Decision Fatigue

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. And it really does exist! Apparently there’s a raft of scientific evidence that there’s only a fixed amount of energy everyone has to deal with decision making. This energy is also the kind of energy you use up when you have to exert self-control.

The Husband has told me about this. He’s reading a book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, and I’m planning to read it once he’s finished it, but he’s giving me little extracts and summaries as he goes. (Luckily for him, he has learned not to do this with fiction books and films:-)

As far as I can tell, there are various practical outcomes of this theory. For instance, Barack Obama only has two suits – or at least, two styles of suits, so that he only ever has to choose the light one or the dark one. He also never chooses what to eat, and every memo that crosses his desk is a multiple choice memo – yes, no, or let’s discuss. The rationale behind this is that he has to make the most important decisions in the world a lot of the time, so he can’t afford to let the trivial decisions take up any of his decision making energy.

Another outcome of this is that if you spend a lot of energy exerting self-control, so for instance, not shouting at the children (well, not unless it’s necessary!), not telling your colleagues at work that they are complete numpties, not swearing at the traffic warden, your ability to exert self-control in other areas will be severely affected – that is, you will not be able to stop yourself from eating that piece of chocolate cake, or drinking another glass of wine.

Now I’m not in charge of a large country. Or a small country. Or my family, or my home apparently. But because we have children, The Husband and I are making many many decisions, all of the time. Decisions which could affect not just our futures, but our children’s futures. What schools they go to. How exactly to explain the subtleties of our moral code and spiritual stance to a six year old. How to discipline the children without damaging their self-esteem. Whether we really are bad parents for feeding them chicken nuggets and fish fingers on alternate nights all week instead of home-made lentil stew with home grown salad – that kind of thing. I’m sure being President of the USA is harder, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

So all of this makes perfect sense to me. That’s why every parent in the world reaches for their vice of choice after a long hard day parenting – in my case, chocolate, often wine, in The Husband’s case, 2.8% stubbies. That’s why diets rarely work, especially if you’re constantly confronted with temptation. If you use up all your energy denying yourself the goodies in the cupboard, you’ll run out of energy before the goodies run out. (By they way, does anyone else have an official Goodies Cupboard in their house??) So if you feel you need to lose a bit of weight, make the children suffer as well by removing all the diet-breaking temptations from your house. A few months without Mars Bars and fizzy orange won’t do them any harm! Although it might do your ears some harm…

It also explains why parents are always tired. Especially parents of ‘spirited’ children. Especially parents with more than one ‘spirited’ child. Especially parents with three spirited children.

After thinking about these theories for some time, I have decided on a few coping tactics. Firstly, I will be insisting that in future, I will only ever have to answer questions with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘ask your Dad’. I will never again choose what to have for dinner. That’s The Husband’s job, and he does it extremely well. From now on I will have a ‘work’ look (black suit, coloured shirt) and a ‘casual’ look (jeans, tshirt), and enough clothes to last me a week at work and a weekend – and that’s it. I will use up my perfumes sequentially so I never have to choose which perfume to wear. I have one necklace, one pair of earrings and my wedding ring, so I’ll never have to choose what jewellery to wear. Already I can feel my life becoming more relaxing…

So remember, if you are a parent, and you’re always exhausted/unable to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan/reaching for the wine the second the children are in bed, give yourself a break. It’s actually because you’re doing the right thing by your children all day long.

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2 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue

  1. Excellent observation that gave me a eureka moment. Explains why I have one perfume, mascara and no other make up and a couple of necklaces and no earrings. Bringing up three children clearly made me simplify my life to a level it hasn’t recovered from, not even since they grew up and moved out. Amazingly I am still simplifying my life and there’s not much left to simplify xxxx

    • Of course your natural beauty needs no enhancement, as I’m sure Dave would agree. But I also had a eureka moment when Graham started telling me about this. For all the associated problems, when I was living out of laptop case in a single hotel room for work, I did feel – stressed in a different way. I also went to bed at half past six every night – another custom I intend to bring back once the boys have moved out…

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