Thomas Oppong
Jun 6, 2018 · 4 min read

Making fewer low-level decisions in life leave more ‘cognitive resource’ for high-level thinking.

Studies show that we have a limited amount of mental energy to spend each day. Our brains are constantly working at many different levels.

And every time you exercise your mind, you are consuming some of that mental energy.

Your brain is a resource hog.

So it makes sense to be conservative about how you use it.

For millions of people, the decisions that drain them are the ones they make over and over and over again.

The more decisions you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain.

But you can do something about it.

You can spend less time and energy on simple day-to-day tasks, freeing you up to focus on the big picture, solve problems and think creatively.

Clever thinking requires fewer choices, says Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, co-author of Neuroscience For Leadership.

The only way to prevent decision fatigue is to reduce the amount of mental strain you experience each day.

“Decision making is tiring for your brain’s deliberate system, whether the stakes are big or small. Without realizing it, you can fritter away a fair portion of your mental energy on the day’s minor choices: what to eat, what to wear, when to exercise, when to sleep, whether to answer the phone, and whether to prioritize this task or that one,” writes Caroline Webb in her book “How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life”.

Studies presented in Nature Reviews Neuroscience reveals that when you create a habit, a tiny part of your brain, called the basal ganglia, takes over a series of actions so that you no longer have to actively concentrate or make decisions.

Build better routines to make the most of your brain, especially when you need it to analyse, rationalise and think deeper before making a decision.

Put less mentally demanding decisions on autopilot

Start optmising your routines.

Save yourself brainpower and automate some of your decision-making processes. Don’t waste precious willpower less demanding routines.

Make fewer good decisions by automating “inconsequential” choices.

Things like food, choice of clothes and media consumption can be planned in advance whilst you save mental energy for important life and business decisions.

Example, if your goal is to work out every morning, you can lay out your gym clothes the night before.

Exercise every day at the same time and for the same duration.

Begin each workday at the same time.

“Try to eliminate the hassle of having to figure out which workout, which time, which route. Every single one of those decisions burns brain fuel”, says Dr Stephen Graef, a sports psychologist at Ohio State University.

And instead of asking your brain to decide between snacks after work out, ‘pre-decide’ by preparing a healthy post-run snack before you head out.

This sounds like a very boring, uncreative approach. That’s point.

The goals is to avoid taking time to make low-impact decisions to conserve energy for high-level decisions.

Many people have some form of routine. But things never go as planned. Your daily routines are processes already — so why not optimize them?

It pays to turn your ordinary habits into efficient workflows.

If you routinize everyday activities that don’t really matter, you can free up your brain to think about the things that really DO matter.

If your morning starts the same way every day, you remove the mental energy it takes to make decisions about what you want to eat for breakfast, what to wear, how you’re getting coffee, when to exercise, when to sleep, etc.

Barack Obama finds a similar strategy useful.

He once explained, “I wear only gray or blue suits. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routine yourself.”

What you routinize is up to you.

Do tasks in batches

Do you work and other activities in batches.

Shopping, cooking, and laundering can all be handled once.

And automate your finances so you spend less time paying and tracking bills. Or better still, pay your bills on the same day each month.

It’s more efficient than sporadically doing them at different times throughout the week.

Working on similar tasks together simplifies and speeds up the process.

Final thoughts

Don’t drain your focus, concentration, and creativity on small, low-impact choices.

You can’t increase brain power but you can conserve it by choosing your actions and activities carefully.

More than anything else, improving your brain power is about the choices you make everyday.

Practice limiting your decision-making processes and optmise your routines.

Constant experimentation and tweaking will allow you to test things out and see what works best for you.

Conserve and build your mental energy in every way possible. You will feel and perform better in all facets of your life.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder at AllTopStartups | Author | Creator of Thinking in Models and Kaizen Habits | Featured at Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.

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