Decision Making Fatigue in the classroom

Decision Making FatigueThe New York Times published an article a few years ago about the phenomenon called ‘Decision Making Fatigue.’ ‘Decision making fatigue’ is the process of depleting our internal will power and ‘good decision’ making energy as we make small and large decisions all day long. The result of ‘decision making fatigue’ is making poorer decisions as the day progresses.

The 2011 piece highlighted the finding of researchers Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. Read the full article here.

What does this mean for ESL teachers – well, a lot. There are times when we find ourselves overwhelmed throughout the day and take refuge in the cafeteria or teachers lounge. We might indulge in a decadent treat or begin to vent unhealthily. Subsequently we might feel a bit of self-loathing for exerting so little self control.

Additionally we often find ourselves more irritable as the day progresses and less able to deal with challenging situations. Too often I hear teachers site personal shortcomings for this manifestation. I think we would all be relieved to hear the comforting words “Don’t worry, it’s natural. Literally.”

The above research offers a bit of comfort for those moments while simultaneously providing valuable insights on how to conserve our will power and decision making energy. The tests found that exerting a great deal of will power (not laughing at a student’s hilarious, yet inappropriate comment; not eating the pizza in the cafeteria; deciding to wake up early to workout before school; complete your lessons plans for the week in one evening; etc.) also decreases glucose levels.

When glucose levels are low – glucose being the main source of energy for the brain – people are less able to focus on long term outcomes and rather focus on immediate benefits. “It [the brain] responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects,” writes John Tierney.

Surprisingly, by consuming a healthy snack such as 85% cocoa dark chocolate you can regain some mental energy. This is the kind of energy you need to continue making ‘good decisions.’

This shouldn’t read “eat chocolate bars if you’re feeling run down,” but instead be understood as “having 15 grams/.5 oz of dark chocolate a few times per day is really good for you.” You can substitute another reasonable source of glucose if you don’t like dark chocolate. The point is to consume a healthy, reasonable amount of a nutritious glucose source.

To tie this all together for the professional educator, here’s some words of wisdom from Baumeister: “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low. 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 are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

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