You live a full life. You have responsibilities and are responsible for others—children, parents, partners, friends, clients, students, even pets. With a never-ending list of demands, it is common to feel tired, “used up,” and overworked. Fatigue directly linked to life circumstances runs rampant in our society. Even though fatigue is normal, do you ever question how a friend or colleague seems to have stronger focus, better decision-making ability, and perhaps even more overall success? It may seem like some people have more endurance by biological design, but what separates those who feel worn down and burnt out from those who consistently achieve, perform, and live up to their optimal potential? Mental endurance. To stave off fatigue and open the door to reaching your potential, learn to tune into and understand your mental capacity, build its strength, and make decisions with forethought.
Mental endurance, also referred to as mental strength, has nothing to do with education or intellectual capacity. The brain is like a muscle. The strength of the bicep muscle progressively weakens with each repetition of bicep curls until it ultimately fatigues. Similarly, the brain’s strength and its ability to function optimally, progressively weakens with each decision until fatigue sets in. The consequence is a progressive decline in your decision-making capacity.
No one is immune to the diminished ability of the brain after being battered with decision after decision throughout a day. You may not recognize the effects of mental fatigue, also referred to as decision fatigue, in the same way you feel physical fatigue. However, your less-than-perfect decisions are a direct reflection of the deficiency. You’ll notice it in reckless decisions like impulsive spending, binge eating, or sending a not-so-nice email. You may also take the opposite route from making bad decisions, and instead make no decision or choose the easiest decision. Remember the last time you questioned whether or not you should go to the gym or go home and/or make a healthy meal or order pizza? If you were suffering from decision fatigue, you most likely ended up on your couch eating pizza. It may sometimes seem like the safe choice to do nothing or choose the easier route, but it also keeps you stagnant. You can’t grow professional success or tend to your health when you do nothing.
I like to think of decision fatigue in terms of empty and full. At the beginning of each day you wake up empty, ready to take on the decisions of the day. Depending on the demands of the day, at some point, you are full, with no more brain space to make thoughtful decisions. The antidote to a full brain is sleep. Sleep restores and recharges the brain; creating new pathways to learn, retain, and implement new information. This innately human cycle of wake, work, and sleep is how our brain works and literally survives from day to day. Living up to and achieving potential, however, is the real goal. How can you beat decision fatigue?
Strategize how to change decision-making habits to capitalize on and enhance your mental strength—this is key to improving brain performance to help you fulfill personal and professional goals.
- Strengthen through rest. To increase mental endurance and consequently make more consistently sound decisions, add rest to your day. Rest is a deliberate process that, through the use of conscious breath, triggers and nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to drop into a state of physical, mental, and emotional relaxation and balance. Like sleep, rest restores pathways to allow learning, retention, and implementation of new information. Learn more about rest and how to implement it into your life from Yoffie Life Founder Victoria in her challenge “Slowing Down to Achieve A Longer, Healthier Life.”
- Ritualize repeated daily decisions. Make a list of the decisions you make every day. Include such things as what you eat, choosing clothes, and scheduling trips to the gym or dry cleaner. To make room for more important decisions, create a routine around these daily decisions or make the decisions the night before. You may decide to always go to the dry cleaner in the morning and the gym at night, or make a meal plan for the entire week and prepare the recipes over the weekend. Lightening your decision-making load ensures you have the mental energy to make more important decisions throughout the day.
- Strategize when to make important decisions. Make the most impactful decisions earlier in the day during the period of greatest mental clarity. To ensure stamina for decisions that have to be made later in the day, be sure to fuel your body with nourishing foods throughout the day. Studies show that hunger and/or a lack of sufficient vitamins and nutrients decrease mental energy and, consequently, mental function.