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February 2012
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The Decision Toll in Being ‘The Decider’

Every one of us makes hundreds of decisions each day. Many of them are inconsequential, others may have more impact. But if you’re the CEO, or any other senior organisational leader, you’re likely to be ‘The Decider’, as George W. Bush once referred to himself. The person who makes the judgement calls, time after time after time, as the decisions fly at you incessantly.

 

These are the decisions of consequence that are rarely easy. They’re about people, strategy, operations or finance. The choices you make have an impact on many different levels, interlinked and interwoven with the other decisions you’re making simultaneously. For all of these decisions, there is rarely a ready-made, pre-mapped decision tree that you can follow. After all, deciding is what you’re paid to do.

 

There are consequences of being The Decider that are only just being unravelled, according to Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in their recent book, Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength.

 

Our supply of willpower is limited, and yet the same finite supply of willpower has to be used for so many different things – including making every decision we make –  throughout each and every day. Every one of these decisions, large or small, uses up glucose (the ‘power’ in ‘willpower’) and depletes the limited reserves of willpower with which we started the day.

 

As the decisions pile up, decision fatigue can set in, often without you even noticing. There are telltale signs to watch out for that indicate decisions may be taking their toll on you. For example, little things bother you more, and you find yourself more irritable and tetchy. As a result, your impulse control breaks down, and you’re more likely to snap at people or say things you shouldn’t. Then you find it hard to make a decision, and so you opt to postpone or avoid decisions. When you do take decisions, you are more easily swayed by the promise of short term gains, ignoring significantly higher delayed costs (the so-called ‘quick-but-small’ versus ‘larger-but-later’ dilemma).

 

If you feel this decision fatigue taking over you, the best thing to do is put critical decisions on hold while you restore your willpower and decision capability. The hyper short term fix is quick glucose ingestion – dextrose tablets, sugary drinks or chocolate bars. You feel better very quickly, but the glucose high rapidly drops, leaving you craving for more.

 

The sustainable short term fix is protein – meat, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds. After about an hour, the protein will have converted to glucose and you will be feeling re-charged.

 

For the medium term, sleep is the next best addition, which is one reason why things always seem better in the morning. And for the long term, add exercise into the mix, since exercise refines and improves the body’s processing systems to deliver the glucose where it’s needed in helping you make your big decisions.

 

So the next time you have a big decision to make, remember that you’re more likely to be in your best deciding mode in the morning after a good night’s sleep, having had a good breakfast, and before your willpower reserves have been depleted by making the hundreds of decisions that are required of you each day. More glucose, anyone?

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