Decision Fatigue
August 20, 2011 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? "The very act of making decisions depletes our ability to make them well. So how do we navigate a world of endless choice?"
posted by homunculus (71 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
I just listen to the BBC Shipping Forecast until the nasty decision goes away or becomes irrelevant.
posted by everichon at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

One factor i found interesting is that the fatigue may well be a result of making other peoples decisions however directly or indirectly this occurs in correlation with ones own decisions. It may be the emotional factor as well as the extra RAM so to speak that is taxing.

nice post homunculus. but now i cannot go back to see the article. I should have saved it...or get a subscription, but i hate that...
posted by clavdivs at 11:01 AM on August 20, 2011

(Thank heaven there's fascism!)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is one of those topics which comes up repeatedly, and has for a while now. Here's one example from Feb 2011, complete with a Stanford study to back up its claims. Here we are in March 2009 from the LA Times. I've heard NPR articles on it, read countless magazine articles about it.

I'm exhausted from trying to choose which of these across the years is the best one!
posted by hippybear at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jonah Lehrer's "How We Decide" is a good read on this topic.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2011

again, decisons, should i flag that... no, why, because it is not on topic and I have done similar things.
posted by clavdivs at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2011

Barry Schwartz - Paradox of Choice
posted by MechEng at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

but i like hippybear and monkeytoes! TIMING.
yes, i will use the back door, g'day

posted by clavdivs at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2011

Wow. This has totally been having a negative impact on my life recently. If my boyfriend stays over at my place on a weeknight and we carpool home together, inevitably once we're on the road he'll ask me what I want for dinner. By that time of day I've been working my ass off for 9 hours, making decision after decision after decision -- I'm an admin for about 200 people right now, every day I have to decide all kinds of crazy shit (often while running back and forth between four different buildings to take care of various people's needs). By the time evening rolls around I'm not only physically tired, I'm mentally drained, and having to make just one more decision is agonizing -- moreso because the dinner decision doesn't just affect me, I have to take the boyfriend and his unique food issues into account and prepare a few different suggestions because he usually rejects the first thing I suggest. It's been the ignition point for a lot of ridiculous little arguments and I want it to stop.

I don't know what the solution is, but I'm not above hiding out in storage rooms at the end of my day to get in a quick snack and a disco nap, so if that's what I gotta do, then that's what I gotta do.
posted by palomar at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2011 [17 favorites]

I wonder if this might explain why many people inevitably tend to settle into routines in their lives. The more you're on autopilot the less decisions you have to make. Maybe it's an instinctual behavior that protects the resources needed for decision making in emergency situations? If the ego depletion model proposed is accurate then I could see why a tendency towards routine would be beneficial in terms of evolution/survival.

Do people who stick to a daily routine more than others make better decisions overall because they make less of them?

I guess the best strategy then would be: develop a morning routine and stick to it until it requires no thought at all and takes you to the point where you can make some important decisions. Save important decisions for the time immediately after the morning routine. Follow up with less important stuff. Around 10:30 am turn off your phone, computer, etc. Lock yourself into bathroom with sufficient food and water but absolutely no contact to the outside world until sleepy-time. Go straight to bed. Repeat.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

palomar - I think it's pretty typical to need some decompression time after work - a break from the relentless decision-making, a gap between job responsibilities and home responsibilities - a breather. For a while I was at a job like yours that required a rather long commute; I came to find that I liked the commute because I didn't need to do anything but drive and listen to the radio, and by the time I got home I was ready to do things like work on dinner, help with the kids' homework, etc.

Maybe you can agree to make it a rule that you don't talk about what's-for-dinner during the ride home, wait until you're there to think about it?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

(sorry for the derail)
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2011

Related post: Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?
posted by homunculus at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2011

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

-- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
posted by hermitosis at 11:34 AM on August 20, 2011 [90 favorites]

The food stuff was very interesting and confirms mama's advice to eat before you go to the grocery store but for different reasons (you've got enough food in the system to help make good decisions) than what she always said.

Also, totally not surprised that choosing the wedding registry is apparently exhausting for everybody.
posted by immlass at 11:36 AM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a really interesting article--thanks for the FPP, homunculus.
posted by everichon at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2011

Related, slightly. This is a good examp;le of a free grab of an article from The NY Times. Now I have this bookmarked early this morning, before this post, to put at my site. Readers of WSJ, for example, could not get this sort of thing free, and if posted would violate copywrite. Nice of NY Times to make available free but no wonder they are hurting financially these days.
posted by Postroad at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2011

palomar, I was just thinking about that exact kind of situation with my husband! His job is highly physical, so when he gets home, he's physically exhausted, and often wants me to decide what to eat for dinner. There are a lot of issues surrounding figuring out something that we can both eat, too, so I usually try to come up with a short menu of choices. But after making decisions all day at work, choosing what to eat is just about the last thing I feel like doing—and since my work isn't physical, it's hard to justify saying I'm as tired as he is. But this kind of gets at why exactly I am tired, beyond just eyestrain.

The whole thing kind of makes me feel like maybe, on some level, my father really did have the right idea in keeping my family's choices extremely limited, in the classic authoritarian style. Only once I got out on my own did I realize just how exhausting it can be to just figure things out on a day-to-day basis. It's like Wordsworth said: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."

This also dovetails with something else I'd noticed: When I was dieting before my wedding, drinking a glass of Gatorade and maybe eating an English muffin right after I got off work seemed to help me stave off hunger, make better decisions about dinner, and get in fewer tiffs related to those decisions. I mentioned the staving off hunger part to my husband, and he thought that was silly—how could just drinking a glass of Gatorade help stave off hunger? But the finding that glucose helps replenish willpower completely backs me up on that.
posted by limeonaire at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

limeonaire's comment reminded me of another thing that helped me with dinner decisions: later in my life, as a single parent who had to make all the decisions, I would sit down with my son during the weekend and decide on 5 or 6 meals for the week (besides breakfast, typical lunch stuff, snacks, and a "slush fund" of extra meal fixin's) from a longer list of things we liked and I knew how to make. That way my grocery store list could focus on what I needed for those meals, each evening we could decide which of the 5-6 already-available choices we were in the mood for that night, and I could plan for decent nutrition while I wasn't tired and cranky. And occasional departures from the list - in favor of, say, delivery pizza - were allowed for. Keeping the choices limited yet flexible made arguing about dinner pretty much a thing of the past...which was a huge deal when raising a fussy eater!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:02 PM on August 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Yeah, one thing that definitely helps with the food decisions is just keeping it simple and/or stocking basics that can be thrown together in a pinch. This has really only been a problem since I moved a year ago, to an adorable little sleepy neighborhood with no damn grocery store in walking distance. I've been living in the city for a decade and got rid of my car ages ago because I lived six blocks from a huge grocery store -- in my old place, if I didn't have something on hand that we wanted or needed it was super easy to run out and get it. Now everything involved with the food-obtaining process takes more planning and more effort, and those things are not my strong suit. :) (I have adult ADD like whoa, which also probably contributes to my general decision fatigue in a way.)

The BF and I have been talking about this over the past couple of days and it seems like the most obvious solution is to put together a "pantry basics" list (canned goods/dry goods/perishables with longish shelf life like frozen veggies or chicken breasts) and then put in an order with AmazonFresh or Safeway delivery. I'm happy to pay a small delivery fee if it means I don't have to schlep out to the grocery store on the bus and haul back what I can carry in my two hands. It's so much easier to deal with a post-work grocery store trip if I know I just need to run in and grab a head of broccoli or a particular cut of meat and something nice for dessert, rather than having to go to the store because there is nothing at home to eat so we have to figure out a whole meal and then remember what's already at home versus what we still need to get. UGH.

Actually shopping of all varieties gives me serious decision fatigue/analysis paralysis. Anyone else?
posted by palomar at 12:23 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was going to read this post, but there were so many great links on the MF homepage, so I couldn't decide which one to read.
posted by signalvsnoise at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” Baumeister points out. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”
This rings incredibly true. I have a flowchart up on the wall at work that says, basically, "should I deploy new code? Not if it's after 3pm".

I have this set of self-imposed rules about stuff like this, and sometimes I break them. More often than not, I regret it. Be it dinner or whatever, I'm coming around to this way of thinking where a huge percentage of "good decision making" is just down to eliminating decisions altogether.
posted by brennen at 1:02 PM on August 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

My mom used to tell me when I was upset that everything feels better in the morning after a good days sleep.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have this set of self-imposed rules about stuff like this, and sometimes I break them. More often than not, I regret it. Be it dinner or whatever, I'm coming around to this way of thinking where a huge percentage of "good decision making" is just down to eliminating decisions altogether.

Yeah, I have a similar set of rules surrounding work, specifically, that I try not to break. My goal is to work smart during the weekday so I don't have to 1. work late, 2. work on the weekend, or 3. rush and multitask to get work done, because all three scenarios are where errors get introduced.

Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't always comply with my rules—I'm stuck doing a bit of work this weekend, alas.
posted by limeonaire at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2011

Seconding the meals + shopping planning. First, decide you'll be on a healthy diet. Make inertia and routine work for you, and not against you. Generate 7-14 meal recipes, all based on four criteria: (1) healthy (2) fast and easy to prepare (3) easy to shop for (4) inexpensive. That immediately allows you to generate a shopping list that's optimized for: (a) minimizing number of stores needed to visit (b) minimizing the number of times you need to shop in a week, usually down to once (c) makes it easy to comparison shop for the same items (d) makes shopping very fast, because you already know what to pick up and where, so you minimize time spent in the store.

That's how we do it in the VS household. There is never any question about what to eat and any agony about decision-making. We have our 14 stock meals pre-planned, with easy variations to increase variety (e.g. substitute broccoli for cauliflower, mushrooms for soy etc.). Never, ever bored, because actually the variety is huge. It's fast and easy to prepare - and super healthy, with zero processed food. And shopping is a breeze - once a week, we hit 2 stores in one trip, all within a small radius. TJ's and a grocery store for fruits and veggies. Done. You walk into the store, you have your cart and super-fast you go through isles and thrown in stuff from your usual list. Super, super fast. Sometimes during the week, I may pop out and supplement with something at TJ's that's within a few blocks from my place. About once every couple of months may pop into a Whole Foods to pick up an item not available at TJ's (for us: flax seed).

Of course, from time to time, we do go to restaurants, though not too often. But otherwise, meal preparation/planning and food shopping are not decision-making chores.

So yes, routines are you friend. Same with brushing teeth etc. - things happen in an order and it's all easy peasy. That way I can save tons of time, which I can then waste on Metafilter.
posted by VikingSword at 1:34 PM on August 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

Also rings true to me. In fact, my grad school advisor was extremely predictable in terms of mood and decision-making abilities - we never discussed anything important with him right before lunch or in late afternoon. Right after lunch was the golden hour when infinitely-revised manuscripts were finally sent out, thesis defenses were scheduled, and other high-stakes matters were settled. This guy was exceptionally consistent, but I've found it's usually wise to save difficult discussions with most people for first thing in the morning or right after lunch. (By dinner they may be too tired and cranky from other stuff.)

The studies in the article seem to be providing quantitative backup for pretty well known folk wisdom - the H.A.L.T. rule of thumb has been around for a while. But it's neat to get a peek into the brain's machinery and validation for something we've kinda sorta known forever.
posted by Quietgal at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now there are seven kinds of Coke
Five hundred kinds of cigarettes
This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy
posted by kirkaracha at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy

Apple understood this a long time ago. Limiting the number of choices can be empowering. Many customers agree. Look how they streamlined their offerings, with usually three choices in each category.
posted by VikingSword at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't have the chops to evaluate this article on its merits, but I immediately wanted it to be specifically applicable to me, so that I can feel less like a Bad Person who is Lazy for not doing more writing after work on weekday evenings. I have to be fresh for it. Or at least slightly caffeinated/drunk.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:47 PM on August 20, 2011

Look how they streamlined their offerings, with usually three choices in each category.

And the choices are pretty much "small, medium, and large", with a few customizations beyond that (RAM and such)... It's not like there's A, with capabilities X, Y, and Z, and choice B with capabilities X and Y, but W instead of Z, etc....

It's all very straightfoward, and easy to make sense of. Compare that with, say, Android phone offerings, from a myriad of makers and with a zillion choices. There are so many variations, it's difficult for developers to know that their apps will work on all possible devices.
posted by hippybear at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just yesterday I went to the usual drug store to buy the soap, tooth paste, and shampoo. Usual drug store has expanded and re-organized, and I've been cutting my hair very short recently. As a result I must have spent 15 minutes in the shampoo aisle, actually reading the labels and switching back and forth. Hopefully I'll like the one I bought and the label will stay the same for the next time.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:07 PM on August 20, 2011

The root of decide is kill, same as homicide and suicide.

Hack your mind. Strike the word "decide" from your vocabulary and call it a choice. You can almost pretend you are not killing off the choices not chosen if you do it quickly.
posted by bukvich at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2011

Man, I'm well-acquainted with shortcut #1 (acting recklessly). In some aspects of software engineering, there is a fair amount of leeway for it (i.e within your own personal work process) because most of the time, Undo is just a click away.

I do think trial and error can be a useful technique sometimes, but I think from now on when I find myself getting that way ("why think it through logically when I can just try it?!") I'll stop and consider whether it would be a better use of my time to go home and resume with a clear head the next day. Invariably the brute-force method, while it seems easier up front, ends up costing more time and mental energy than doing it the right way from the start.

I've been finding myself doing it a fair bit recently; I thought it was just my preferred work strategy, but now I'm wondering if it might be both causing and caused by the long hours I often find myself working.

Work smart, not hard!
posted by mantecol at 3:29 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well... sort of... "de" is "off", and caedere is "to cut"... it's not really "killing", it's a cutting off, a severing, as in "I will decide this and thus all other possibilities are cut off". Or "With this moment, I have cut this piece off for myself and left the rest for others".

I suppose if it helps one, psychologically, to have the process be a choice, which comes from a root meaning "to taste", thus creating the idea that this is simply a sample and doesn't really commit one long-term, then go for it.

But don't put forward that "kill" is what the "cide" part of the word comes from. That would be "neco" or "necare". There are a lot of Latin words which indicate murder, many of them poetic like "caedere".
posted by hippybear at 3:35 PM on August 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

On staycation for the last week for just this reason...decided not to read the article.
posted by sfts2 at 4:23 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

you didn't choose not to read the article?

good for you!
posted by hippybear at 4:29 PM on August 20, 2011

Choosing to get baked.
posted by sfts2 at 4:36 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

getting baked always makes my decision fatigue worse and results in far too many calzone deliveries. :)
posted by palomar at 4:40 PM on August 20, 2011

Another reason why predictable priced travel options like trains are nicer than cheaper but erratically priced airplanes.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:53 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I generally have no problem planning 4 or 5 meals, shopping for them, and executing them. Usually with a farmers' market trip first, which flavors which meal choices are rational. But I was on a long car trip with the family today, and came face-to-face with a Wendy's menu. I tried my best, gave a two-minute-long order to the cashier, which came back vaguely resembling what I wanted... but seriously. This is "fast food", and the permutations of possible orders run into the tens of thousands.

What were we talking about, again?
posted by Ella Fynoe at 5:02 PM on August 20, 2011

I can relate to this, career wise. That Plath quote upthread from hermitosis rings especially true. I almost wish someone would say, "You must be this." I would then say, well shit, if I have to be that, I might as well be the best damn one ever.
posted by 3FLryan at 5:05 PM on August 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have actually enjoyed going to Aldi for this very reason. I’ve only recently become familiar with them, and if you’re not; It’s a small, clean, simple store that has almost everything you might need even though it doesn’t look like it at first. When I first walked in I though they must not have anything I needed. That’s because they only have one choice for item, usually a store brand. You want ketchup, there it is. Fresh vegetables, bleach, whatever, one choice. They even have almond milk at the one by my house.

It’s kind of liberating.
posted by bongo_x at 5:20 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

A year ago I moved cross-country and had to Buy All The Things. Fortunately I had my mother's help. But by the end of two days of driving around unfamiliar places buying things - with interludes of putting together Ikea furniture - I was trying to convince her I didn't need dishes because there was no way I could pick anything out.

So yes, this is a real thing.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I freak out every time I have to decide anything, so I usually settle into almost satisfying routines. It's not good.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:08 PM on August 20, 2011

Having read the article, it was much more interesting, and not exactly what I thought it was.
posted by bongo_x at 7:06 PM on August 20, 2011

I also went on an errand to the grocery store in the meantime, and one of the items my wife hadn’t specified a brand for was maple syrup. I stood there looking at the dozen or more brands of just pure maple (not counting table syrup) and laughed. A few minutes later I was looking at all the coffee and a woman walked up and said "there’s just too many choices".
posted by bongo_x at 7:09 PM on August 20, 2011

I wonder if this might explain why many people inevitably tend to settle into routines in their lives.

Oh, absolutely. I adopted this as a conscious strategy while in my 20s, when I caught myself yet again standing in some flourescent-lit supermarket aisle, trying to decide between laundry detergents based on price, size, and scent.

I now realize that in addition the other qualities we're asked to value in the choices we make - price, scale, size, color, flavor, calories, nutrition, image/impression, practicality, gas efficiency, yadda yadda yadda - that actually, simplicity itself has a very high value. Maybe higher than any of these other competing qualities. There are times I have to remind myself that, while searching online longer could reduce the price I pay for something, a slightly lower price is probably not worth the work, time, and stress I'm about to put into getting it. Similarly, trying new brands or flavors of items, or searching TripAdvisor obsessively for the perfect hotel, etc. I actually feel much better deciding - even arbitrarily, sometimes - "This is the kind of [product] I buy for this purpose. This is the kind of food we have in the house. This is the way I book a trip" and sticking to it. It seems to save stress over the long haul. The consumer marketplace promotes the myth that you can only be happy if you personalize, customize, and maximize. I am pleased and surprised to have discovered that's actually not true. Happiness doesn't reside in or result from these choices, in themselves. As the article says, "Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options." If you get over that fear, the decisions get much easier, and it gets much easier to live with the outcomes, too.

This has indeed been a huge topic of study in the last decade. In addition to the great resources posted by hippybear and others, here is a great RadioLab episode on Choice and the brain. And in case you wondered how we ended up with seven kinds of Coke and twentysomething choices for spaghetti sauce, this Malcolm Gladwell TED talk partly explains how it got this bad.
A typical computer user looks at more than three dozen Web sites a day and gets fatigued by the continual decision making — whether to keep working on a project, check out TMZ, follow a link to YouTube or buy something on Amazon.
Wow - this may actually change my working habits. I think I'm relaxing when I take a few minutes to click around the web. In fact, I may actually be depleting myself.

The discussion of glucose is also really interesting and has such huge implications for struggles with weight control.
posted by Miko at 7:26 PM on August 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

I've had a minor epiphany reading this article. I've always struggled with procrastination, putting off things till the last moment, and could never entirely break free of this pattern. Now I think that the reason I put off stuff is that I just dont want to decide to do it, and then when the deadline is this close, I dont have a choice anymore, and I just do it. So I've always managed to do things, only when I don't have to decide anymore.

I also think now that this pressure to decide what to do is what generally leads me to get distracted and end up wandering in loops on the net.

The glucose angle is super interesting, and I am looking forward to hack my own behaviour patterns.
posted by dhruva at 7:55 PM on August 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

By the time evening rolls around I'm not only physically tired, I'm mentally drained, and having to make just one more decision is agonizing

Gah, so true! I find that I am often able to cook if the decision has been made in advance; when I'm in a good groove I plan dinners once a week, and that works well. Or I can cook if my partner will tell me what to cook, so I'll IM late in the afternoon and he will suggest something.
posted by not that girl at 8:18 PM on August 20, 2011

Apple understood this a long time ago. Limiting the number of choices can be empowering. Many customers agree. Look how they streamlined their offerings, with usually three choices in each category.

This is totally why I am an all-Apple computer user. I bought my first Apple almost 20 years ago, and have always liked them, but when it's time to shop for something new, limiting my options to Apple makes it manageable. I finally got a smart phone a few months ago, and I tried to think about other options than the iPhone, but I was simply overwhelmed by what's out there. Something will have to be very wrong with an Apple product I buy--I'll have to get a lemon, ha ha *snort*--to drive me out of that groove.

See also: "Why are all your cars Toyotas?"
posted by not that girl at 8:22 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also: the thing about the judges that the article starts out with reminded me of being a college writing teacher with 60-90 essays to grade. I could feel how my grading shifted if I had to do a lot of grading at once. Some of that was irritation--on the first essay, I'd encounter some run-on sentences and write brief explanations of what they were and how to fix them in the margin. By the 30th essay I was like, "Why the hell can't you people write a sentence?"

But it would also get harder and harder to assign that grade. I'd be second-guessing myself more, flipping back through previous essays for comparision, revising the grade multiple times. Though I often failed, I tried to plan my time so I was only grading a handful of essays per day.
posted by not that girl at 8:25 PM on August 20, 2011

It wasn't too hard to choose through options before brain damage, but now I'll stand there, mouth agap, gazing at hygiene products trying to remember even why I'm in that aisle. I'm sure there are now more choices than 7 years ago - I don't remember 68 different typs of shampoo, all with special abilities.

I need Garanimals for grooming products! A map or guidebook, please!
posted by _paegan_ at 1:58 AM on August 21, 2011

typs = types of shampoo, that is.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:59 AM on August 21, 2011

Okay, I'm just going to toss this private hobbyhorse of mine out here... I've often thought that being literally "spoilt for choice" re consumer goods and services on a daily basis might be part of why the American political system is so limited. Freedom of choice is reserved for types of shampoo, doesn't apply to political parties. Decision-making capability being regularly depleated might be a factor. Bread, circusses and shampoos?

Living in the Netherlands, where every goverment is a coalition of two or more parties with multiple parties in shadow government has only increased my amazement that a much larger country with many more inhabitants with presumably many more possible political opinions has only two - at most three - political parties involved in elections and then government. Of course, not having these choices is one of the standard explanations (along with cynicism re actual outcome/influence/integrity of politicians) for why many people just give up and don't vote.
posted by likeso at 2:45 AM on August 21, 2011

*sigh* depleated = depleted. not talking skirts, here.
posted by likeso at 2:46 AM on August 21, 2011

Living in the Netherlands, where every goverment is a coalition of two or more parties with multiple parties in shadow government has only increased my amazement that a much larger country with many more inhabitants with presumably many more possible political opinions has only two - at most three - political parties involved in elections and then government. Of course, not having these choices is one of the standard explanations (along with cynicism re actual outcome/influence/integrity of politicians) for why many people just give up and don't vote.

Well, the real reason this is, is because the US has a winner-take-all election system, not a representational parliament. Here, if a party wins 51% of the vote in a district, they get ALL the representation for that district, even though nearly half the people would prefer a different outcome. This means that voting for someone other than one of the main two parties effectively silences your own vote, until that party reaches enough of a critical mass to actually elect someone with 50% of the vote.

That's vastly different from how the Netherlands votes, where the seats in the houses of parliament are divided up amongst the various parties depending on the percentage of the vote they got in the election. It's possible for a small minority party to still have a voice in your system, even if that voice is only a few seats, because if even a notable fraction of the populace vote for them, they'll get some representation. In the US, if your party gets 10% of the vote, it gets no voice at all.
posted by hippybear at 6:22 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Exactly, hippybear (we're both preaching to the choir, I think). And that is precisely why I have always believed that though the entire concept of electoral votes is constitutional, it is undemocratic.
posted by likeso at 6:39 AM on August 21, 2011

Well, even in the elections which don't use electoral votes (as in, all of them but the presidential election), it's still winner-take-all.

And yeah, I'm not a huge fan of how the US determines election outcomes. Not sure how to change it, really.
posted by hippybear at 6:48 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed, I shouldn't have focused on the Electoral College exclusively, but it just sounded so pithy. ;p

I've often played with the idea of organizing a Third Party and beginning to enter candidates at state level. Slogan? "No taxation without representation." ;)
posted by likeso at 6:56 AM on August 21, 2011

Hippybear - that's not the reason. Canada has a winner-take-all election system but we manage to keep three or more parties in our parliament. And those parties usually run candidates through the country so it's not like just Manitoba has a choice between Green and NDP, while BC is Reform and Liberal (party names aren't accurate and aren't meant to reflect general political trends in those areas).
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2011

The glucose angle is super interesting, and I am looking forward to hack my own behaviour patterns.

Seconding this. I also have a habit of procrastination and of taking the first offer that comes along when it comes to jobs and such, so I'm wondering if maybe I should start having hits of some kind of sugary drink throughout the day to help with that. Maybe just carrying around Gatorade instead of water in my thermos or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, but it sounds like just eating better generally could pay off too. From the article: "The problem is that what we identify as sugar doesn’t help as much over the course of the day as the steadier supply of glucose we would get from eating proteins and other more nutritious foods."

Come on guys, let's all just eat healthier!
posted by meows at 11:36 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find that having a huge breakfast, packed with protein, makes a night-and-day difference in my enjoyment of and ability to cope with life.

Also, having finished rtfa-ing, I wonder if this shines new light on the placebo effect and the supposed inertness of sugar pills.
posted by mantecol at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wonder if this shines new light on the placebo effect and the supposed inertness of sugar pills.

Whoa, interesting.

I was reflecting on how it also helps account for what people reports as the "addictiveness" of diet soda. I used to be one of those people - I could easily go through a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke in a day. It was sort of unaccountable - I'd finish one glass and think that nothing sounded quite as good as another, and why not? No calories! I've spoken to a lot of other people who had to work pretty hard to break the diet-soda habit, and we all have wondered the same thing - what could it be? Not sugar, no sugar in the soda. Not caffeine, a lot of us switched to caffeine-free versions because the overdrinking of the soda gave us jitters or kept us up at night. Was it the sodium just making us thirsty so we wanted more? But in that case, wouldn't pure water seem more refreshing?

Now that there's good evidence that the taste is setting your body up to expect a calorie dump, and if you don't get it, you keep getting signals that you need it, the habit of repeating drink after drink of diet soda makes a lot more sense.
posted by Miko at 5:14 PM on August 21, 2011

I find that anything that leaves a taste in my mouth that gets worse over time, sets me up to want more of the same. Perhaps to make the bad taste go away? Artificially sweetened stuff tends to fall into this category. I very often find that when I'm feeling that way, if I give my mouth a thorough cleaning, the craving dissipates. Mind you, accomplishing the tooth-brushing requires a lot more willpower than heading back for another serving!
posted by mantecol at 5:53 PM on August 21, 2011

I'd like to know more about the mechanisms behind this.

Personal aside: I grew up as somewhat of an itinerant, uprooting and moving to extremely varied places every few years. I've been through a lot of experiences, and as a result, there is much that hardly phases me, that would be nearly unmanageable for other people I know.

On the other hand, I am rather averse to making *new* decisions. If I've handled something similar it's no big deal, once I've done it I invariably realize that it wasn't nearly as hard as I'd imagined, and I'm generally fine to make a similar decision in the future. But for those unfamiliar decisions, like someone said upthread, I often find myself procrastinating until there is *no choice* but to act. And often, by this time, a number of the options I had to choose between earlier have since disappeared due to time running out on them. And I apparently like this, because I keep doing it to myself!

I wonder if I've like, used up my lifetime supply of amenability to new decision points. I do find that when I'm feeling that way, sugar can help me temporarily overcome the aversion. But if I have some real, measurable brain effect and not just a "personality defect" as I've kinda thought up until now, I wonder if there's something I can do to work on a permanent fix for it. It's highly annoying, and always ends up making things harder in the long run (which probably "depletes my ego" as well).

On another note, I wonder if this makes the case for giving children real responsibility early on. The article indicated that there is a huge difference between making decisions and following orders. Continuing the muscle metaphor, I wonder if decision-making ability is something that gets stronger with practice. And something that's easier to get good at when young. I'm not saying overwhelm them with a steady flow of unfamiliar decisions, but give them something to practice on so they learn from an early age!
posted by mantecol at 6:38 PM on August 21, 2011

Putting off making decisions could have a greater negative impact in the long run - so true!
posted by broohem at 4:31 AM on August 22, 2011

Palomar I don't know what the solution is, but I'm not above hiding out in storage rooms at the end of my day to get in a quick snack and a disco nap, so if that's what I gotta do, then that's what I gotta do.

My wife and I had this same issue (it is even worse when travelling!) but the solution was pretty simple. Make a meal plan ahead of time. So on Sunday just write out what you will eat for the week. It makes the decisions easy because the consequences are not immediate and so when you are low on lemons you don't have to use any to figure out what to eat. You will also probably make better choices.

Still haven't really solved the problem when traveling though.
posted by srboisvert at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2011

I also do my level best to plan meals a week ahead. That way, the worst the decisionmaking gets is switching Taco Night from Wednesday to Thursday, or whatever. Freedom within limits. Having a basic repertoire of "house recipes" is a huge help in this. So for instance, I always have homemade pizza dough that I made in the bread machine and froze. This can be any kind of pizza with any kind of topping, or even calzone or flatbread. So it doesn't feel repetitive. Similarly, tacos or tostadas can be built with all kinds of different meats (chicken, chorizo, pork, steak), beans (white, pinto, black) and toppings. Soup can be totally varied week to week. So can pasta. If you sort of have a set of base meals for which you vary the complementary ingredients week to week, you start out with lots of your decisions already made.
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Steven Pinker: The Sugary Secret of Self-Control
posted by homunculus at 10:16 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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