Marlene Chism November 2, 2020 Pexels image/SmartBrief illustration
The brain has limited resources for decision-making, and in a world where most of us are drowning in choices, it’s easy to lose momentum.
Most leaders understand the concept of making difficult decisions early in the day, yet still experience decision fatigue due to unhealthy habits. Here are four hacks to reduce decision-fatigue and make you a more effective leader.
1. Start from intention
An intention is more powerful than a goal because intentions include the invisible elements like connection, emotion, meaning, and even identity. In other words, an intention is not just about outcome, but also about purpose and journey. Think of an intention as a goal with a soul.
Starting from intention even supports management activities such as initiating a difficult conversation. Your goal might be to improve an employee’s performance, but the intention is to improve performance, support the employee and uncover obstacles standing in way. A solid intention considers more than just a financial outcome or productivity output.
If you’ve ever had a conversation go south when you thought you were clear, chances are you had some hidden intentions or unresolved emotions you were unaware of. To paraphrase Gary Zukav, author of “Seat of the Soul”: if you don’t know your intention before a conversation, you will know it afterwards.
2. Face the truth
There’s a saying in recovery groups: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” If you don’t tell yourself the truth, you don’t have an accurate measure of your starting place. As an example, consider the painful realization that you need to lose weight. You can avoid the scales all you want, but if you are 100 pounds overweight, you are 100 pounds overweight whether you know it or not. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.
We need two points of reference — the intention and the truth of the situation — to “move energy” and gain traction. The “truth” is not just about the numbers but also about how you experience of the situation. This kind of truth-telling requires self-awareness.
For example, if you deny that you feel resentful about your employee’s behavior, that resentment leaks out in the conversation. If you don’t admit that you feel nervous about initiating the conversation, you’ll appease or avoid in an effort to manage your emotions. There’s a benefit to being self-aware and honest: The more truthful you are about your own emotions, the easier it is to read other people’s emotions.
3. Create constraints
Making choices taxes your brain. There’s only so much energy for the purpose of decision-making, and when you start your morning trying to decide between thousands of drink options at, say, a coffee shop, you’re already behind the eight ball.
One way to relieve decision fatigue is to create constraints, alternately known as forcing functions. While most of us consider constraints as a barrier, a consciously constructed constraint speeds up decision-making, reduces mental fatigue and can even increase creativity.
For example, if you need to start a project but you have too many options about how to use your time, create a time constraint. You have one hour to get started. Set the clock, work for an hour. You’ll be amazed how focused you become. Now rinse and repeat every day. You’ve now created a constraint that includes a time of day, and an amount of time every day.
4. Embrace discomfort
When it comes to growth, comfort is not a requirement. The habits you’ve developed might make you feel overwhelmed, distracted and frustrated, but these chemicals have become part of your comfort zone. We humans become addicted to the chemicals of adrenaline, cortisol, and the various hormones that contribute to feelings of anger, frustration, irritation and impatience.
Decision-making is easier when we give up the need for comfort and the urge to be right. Breaking addictions requires a commitment to feeling the discomfort. When in the midst of behavioral change, you’ll want your fix; whether it’s an outburst, a distraction or rushing to catch up on an overdue project. When you decide to change you will be uncomfortable. Period. End of story.
Good leadership requires good decision-making. Good decision making requires energy and energy needs constant renewal. When you start from a clear intention, accept the truth of your current reality, create constraints to conserve brain power and embrace the discomfort of growth, you expand decision-making capacity and increase leadership effectiveness.