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Too Many Decisions, Too Many Distractions? Take a Pause.
Friday, January 15, 2016 6:25 AM

By Cheryl Sayers, Director of Training Remote Transaction Resources, Credit Union Resources

Just like millions of other people this morning, we awoke to the sound of an alarm going off. For me it was 5:30 a.m. At this moment I made my first decision of the day. Do I get up or hit the snooze button and get that elusive last 10 minutes of shut-eye? The snooze won out, but didn’t seem to make that much of a difference.

An actual study was done by Columbia University which found that we can make more than 70 decisions a day. They can be simple, such as do I get up and exercise? Cereal or yogurt for breakfast? What time should I meet my sister Friday night for the football game? For others their daily decisions can be complicated and affect hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. The decisions we make today will stay with us always.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

Stephen Covey

At the end of the day, you can feel as though you've run a mental gauntlet. However, physically you're not so tired. There is actually a name for this condition: decision fatigue. Our brains are a muscle like any other muscle of the body, and it gets tired. When the brain gets tired it doesn’t make good decisions. Sound familiar?

Remember when, as a kid, your parents told you to go to bed by 8:00 p.m. so that you wouldn’t be falling asleep in class the next day and you'd be more alert? Mom did know best and science backs her up.

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers discovered that if you postpone making a decision for just a fraction of a second, you actually improve the accuracy of that decision. This allows your brain to focus on the actual decision being made and block out what may be distracting.

Did you know that each time the brain changes its focus, it is expending energy? If you are constantly switching your focus from one task to another, you are confusing and exhausting your brain. At the end of the day, your decisions may end up being worse as your system can’t keep up. So, for all you multitaskers out there, breathe and take a moment before you make a decision.

Studies have been made concerning the effect of being distracted. Pausing enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out so-called distractors.

“Decision making isn’t always easy, and sometimes we make errors on seemingly trivial tasks, especially if multiple sources of information compete for our attention,” said Tobias Teichert, PhD, a postdoctoral research scientist in neuroscience.

“This might be the first scientific study to justify procrastination,” said Teichert. “On a more serious note, our study provides important insights into fundamental brain processes and yields clues as to what might be going wrong in diseases such as ADHD and schizophrenia. It also could lead to new training strategies to improve decision making in complex high-stakes environments, such as air traffic control towers and military combat.”

OK, so we are not the decision-makers of the world, but our management and staff make decisions that impact our members daily. Do we refund those five NSF fees for returned checks on Mr. Johnson's account? Should we take a chance and give Mrs. Jones the loan she is asking for? Is it time to give Miss Smith a warning concerning her performance as an employee? Close the door to the office, shut out distractions, and take a moment to make a clear decision. You’ll feel much better and the resulting decision should not nag on you.


Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of the book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and cofounder of “TalentSmart,” the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Posting, March 7, 2014 in: Mental Health, Neurology, Neuroscience, Research.

Doctor Teichert, studies from the German Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.