Choose Wisely – A New Series

by Michelle Acker on August 31, 2011

in Choose Wisely

Choose Wisely –  A new series on how the littlest choices can have a huge impact on our willpower, productivity, and decision-making energy.

photo credit: Jinx!

Do you ever feel like you must have almost no will power what-so-ever? I feel that way some afternoons.  I can try and try all day long to make good, healthy, positive choices, only to completely blow it on some kind of reckless decision in the afternoon. I choose an unhealthy snack, or I blow off my planned afternoon exercise or chores in favor of watching a few minutes of TV. This kind of lack of willpower late in the day happens to me all the time. Up until now, I just thought I was weak and there was nothing I could do about it except try harder.  (Which never worked, by the way!)

Last week, two things happened back to back that really got my mind rolling in another direction.  Suddenly it’s not just about trying harder.  It’s about CHOOSING WISELY.

The first thing was one of those ‘man-I-totally-blew-it-and-I-KNOW-better’ moments. My friend, Aubrey, and I have a pact going where we support and encourage each other.  That means confessing when we screw up.  I screwed up.  So, I emailed her.  I confessed.  I told her how I fought against it, knew it was wrong, knew it was because of stress, but still ended up going through the drive thru eating really, really nasty junk food. Her reply was:

“Why do you think it is that we KNOW what we are eating is not helping and we KNOW that we are doing it to cope with stress, and we DO IT anyway?  I feel like I have an emotional “over ride” button that just hits itself when I am stressed allowing myself to eat anything.”

That question really struck me, and it kept rolling around in my head.  Why is it that we do that?  Even when we consciously try so hard not to?  Hmmm….

Fast forward to the next day, and I saw a tweet from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, about an article on “decision making fatigue”.  I clicked through to the NY Times website, and went to read the article.  To sum up the 10 page article in just a few short sentences:  Willpower is a kind of mental energy that can be depleted.  Making decisions all day long (even easy ones) depletes that mental energy, and leaves you drained.  Then, when you’re faced with making another decision, you either make a reckless choice or you make no choice at all-to avoid having to decide.


That is exactly what happens to me. Oh.My.Gosh.  The more I read of the article, the more my mind was jumping up and down yelling, “That’s ME! That’s ME!!”. I wanted to dance around shouting “Eureka!  I have found it!”   I can’t stop thinking about it, and the ideas about how to apply this in real life are pouring out of my head almost faster than I can jot them down.  Ideas on how to make things easier, simpler, and help eliminate some of those reckless choices. Ways to “conserve”  mental energy & willpower for when it’s really needed.

In fact, there are so many ideas, so many areas of life to apply this, that I plan to make this a whole series of posts. We’ll see where it takes us. I’m very excited about it.   I hope you’ll stop back by next Tuesday for more on what researchers have identified as “decision making fatigue”  and how it works.  Once you understand what’s happening, you can take some really easy steps to change it, and I will be sharing practical tips that you can use in various different areas of your life.

Let’s call it the Choose Wisely Adventure. I’ll be the guinea pig- treating willpower as a limited resource- a kind of mental energy that can be drained. Check back for practical ways to apply ‘Choosing Wisely’ to:

  • Establishing simple family routines
  • Getting kids ready for school in the morning
  • Healthy Eating Habits
  • Exercise
  • House cleaning & chores
  • Menu planning
  • Kids homework & chores
  • Blogging & creative work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Planning ahead
  • Breakfast and morning time

I would love to hear from you…. In what areas to you struggle with willpower? Is there a particular area or time of day that is always troublesome for you? Do you make the same poor choice over and over, even though you know better? Leave me a comment and I’ll try to work it into the series. I would love to have your input!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori August 31, 2011 at 2:18 PM

I confess – I definitely have this issue. By 3 or 4 in the afternoon I’m worn out (even if it hasn’t been a stressful day) and when I get home I just want to sit and do nothing. If I do sit down, I’m done for the rest of the evening. My brain is drained!

Michelle August 31, 2011 at 4:38 PM

I’m so glad I’m not alone on this one! I’m finding more and more great stuff to share….working on the next post now! 🙂

Lori August 31, 2011 at 6:52 PM

This helped me stop and think this afternoon before I went for a candy bar. Had some applesauce instead.

Michelle September 1, 2011 at 9:40 AM

Hey! Great choice, sister! It’s hard to do, but little good choices like that really add up. Well done! And thanks for letting me know that this made you think. That made my day. 🙂

Eryn {mamahall} September 1, 2011 at 6:24 AM

so true! so…perhaps in order to not deplete our will power, we have to make those big (hard) decisions FIRST thing, before the little ones eat up all the energy. so…this morning i will pick out and DECIDE what i’m going to have for lunch and my afternoon snack so that when it comes time to eat, i won’t have to make that decision and default to chips and cupcakes. does that make sense? get the big tough decisions out of the way. even the thought of those decisions looming around in my mind stresses me out! great post. thanks so much for sharing & linking up @ TPT.

Michelle September 1, 2011 at 9:37 AM

Great strategy Eryn! That’s exactly what I’m doing as well. Thanks so much for stopping by. I loved your TPT post today. 🙂

Jana September 1, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Ooooh, I needed this! My willpower starts out strong, and tends to crash by late afternoon. I just lose the ability to make any. more. decisions. It makes sense that willpower is a form of mental energy; why didn’t I realize that before??

I struggle with food choices and sleep routines. I want and need to eat healthier. Although I start out well, I all too often end the day with my good friend Blue Bell. (sigh.) I’m a night owl, but I need to get to sleep earlier so I can be better rested for my family. (I’m signed up for the next round of #hellomornings, so that should help hold me accountable!)

I’m so excited to follow this series! I love your insights, and I know I’ll receive a blessing from what He is revealing to you.

Michelle September 1, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Jana, we are exactly the same! I’m loving this idea of conserving your mental energy. Eating small healthy snacks helps to restore it if you’re running low and tempted to say hi to your friend Blue Bell…. 😉

Kathy September 1, 2011 at 10:24 AM

I have no will-power when it comes to bed time. It is quiet, so I enjoy the moments or should I say hours. I love to read or watch a good movie, when what I should be doing is sleeping. 12:00 I know is really to late to stay up. My goal is to be up at 7:00. In bed by 11:00.

Michelle September 2, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Willpower to go to bed early enough is definitely a struggle for me as well. I plan to include some very eye-opening sleep information in the series, so stay tuned!

Pamela September 1, 2011 at 12:00 PM

I’m so excited about your series. It’s what I need. All of the categories fit my life — well, except for the getting kids ready. My daughter is entering college and wouldn’t appreciate my help. Ha!

For your question, I’m a diabetic so when the sugar drops I’m liable to grab anything — good for me or not, at any time of day. I need to prevent it with “small meals” more often. Instead I get busy and food is far away–until it hits and there’s no reasoning with me.

Michelle September 2, 2011 at 9:38 AM

Pamela, that makes my day to hear you’re excited about this series! I’ll try to make sure the getting kids ready post also includes information for people without little ones in the house. 😉

As for the diabetes, although I’m not diabetic, I do have a bad habit of skipping eating for long periods of time during the day. Then I suddenly find myself shaky and unreasonable, and willing to eat ANYTHING, because I need something right this second. I’m working on some strategies that we can both use to eat small frequent meals, and help prevent that drop in blood sugar. (AND keep willpower strong!)

Stefanie Brown September 1, 2011 at 8:33 PM

The never ending fight to eat healthy ~ consistently ~ is an issue I’ve had since, let’s see, third grade. I wake each morning each morning intending on eating better, only to find myself slipping back into bad habits. Although I’ve lost 30 pounds, it hasn’t happened without a great struggle.
Thank you this TPT Post! Looking forward to being at RELEVANT with you!

Michelle September 2, 2011 at 9:45 AM

There are so many of us who struggle with weight, and I am definitely in that group! I’m hoping to put some of the pieces of that puzzle together for us, and see what kind of a difference it makes. I definitely think that learning more about how willpower works, and how to preserve it, is going to help me more consistently make better eating choices. Thanks for stopping by. Relevant will be here before we know it!

Deb Chitwood September 3, 2011 at 2:54 AM

Great post! I’ve had my best luck following the ideas at FlyLady’s ideas make a lot of sense in terms of decision-making fatigue. When I have routines, I don’t have to make a lot of decisions and everything goes much better. Definitely thought provoking! 🙂

Michelle September 3, 2011 at 8:32 AM

Great minds think alike, and you are absolutely right! FlyLady does have really good routines, and that really helps with the fatigue. I’ve done her system before, and it really does work. In fact, I’ve already got FlyLady mentioned in two posts coming up in this series!

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