few words, let alone a coherent sentence and you have no idea why? Then you may be suffering from what is known as decision fatigue, a term coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and loosely based on a Freudian concept that decision-making involves an expenditure of “self” or “ego” energy, of which there is a limited cumulative supply. In this article, we’ll explore how your everyday choices impact your mental cognition and what you can do to beat decision fatigue.
What is decision fatigue?
Every day we make thousands upon thousands of decisions, most of which we are entirely unaware of. And while only a handful of these are what most would consider significant, it's the cumulative effect that contributes to irrational thoughts and actions associated with decision fatigue.
In a study done by the National Academy of Science, scientists demonstrated the impact of decision fatigue. Researchers Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University analyzed more than 1,100 decisions from a parole board in an Israeli prison over a one-year period. They discovered that prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole approximately 70 percent of the time. Those who appeared later in the day received probation less than 10 percent of the time.
These researchers found that the judge's decisions exhibited no ill-intent towards the prisoners. The likelihood of receiving parole later in the day was purely linked to the countless decisions they had to make. This research demonstrates that there is a finite amount of mental energy for applying self-control, and it wanes as the day carries on and more decisions are made.
As the above study demonstrates, the brain has the capacity to consume a tremendous amount of energy. But regardless of how stable and rational we might be, no one can maintain high levels of focus and output without paying a biological price. The reason we experience decision fatigue is due to the brain's built-in safety system, known as self-preservation mode.
The brain is hard-wired to ensure survival at all costs, and while it has evolved significantly since our Neanderthal ancestors roamed the earth, there are several primal triggers in this modern day and age. This means the more decisions you make, the harder each consecutive decision becomes, resulting in the brain seeking a shortcut in one of two different ways.
As our decision-making and extended focus continue, the brain monitors the body's energy output closely. When the body's fuel source become significantly depleted, the brain begins to shut down what it considers non-essential services, which unfortunately includes the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for complex decision-making. This tribal response from the brain is one explanation as to why ordinary, sensible people lash out, make irrational decisions, buy junk food, make excuses and ultimately quit before they experience a breakthrough. This mental state can become further compromised by stress, nutritional deficiencies and other environmental factors that can mimic psychological disorders, such as anxiety, fatigue and depression. And here you might have thought a poor attitude was keeping you from achieving your goals. Fortunately, there are a few ways to combat and counteract the onset of decision fatigue.
1. Using ketone to counteract decision fatigue's effects.
While the easy answer to avoid decision fatigue would be to stop making so many decisions, this isn't an option for most people. Instead, we need to provide more energy to fuel the powerhouse that is the human brain. But don’t think you can just make yourself another strong coffee or down a Red Bull; we need to understand the sort of energy our brain requires to function at its optimal state.
Ketones are produced by the liver as a result of the body burning fat as a fuel source instead of glucose. These ketones are shown to be the preferred source of fuel for the brain due to greater energy efficiency, faster metabolization and a higher level of cellular energy per unit of oxygen consumed compared to glucose. There are several ways that you can encourage the production of ketones in the body, including:
- A reduced carbohydrate diet, increasing the consumption of healthy fats.
- Introduce MCTs to your diet and include intermittent fasting.
- Buy pure ketone esters like the one from HVMN that I tested while on my 90-day mission to become unstoppable.
2. Daily Journaling: Limit your number of decisions.
As neurologist and teacher Judy Willis explains, “The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining and retrieving of information. It promotes the brain’s attentive focus, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.” Here are some specific suggestions for getting started:
- Before you go to bed, map out the day ahead in your journal to keep priorities well focused, as well as alleviate any restless sleep due to lack of planning.
- Focus on three main projects per day, so you don’t have information overload and can make well thought-out action plans and complete big projects that will move the needle.
- Keep track of your progress and recognize small daily wins to boost motivation.
- Visualize each day unfolding so you can prime your mind for success. This tricks the subconscious into thinking you’ve been there and done it before, hence you have nothing to worry about and you can enter a state of flow.
3. Manage your energy levels by asking daily questions.
Daily check-ins empower us to gain self-awareness to improve and become better. By asking yourself some simple questions, you can uncover how your biology and psychology may be holding you back from success and impacting your mental cognition. By delving into all aspects of your health, wellbeing and performance, you'll be able to better overcome factors that can decrease drive and performance. Some questions might include....
- Do you have daily occurrences of gastrointestinal issues that are impacting your health, wellbeing and performance? The gut-brain connection is well-reported. If we want peak mental health, we must make sure our digestive health is optimal. We all know how foggy we can feel the next day after a late-night, high-carb meal.
- Are you experiencing nutritional deficiencies? Testing for these deficiencies, which can mimic psychological disorders, may be a game-changer in recognizing what may be robbing you of your energy, drive and focus.
- Have you been enduring prolonged chronic stress? Stress can cause inflammation within the body, and possible symptoms may include, headaches, fatigue and even depression. Daily visualization and meditation can help to manage this and can increase activity in your prefrontal cortex. Exercise your brain just as you would your body at the gym.
Taking these necessary steps can guarantee you’re putting your focus and energies toward building a strong foundation for success. It’s time to work in tandem with your biological needs to fuel peak psychological demands all entrepreneurs face on their mission to becoming unstoppable.