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A Cheat Sheet to Decision-Making at the Mall
Once again, we're knocked out by the way science columnist John Tierney introduces us to...ourselves. We've been thinking about his latest all week, especially when pondering our choices of what to make for dinner, when to work out and how to spend the last days of summer. In an article about decision-making fatigue in last weekend's New York Times Magazine, Tierney explained that constantly having to choose between options can have a debilitating effect on our willpower, mood and energy levels. "Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car," Tierney wrote. "No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price." (By the way, can you guess what common ritual is "the decision-fatigue equivalent of Hell Week"?).
Still, sooner or later, we're going to over-stretch our favorite pair of Spanx or shrink our bed sheets, and when that happens, we'll have to hit the mall. As a health precaution, we're taking these bits of advice with us, extrapolated from the research Tierney presented:
1. Go to the gym first, before resisting sales and deciding between colors and prices has a chance to weaken your resolve.
2. Limit options by parking in front of the store with the items you need. The article explains that the multitude of choices available to Americans overwhelms people. By not walking past endless shops, you avoid having to decide whether to go into them.
3. If you're shopping for more than one item, start with the most expensive. The mental depletion that follows multiple decisions makes us more likely to go with the easiest choice, which isn't always the best or most affordable choice. (But changing the order of choices in the process of buying a car ended up costing some study participants $2,000 of their own money.)
4. Bring trail mix to snack on. Recent experiments have shown that the simple sugar glucose (which is found in raisins) can counteract the negative brain changes wrought by decision fatigue, and keep your impulse control in check. (Learn why just the expectation of having to make a decision makes people crave sweets.)
5. Make plans to meet friends or family for dinner so that you won't be tempted by the food court. "When you shop till you drop, your willpower drops, too," he concluded. But people with strong self-control have developed strategies to fend off decision fatigue. Find out the habits of successful deciders.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.