I think we have all reached that point in the day when it seems that the cause and effects of our decisions seem to matter less and less. From questions as insignificant as what jelly to put on your toast, to those larger questions like “Should I return to school to earn my degree?” we encounter many decisions that must be weighed and decided upon.
Some researchers have proven that we can undergo “decision fatigue” and make poorer choices; our willpower weakened by the questions of toast, switching lanes in traffic (because the other lane always goes faster) and whether or not to make a big purchase.
Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. 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. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.
John Tierney outlines the topic for the New York Times well, thoroughly dissecting the problem for the public. Why should we be concerned?
Because like most adult students, or potential adult students, you already have a plethora of responsibilities. If you are a student, you have already made that choice (one backed by your personal goals), and that choice has put more responsibilities on the table. You have to decide between how to incorporate school into your time, what the most important material to study is and how best to study. But along with those simple choices about school, come choices about your career, your family, and everything else in between. You have added more to your day. Keeping the idea of decision fatigue relevant may allow you to make better decisions. And realize that your time is best spent understanding your decisions.
Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension, like price: just give me the cheapest. Or you indulge yourself by looking at quality: I want the very best (an especially easy strategy if someone else is paying). Decision fatigue leaves you vulnerable to marketers who know how to time their sales, as Jonathan Levav, the Stanford professor, demonstrated in experiments involving tailored suits and new cars.
For those potential students out there, you are most likely shopping for that learning option because you want to, but you have not made the decision yet. And that is ok. Make the best decision for yourself, but understand both your current environment, and what you are deciding to add to your life. Potential adult students are serious shoppers, they are looking for value and worth. They want their time already spent to be worth something (PLA), and they want their decisions to be valuable to their life goals.
You do not have to study the problem, or be an expert on psychology, but you can be equipped with the knowledge that our decisions carry weight, and that weight grows every time we make one, simple or not. Knowing how to manage that, and to be aware of it, is all you have to do.
See the full article here.