Have you ever been overwhelmed by a restaurant menu that had over a 100 items on it? Did you walk into the grocery store to quickly pick up some cheese for dinner only to spend 15 minutes staring at all the options in the aisle? Does it take you forever to get dressed in the morning because you keep switching outfits?
You’re not alone, and it’s affecting the rest of decisions for the day. In fact, more and more neurologists, business owners, and productivity coaches are talking about the notion of cognitive energy.
Cognitive energy is the concept that every morning you wake up with a new capacity to make important decisions. However, as the day goes by, your brain becomes more and more exhausted from making decisions to the point where you can’t make decisions as well in the afternoon as you did in the morning.
When you (use your cognitive energy to) think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Similar to your body, your brain is capable of a certain amount of work a day before it gets fatigued.
So, what can you do to maximize your cognitive energy?
Limit the amount of decisions / choices you need to make
This comes as no surprise. The more decisions you need to make in a day, the less cognitive energy you’ll have to complete all the tasks. This is the precise reason why business superstars, like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, are famous for wearing the same clothes all the time.
They purposefully minimized the number of trivial decisions they need to make in a day. It may seem minimal, but even decisions like what to wear that day or what to have for breakfast affect your cognitive energy levels.
Okay, so you don’t want to go with the same pair of pants and shirt color each morning? Save that less important decision for later in the day when your brain is fatigued, and plan your outfit the night before.
Do the important work first thing in the morning
If you take a look at the business world, you may notice that a lot of important meetings and agreements take place in the first half of the day. Sure, it can be tough to make that 7 am meeting, but (as long as you’re well-rested), it actually aids in better-decision making. After all, the decisions you make in the morning are very likely to set the course for your afternoon.
While you still have most of your cognitive energy for the day, your brain can take on more complex jobs, like working through numerous scenarios and rational rules.
If you aren’t loading your important work towards the beginning of the day, it could be a good tactic to try.
Train yourself to make decisions quickly
Have you faced situations where you couldn’t or didn’t want to make a decision? You would drag out decision-making until the last moment, all the while feeling anxious or down? Well, you’re not helping anyone.
Dragging out decision-making exhausts your brain power. The faster you make decisions, the more cognitive power you’ll have left for dealing with consequences.
Mel Robbins, mother of three, an ivy-educated criminal lawyer, and one of the top career and relationship experts in America came up with a 5-Second Rule for decision-making. Robbins wrote a book about it, which went on to become a national bestseller.
Do not rely on stimulants
While caffeine in moderate amounts is good for your brain and its function (ahhhh, coffee), too much of it has the negative effect. And let’s not even get started on the health effects of energy drinks and other stimulants.
While it may seem that these substances help the brain function, it is actually the opposite. The rush you will get from caffeine and sugar will eventually trickle off, leaving you even more exhausted than you were before. Plus, overstimulated brain doesn’t mean productive brain. Dizziness, nervousness, and insomnia don’t help anyone make better decisions.
When you are under stress, your brain releases a hormone called cortisol. It has been scientifically shown that high levels of cortisol can damage the brain, and that’s not what we want, because it results in cognitive decline.
Besides these long-term effects, there is a multitude of short-term effects that interfere with good decision-making. Stress is often credited with a feeling of being overwhelmed and a lack of focus, as well as irritability and depression.
Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to benefit a lot of aspects of our lives. Just like excessive cortisol damages our brain structure and cognition, mindfulness has been shown to have an opposite, beneficial effect on our brain. In fact, some studies show that meditation literally changes the structure of our brain, affecting areas responsible for emotional resilience, emotional regulation, and complex thinking.
Take a walk outside
If meditation seems unapproachable to you, try physical activity. Even 10 minutes of walking outside your office to take your mind off things helps your brain to take a quick rest for decision-making.
If you feel especially overwhelmed or under stress, hit the gym. Physical activity is proven to release cortisol. The more active you are, the more your body will be resistant to cortisol and dealing with stress.
Get good rest
When you wake up (hopefully) refreshed, you feel like you can take on a world. This is because your brain is well-rested.
Sleep is very important for both the body and the brain, because this is the time for recovery and self-repair. Do not underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep or a power nap.
Try the Dreampad. The Dreampad not only helps you sleep, it also helps you relax and de-stress. Appreciate and take care of your brain, and it will love you back.