Brain Drain is Real: (NO Wonder I Can’t Decide What’s for Dinner!)

There is now scientific proof that I’m not losing my mind (ok, I know that may still be debatable) I’m just making WAY too many decisions on a daily basis. John Tierney‘s article  in the New York Times magazine makes complete sense to me.

Researchers have shown that people become fatigued after making multiple decisions—even mundane ones such as which shoes to wear, or whether to have cream in your coffee instead of milk. Making decisions takes mental energy and by the end of the day exhausts the mind.  Tierney used the example of completing a wedding registry. If you’ve ever done this, you may understand. I remember after hours of pouring over items to register for, no longer caring what type of crystal or china pattern we chose. I actually sat down and let my then fiance pick whatever type he wanted. I was done.

Every day life decisions gradually build up mental fatigue that opens the door to having less will power and often avoiding making decisions altogether, says Tierney. Even the smartest and healthiest of us aren’t immune. Decision fatigue could be why we might snap at our children or at colleagues when it is out of our nature to do so. As a single mom of two adorable, yet challenging kiddos, I can completely relate! By 6 p.m. on a Friday after a long week, if the two-year-old is screaming for ice cream before dinner—there’s actually a 50/50 chance that he might get his way. Two years ago, I would never have considered it. I know that my new-found mental laziness is a result of making WAY too many decisions on a daily basis. By Friday night, my mind is on Tilt.

The article points out ways to lessen the effects of decision fatigue such as taking work breaks, exercising, eating healthily, not skipping meals, and getting a good night’s sleep. These are fairly well-known tips for healthy living in general.  I think I’m in need of some additional approaches. I typically fall asleep each night with the baby at 8:30 or 9, eat fairly well, and have always exercised on a regular basis. But not having a break from the kids for two months at a time, puts me in a special category. I think anyone who finds themselves the sole decision maker for other people, such as single parents or sole caregivers of aging parents—need additional strategies to lessen the brain drain. And if you’re under additional stressors, such as going through a divorce or financial strain—there’s no wonder that every day decisions like what’s for dinner can be over-whelming.

As the main parent of two children, whose father lives abroad, I make all the decisions for my children on a daily basis. I used to be such a good juggler and somewhat spontaneous. Now, I can easily become overwhelmed when juggling work and typical parenting decisions such as researching preschools or picking extracurricular activities for my under-challenged nine-year-old. Perhaps the only way I can keep tackling the mounting decisions is to reduce as many mundane ones as I can—even if that means I begin to live a somewhat predictable and planned life for a while. Here are some thoughts:

– Set my phone’s alarm at a specific time of the day to remind me to take my vitamins and drink water.

– Sign up for a regular exercise class with a friend. I no longer need to decide whether or not to take a pilates class, I just do, twice a week at a set time.

– Ask Drs to email reminders for all important appointments, so my children and I don’t miss annual checkups.

– One day a week is pizza night. Done.

– One night a week is picnic in the park. Sandwiches for the kiddos, exercise before bed, no clean up at home. Everyone wins.

– The part-time nanny grocery shops from a regular list and cooks dinner the night she is here.

– Set a carpool schedule for soccer game pick-ups.

– One day a week, at a specific time, tackle mail and bills.

– No more late-night writing.

– And perhaps most importantly, once a month, nanny spends the night and I check OUT.

I’ll let you know how these strategies pan out! In the mean time, I can’t wait to read Roy F. Baumeister‘s book out next month: “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.”

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3 responses to “Brain Drain is Real: (NO Wonder I Can’t Decide What’s for Dinner!)

  1. I enjoyed your blog. I find myself having difficulty making some decisions as well. I know I can go ahead and implement some of the suggestions you mentioned. I look forward to hearing how your strategies worked for you.

    • Laura Roe Stevens

      Hopefully it’s not early-onset Alzheimer’s! I’m still working on these strategies…but forgot to take vitamins yesterday! It’s always a day-to-day process.

  2. I saw you posted something on FB and came over to your blog. This post sounds so much like my life was and is. I can relate to everything I have read on here…3 posts so far. Thanks for your transparency. It helps me for sure. I can relate to driving to put my now 3 year old to sleep. My youngest seeming to be the cause of the end and the marriage with a very away husband. I was in a lull just as you were. I came back home to So Cal after nearly 15 years of living in Az. Funny…I know the drives you mentioned…I miss PV drives. We lived in Pedro before moving to AZ. My sister is in PV.

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