Being mentally exhausted at the end of your day is NOT normal, and decision fatigue is a symptom that you are stretching yourself too thin.
Our days are filled with decisions moment by moment, hour by hour, meeting by meeting. We make thousands of choices every day, and when it comes to food, it is estimated that we make over 200 food related decision daily!
That’s a lot for our brains to process, and much like your muscles become tired after training, the more you use our brain to make a decision — regardless of how small those decisions are — the more you spend your mental energy.
Eventually, you will hit a state of decision fatigue, and when you reach this point near the end of your day, there is little that will prevent you from diving face first into a slice of red velvet cake with extra frosting. I’ve been there plenty of times before.
Your collaborative brain.
To better understand decision fatigue, we have to take a quick look at how your brain works. Think of your brain as having two modes of thinking. One mode is calculated and prefers to thinks logically, the other is more impulsive and tends to be more emotional. Both are essential to your every day life; they compliment one another.
The first is the part you use to make calculated choices, and these choices require mental effort in order to override the demands of the second, more impulsive part of your brain. Think about how easy it is to bypass poor food choices early in the morning. Your battery is charged, so you can afford to say no to cake for breakfast (even though there’s a part of you that wants it to begin with).
But as they day wears on, and you continue to make decisions, particularly the ones that require more effort because they are tedious and uninspired (think of that work email or phone call you’ve been procrastinating on for weeks, or having to sit politely through a soul-sucking meeting), your ability to make good choices begins to wear down.
This is when your brain starts to go on auto-pilot, and take shortcuts to maximize whatever mental energy you have left.
Going into relief mode.
Your brain is spent now, so one of two things are likely to happen. One, you’ll make snap decisions that are primary based on impulse, there’s no will power left to think about any consequences. If it feels good, or if it’s easier to just say yes, that’s the choice you are making.
The other option is to do nothing, to fall into a comfortable state of analysis paralysis, where not thinking is a means of recharging. Again, no bandwidth to entertain the consequences of not acting, at this point your brain is simply looking for relief.
Help your brain. Help yourself.
So, you have limits… that’s a good thing. That’s what makes you human. Now that you know what decision fatigue is and how it works, it’s time to be proactive about it. There’s no amount of self-criticism or negative thinking that’s going to get you back to clarity. When you’re spent, you are spent, and that’s okay.
You see, most of us will resort to negative thinking after we make an impulsive decision, this is both unhealthy and destructive. Don’t fall into this trap! It will send you down a negative feedback loop. There’s no point in looking back, so let’s look forward!
What’s wearing you out?
Rather than beat yourself up when you have nothing left to give, it’s time to consider how you got here in the first place? Your mind is telling you that something is broken in your life, and in so many ways, it is asking you to fix the problem.
A great way to figure out what’s zapping your energy is to make a “cringe list.” Think about your day unapologetically, and start to identify the things you do that make you cringe as soon as the thought pops into your head.
For example, is having to be nice to Karen (your annoying co-worker) something that makes you cringe? Good, put interacting Karen on the list. Or, is having to prepare a healthy meal at night when you’ve worked all day makes you cringe? Check, evening dinner is going on the list.
Start with your first five cringe-worthy items, and begin to reduce and/or fix these problems. This is a big part of practicing self-care, and just because other people are good at normalizing the things that are wearing them out doesn’t mean that you have to.
Yes, I’m recommending that you be selfish and afford yourself 30 minutes to think clearly about your life. You are not a machine, you are a human.
Training and Nutrition.
Use the morning-version of yourself to help the evening-version of yourself. Yes, you read that right. The person who leaves your house in the morning is not the same that arrives home at night, use that to your advantage.
Here are some five things to consider:
1. Do you have desert (or any less-than-healthy foods) leftover from the day before?
Get rid of it in the morning, otherwise, it’s getting demolished at night after a tough day. Unless I absolutely need to, I try not to take food home when eating out.
2. Do you avoid cooking because of the frequent prepping and cleaning?
Meal prep early Saturday mornings, this way you can clean up one single mess, and have great food to come home to at night. I cook all of my protein and carbs to get then out of the way, and keep my veggies fresh.
3. Do you feel like everyone got a piece of you except you at the end of the day?
It’s easy to get out of bed and jump in carelessly into the drama of your world. You’re going to have to fight (yes, fight) to make time for yourself. You see, you have conditioned the people around you to eat up all of your time, now you have to break those expectations.
Go for a walk outside, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes, or go to the gym, do something that makes you feel good about yourself. I give myself at least an hour early in the morning to train, meditate and think about what I need to get done. No emails, no social media, no calls.
4. Do you read the news, check email and/or social media when you first wake up?
Don’t. I mean it, because you’ll likely end up reading or seeing something that will throw you off — or bring you down — for the rest of the day. You’ll waste energy talking yourself out of a funk. Your morning energy is your own, protect it, and save all of that noise and drama for later in the day.
5. Do you need to vent at the end of the day?
Have someone help you discover what it was about your day that keeps bringing you to a low point. This is much easier when there’s a detached observer who doesn’t mind categorizing Karen for what she is (a passive-aggressive a*hole). I’ll find someone I trust, and ask for their attention as a favor, their clarity helps me stop normalizing my life and the people in it. Clarity is priceless, but you can get some in exchange for a good bottle of wine 🙂
I’m a huge believer in self-care, and it is something I implement with my clients. Success in the gym doesn’t last unless you achieve some balance outside of the gym. If you need help with any of the above, or if you have additional questions, feel free to contact me. Your first consultation and training session is on me.
Amanda Jackson | Strength & Wellness Coach