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Can’t Make Your Mind Up? Give it a Rest

Posted Aug 23 2011 11:43am

How many times have you thought “Oh my giddy aunt, what was I thinking?” after you have made a decision that was – in retrospect – clearly a big, fat blunder. We’ve all done it. Bought a shirt, dress, pair of trousers that at the time seemed like a good idea but after you have taken them home and looked at them a second time, thought “dear god, purple velvet flairs! Why, why dear lord!”

Well the reason may not be that you suddenly lost your mind, it may be that your mind simply gave up and took the easy way out.

A fascinating article in the Sunday New York Times magazine – To Choose is to Lose – explores the science behind why we make decisions, particularly why we make bad ones. It shows how we have a limited ability to keep making good, thoughtful, well-balanced decisions. That the more decisions we make in a single day the more we deplete our brain’s ability to make good ones so that by the end of the day, or at the end of a long stretch of forced decision making, we simply go for one of a few options, either decide not to decide, or go for the easiest option – which is not always the best one.

It explains an awful lot about why decisions we make turn out to be bad ones even if our intentions are good. Our brains are just tired and running low on energy so they switch to an energy-saving mode by making quick, poorly, thought out choices.

One of the keys to keeping your brain sharp, or at least sharper, is to keep it fueled (it’s like a muscle and needs energy to be able to function well) and that means eating well. Which may be one of the reasons why so many people on a diet fail to stick with it. It’s fairly straight forward. If you think about it, when you are on a diet you spend the entire day making decisions about what to eat or not eat, and you spend a lot of time telling yourself not to make bad choices – not to eat that cake, that chocolate, that extra cheesy pizza. To lose weight on a diet you have to constantly make better choices about what you eat. But to keep making those choices you need to eat to fuel your brain so that it functions well. Lack of food = poor choices = falling off the diet wagon.

That doesn’t mean you can’t manage to stick with a diet,  and it may be the reason why people who graze – eating healthy food, in small amounts, throughout the day – do better at losing weight than people who stick to the more traditional three-square meals a day.

 

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