14 Facts About Decision Making And Willpower

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Photo: Robert Helfman via flickr

In a recent study of one million people around the world, researchers found that most viewed self-control as their biggest weakness and character failure. “In the last 15 years we’ve discovered that [willpower] really is a form of energy in the brain. It’s like a muscle that can be strengthened with use, but it also gets fatigued with use,” says New York Times author John Tierney. “You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day, so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies.”

Tierney and social psychologist Roy Baumeister recently co-authored a book titled “Willpower: The Greatest Human Strength,” which looks at how willpower and decision-making are interconnected. 

We pulled out some of the best takeaways, which Tierney covered in two excellent pieces for the Times (“Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” and “Why You Need To Sleep On It“). 

Which would explain why shopping is so exhausting.

Researchers found that shoppers who 'had already made the most decisions in the stores gave up the quickest' on a maths test.

Source: NY Times

'To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted,' reports the Times.

At the end of the day, when we're more physically and mentally fatigued, we're more likely to skip the gym after work or drink more during happy hour.

Your brain needs glucose in order to make good decisions

Though our independent analysis is that we're usually fighting some sort of desire at any given moment.

We use the same mental energy reserves to fight off temptation as we do to make complex decisions.

Source: NY Times

Smart people develop routines -- that way, they eliminate stress and conserve energy for important decisions

'The most successful people, Baumeister and his colleagues have found, don't use their willpower as a last-ditch defence to stop themselves from disaster,' reports the Times. 'Rather, they conserve willpower by developing effective habits and routines in school and at work so that they reduce the amount of stress in their lives. They use their self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. They give themselves enough time to finish a project; they take the car to the shop before it breaks down. Like the readers who commented earlier, they make their big decisions in the morning, before decision fatigue sets in.'

This includes getting adequate sleep, eating healthfully and exercising

Because physical and mental energy are interconnected.

Source: Business Insider.

Women help groups make better decisions

A study evaluating 192 groups found that those with women had the highest group intelligence, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review.

Our unconscious plays a key role in helping us make good decisions

President Obama's decision to 'sleep on it' -- it being whether or not to raid Osama Bin Laden's compound -- aligns with psychologists' recommendations for complex decision making.

'Because your conscious attention is limited, you should enlist the help of your unconscious,' according to the Harvard Business Review.

Even if you don't have the option to delay your decision, engaging in another activity will take your mind off your dilemma, and allow your unconscious to surface.

Sometimes, it's best to run your ideas by others

Smart people have a network of people they go to for advice.

But they also know when too many ideas can complicate their decision-making.

It can reinvigorate you, so you don't feel completely deprived all the time.

There's a reason why people celebrate Mardis Gras before the Lenten season.

Source: NY Times

There's also power in deciding NOT to decide -- or having others do it for you

It comes down to preparing for your moments of weakness -- because we're only human, after all

The keys are planning ahead, not overwhelming yourself with choices, and conserving your energy

Because at the end of the day, you do have to make decisions.

A healthy lifestyle and good decision-making skills go hand-in-hand

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