Flexing Your Decision Making Muscle

Decision-Making Muscle

Why is it you have wonderful intentions at the beginning of the day.  You wake up, ready to conquer the world!  You are going to clean the house!  Write a book! Volunteer! Run a marathon! Start a business!  Eat healthfully! 

But, by the afternoon you are out of steam.  By evening, the house is a mess. You have no words on the page of your book.  You didn’t make it out of the house.  You are watching others run marathons on tv.  Your business idea seems too far away.  Your fruit and nut, high protein power breakfast turned morphed into a pint of ice cream with chips on the side.

Your decision-making muscle needs to be strengthened and used in order that it help you make the best decisions throughout your day.

Decision making is the most energy intensive activity your brain engages in.  Unlike other brain processes that happen automatically and require very little energy, decision making, organization, goal setting, working memory are all executive functions with an executive level price tag on energy.  

Energy supplies are replenished through healthful food choices (think fresh fruits and vegetables), water, sleep, exercise, and meditation.  Early in the day, your brain is at its peak resource level.  However, as the day progresses and these resources are used, the levels diminish and your ability to make decisions lessens. Your decision-making muscle tires if overused.  Be kind to your brain and your self, replenish your energy stores as they deplete.

Make Fewer Decisions

A recent discussion thread on Quora asked how many decisions are made in a day and received responses from hundreds to tens of thousands and beyond count.  You can imagine that from the moment you wake up your brain is making functional decisions (automatic decisions) and choices every millisecond until you fall asleep.  If you make each decision consciously, you would be exhausted before you even got out of bed.  

However, studies have shown (see The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg) that at least 40% of our actions occur out of habit.  Habits substantially reduce the conscious decision making necessary. The more you seek to create habits, the more energy you conserve to make the big important decisions.

But it is not only habits that help you conserve brain energy for the big stuff, it is also ‘pre-made decisions’ that will free up brain power.  Most organizational systems are just a series of pre-made decisions.  Here are a few:

  • Creating a ‘uniform’ to wear daily.  Either the same exact outfit or the same pieces of clothing in varying colors.  You make the decision once as to what you will wear and implement the pre-made decision daily.
  • Creating a weekly meal plan.  Monday you eat burgers, Tuesday you eat salad, Wednesday you eat spaghetti, etc.  As long as you know the day of the week, you know what is for dinner and you can create a standard shopping list that follows (bonus points for entering your shopping list into an online shopping portal and having your groceries delivered).
  • Setting a predetermined spot to place your keys, the mail or other objects when you enter the house.  This is a pre-made decision that you may also turn into a habit.
  • What pre-made decisions can you establish to give your brain a break?

Keep Your Brain Energized

If you revisit your day of best-laid plans with this new information on how your brain works, you can convert frustration into success.  Here’s how:

  • Clean the house – Great activity for when your decision making is starting to wane in the afternoon.  Make a list you can simply check items off of as they are completed.  Check out MotivatedMoms.com for ideas.  Don’t plan to do it all in one day.
  • Write a book – set aside blocks of thinking time away from distraction.  Use your peak brain energy time that comes in the morning.  After all this deep thinking, take a brain break – eat, walk or run, meditate, drink water.
  • Volunteer – Make a date.  Research three organizations you want to participate with and set a date, on the calendar to take the next step either to call, email or attend an event.  
  • Run a marathon – wear your running clothes to bed and set your shoes by your bed so that you are all set to go when the alarm goes off.
  • Start a business – Starting any new adventure requires a beautiful mix of dreaming and action.  After you have an idea, spend some time thinking about ‘What if this plan were successful?’ and then select the next step to take to simply get the ball rolling.
  • Eat healthfully – Don’t force your brain to make more decisions than it needs to.  Take time to remove the foods you don’t want to eat then only bring home from the store the foods that fit within your healthy eating plan.  If you are pressed for time, keep that in mind and use short cuts like pre-chopped or frozen ingredients.

In all things, “don’t let great be the enemy of good.” Orlando Pescetti.  


If you are stuck in a decision-making loop, schedule a time to talk.  I’d love to help you through.


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