Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Have you ever noticed that when you’re tired, stressed, or just plain distracted that you are more likely to make a bad decision? If you are a member of the human race, odds are that you’ve experienced this at least once in your life. Speaking for myself, it happens far more often than I would like.

We’ve known forever and ever that we tend to make poor choices when tired, but we haven’t really understood why we have lapses in judgment. To reference Paul in Romans 7, “I’ve got no idea why I can’t do what I want to do and why I do what I don’t want to do.” We chalk up those mental slips to being tired/stressed/hungry/out of it and move on, only to fall in the same hole again and again.

Recently, scientists have begun making breakthroughs in the physiological understanding of why we make choices we normally wouldn’t whenever we’re worn out. They call this “Decision Fatigue”, and this article gives a lot of info on the recent findings. It’s a long read, but I found it fascinating.

If I may summarize, the reason we make bad choices is because we’ve used up our available supply of willpower. Imagine yourself on a treadmill set to a brisk walk at a slight incline. The longer you walk, the more of your body’s stored energy you use and the more strain you place on your leg muscles. After a while, you run out of strength and need to take a break to refresh yourself. That is exactly what happens with your willpower, your ability to make decisions.

The scientists in the article describe the will like a mental muscle, which can and does wear out. The more choices you make, the more you tax that muscle. There are, according to this article, three main categories of choices.

First are the low-impact choices. These decisions don’t matter much, but they have to be made. Do I put in the load of laundry first or the load of dishes? Do I file papers first or transcribe my notes? All those little choices add up, and though they use small amounts of willpower, they can and do exhaust our supply over a long enough period of time.

Second are the complex choices. What options on your new car? How many features to add to the website? What fabric for your wedding tuxedo? These single choices contain myriad options, which is why couples picking out new dishes so often want to scream and throw things. When you have hundreds of options to select from, making one choice is not simple. You use a lot of willpower on this type of decision.

Third are the choices that have high stakes, the life-or-death decisions. These are mutually exclusive choices where picking one removes the possibility of the other. It’s easiest to see this example among those who are poor. If I buy food today, can I pay my rent? If I pay the water bill, can I buy new shoes for my child? Were I had to guess, I would say these are the most exhausting choices and use the most willpower in a single go.

The researchers found that the “reset button” for our willpower is simple glucose. That’s it. No wonder we crave sweets when we’re mentally tired! Scientists also found that it doesn’t matter where you get the glucose from, be it a candy bar or a steak. Your body converts all types of food into glucose, but candy doesn’t require as much conversion. That’s why it boosts you faster and why it doesn’t last as long.

We focus on productivity and bottom lines, never realizing how badly we hurt ourselves by not taking breaks. Yet it’s easy to overlook this part of ourselves because the drain isn’t as obvious as a spasming leg. We don’t know we’re worn out until we see the consequences of what we just did. This is why CFOs and nightclubs so often result in scandalous headlines.

All this information is wonderful, but it’s useless if we don’t have practical application. The first level of application should be easy to see: Keep a ready supply of nutritious snacks on hand and take frequent breaks. But what next? The things that stress us, tire us, and sap our glucose levels do not simply vanish overnight, medical breakthroughs or not.

We often turn to relaxation methods like meditation, positive thinking, or retail therapy (which is usually just another bad decision). The Christ-follower, however, has another fallback that I dare to say is better than all the rest combined, and with no unhealthy side effects. It’s easy, simple, and fast. It may sound to good to be true, but that’s because it’s not of this world.

I don’t know what life was like for Adam and Eve before they made their Bad Decision. I don’t know how many choices they had to make each day, how complex those choices were, or how much rode on the outcome of those choices. But I do know this: they ended each and every day by walking with God. Every evening, God came down to the garden, and they all had a stroll and a chat. Maybe Adam asked questions about strategic implementation of livestock expansion programs. Maybe Eve reviewed logistics and acquisition figures. Yet the point, my friends, is that they did whatever it was with God.

When Christ is your Savior, you have full, unrestricted access to God. The Creator and Sustainer of the universe is on speed-dial and waiting for your call. Jesus did say that those of us who are weary and overwhelmed should come to Him. We get to exchange our metric crap-ton of life’s burdens for His backpack of stuff, which is not only a lot lighter but filled with things that help us do what we need to do.

The scientists studying willpower found that poor people are the most likely to make bad choices because the weight of their choices presses them into the proverbial ground, leaving them defenseless against the next temptation. Yet money isn’t the issue; it’s merely a factor. One of Jesus’ parables concluded with this warning: you can’t serve both God and Money. “Mammon” may or may not have been a recognized deity in the ancient world, but greed has always been a god to men. “If only I had more money” is a common refrain from our lips.

J. D. Rockefeller had a lot of money, and he’s credited with saying that the right amount of money is “just a little bit more.” He’s also credited with “I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure.” I’d say that money confuses us more than anything else. It certainly does not save us; how many examples do we have of wealthy people ruining themselves and others?

Try using this line instead: “If only I had more God, all my problems would go away!” When money becomes a problem, recharge your mental batteries by taking a long walk with God, either literally or figuratively. When a thousand little choices nibble away at your self-control, take a break with God. When the number of options threatens to drown you, link arms with God. Take care of your body, take care of your mind, and take care of your soul. That’s a decision you won’t regret.


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