A single cookie can make the difference between a great day of work, and a disasterous one.
Imagine you’re sitting comfortably at a table. In front of you is a plate of cookies. Delicious, warm, gooey, wafting cookies. You know how in the cartoons, delicious smells morph into fingers that snare you by the nostrils? Yeah. It’s like that.
Your saliva glands make their intentions known. Your hands itch to reach out and grab one.
What do you do?
World’s Most Boring Example?
You made your choice, you cast your lot with the cookie-eaters… or you practiced righteous cookie abstinence. Now it’s time to reap what you sow.
Okay, okay, you got me. I’m guilty of dialing up the drama. They aren’t evil, poisonous Cookies of Doom. They’re not even especially high in calories!
It’s not about the cookie, it’s about what that nerve-wracking decision does to your brain.
Dastardly Deliciousness Depletes your Brain!
Henry Ford once said,
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
He was (at least partly) right: thinking is hard work. Focusing, making decisions, and exerting self-control all draw on the mental capacity called Executive Function.
And, as it turns out, we’re not exactly equipped with an endless supply.
When you resist a plate of delicious cookies, you’re burning your Executive Function allotment as fuel. Same goes for tuning out distractions, focusing with intensity, or making any kind of choice at all.
For every distraction, there is an equal and opposite reaction
And when you burn Executive Function as fuel, according to scientific research, the exhaust you create is… bad decisions.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re choosing between products, job offers, or studying and goofing off. It doesn’t matter if the initial temptation, distraction, or choice were Big & Serious or Chocolatey & Delicious. Or Blue & 140-character-y.
The laws of physics say:
- Use your Executive Function
- … become Executive Function-ally fatigued
- …… make poorer decisions than before.
OKAY! I’m sufficiently chastened! But what can I DO about it?
So, enough with the scare tactics… what are the coping strategies?
In a word: Simplify. Mercilessly rid yourself of decisions you can live happily without.
- Go ahead. Eat the damn cookie already. It’s good for your brain!
- Choose a simpler wardrobe, and fewer ingredients in the fridge, fewer potential routes to work, fewer types of shampoo in the bath, and so on. (Only sacrifice things you don’t love, naturally!)
- Make your big decisions when you’re fresh every day, not at 5 o’clock.
- When — not if! — important dilemmas strike you while you’re running low on EF, do your best to postpone your decision.
- At minimum, take a sanity break! Just relax. Better yet, sleep on it.
- Avoid the cookies (tweets, or emails) in the first place. Resisting them will only will-power yourself out. (Choosing in advance to avoid them is less taxing than actively ignoring them!)
- Use and create tools that simplify your work. Checklists for things you do often in your business are a great example — you don’t have to think hard to figure out what you should be doing.
(Yep, I had to bring it back around to Freckle somehow! Or the marketing dominatrices would whip me but good.)
Distraction Death Dive Got You Down?
And, finally, recognize when you’re out of fuel and spiraling into a Distraction Death Dive. You know what I’m talkin ’bout: like you’re not just procrastinating, but you’re actively twitching for anything, anything at all, that will fill the empty hole in your brain.
Once you recognize what’s happening, and why, it will be easier to overcome…
… and to enjoy your little indulgences, guilt-free — after you’ve made those big, bad decisions.
Hi, I’m Amy. I’m the interaction designer, whip-cracker and general Pirate Queen behind Freckle Time Tracking. I believe in cheerful software. And if I had known that being a scientist meant that I got to torture people with forbidden plates of delicious cookies, I would have come out of the womb wrapped in a lab coat and gripping a Bunsen burner.
PS – I borrowed the cookie metaphor from this excellent article at Scientific American. If you’re interested in learning more, that’s a great place to start!
PPS – If you love simplicity, cheerfulness, and earning more than you are now without doing any more work… you really should give Freckle a try!. There’s a free trial so it’s no big deal if it ain’t your bag.