I often talk about “maintaining mental energy levels” during the day, and I have at times wondered if I sounded crazy. No longer! This article Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue over at the New York Times Magazine suggests that the very act of making a decision exacts a “biological cost”. Excerpt:
[…] No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
So as we make decisions throughout the day, our brains become fatigued, and this has a direct effect on our willpower to continue to make good decisions. What’s also interesting is that researchers discovered by accident that the brain can be restored with a shot of glucose. I’d been wondering if such a thing was possible; over the past several weeks I’ve been monitoring my brain throughout the day, trying to characterize the kinds of mental blocks I was experiencing, and one of the thoughts I had was that maybe the brain just starved in some way since it was working hard. There’s a limited amount of readily-accessible energy in biological systems after all; after that stored energy has to be converted.
The article goes into more detail…check it out! Thanks Sean for forwarding me the link!