Most of us can identify with that feeling of mental fatigue in some way or another. We get to the end of the day and can’t decide what to have for dinner, or making conversation feels like a very deliberate effort. Maybe we forget to do something or start to make mistakes that we normally wouldn’t. At this point it’s easy to criticise ourselves (and others) but perhaps we need to extend ourselves more compassion. When the brain is constantly ‘doing’ (making decisions, thinking, planning and ruminating), it doesn’t have chance to rest and your cognitive performance declines.
The concept of ‘decision fatigue’ has been around for a few years now and is based on the work of Roy F. Baumeister. Essentially, the more decisions we make, the more mental energy we burn and the less capable of making decisions we become. It’s particularly the case with regards to willpower and is the reason why at the end of the day we’re more likely to give in to requests for television or find ourselves eating junk food.
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to feel more mentally alert, calm and enthusiastic about taking on what the day has to offer so I’ve been playing around with our weekly routine to try to do just this. Here are my 6 mindful tips to reduce mental fatigue.
Naturally, this is on the list, but with good reason. Meditation gives the brain chance to rest and step away from ‘doing mode’ for a period of time so we can start to rebuild mental energy. It also calms the automatic nervous system and improves our resilience for forthcoming decision-making. We don’t always have time to fit in a full meditation but even a short breathing space meditation of 1-3 minutes can be extremely beneficial in setting us up for the rest of the day. You can download an audio file of my breathing space meditation here.
2. Reduce the number of decisions
The classic example here is the likes of Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg who wear the same clothing everyday. By reducing the number of decisions we make, we reduce the cognitive load and free-up space to make more important decisions. In my case, I’ve created a 4 week meal plan in my bullet journal that we rotate around. This means we get enough variety in terms of the food we eat, but I don’t need to spend time each day or week scratching my head or thinking about what we’ll have for dinner.
3. Reduce the number of options to choose from
Have you ever spent ages standing in front of the wardrobe wondering what to put on, all the while thinking that you ‘have nothing to wear’? I did a huge clear out of my wardrobe following the ‘Kon-Marie’ method outlined by Marie Kondo in her book ‘The life changing magic of tidying’. I loved her suggestion of only keeping what sparks joy and find getting ready a much more pleasurable and easy process as a result. You can apply the principle of reduced options to anything though. For instance choosing between the first 3 things you like the look of on a menu or asking a store assistant to give you two options to choose from that meet your criteria.
4. Be aware of your thoughts during the decision-making process
Often we can get caught up in over thinking our decisions. We navigate between obligations, what we think others want to hear, our intuitive sense of what we want to do and advice given by others. When I’m finding it hard to decide, I try to do a mindful check in.
- Take a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the breath moving into and out of your body.
- Notice what is happening in your body. What sensations can you feel? Are you holding any tensions anywhere? There’s no need to label any of this as good or bad. Just notice it.
- Notice any thoughts that you’re having surrounding this decision. Allow yourself to consider that these thoughts are not facts. Can you let go of any rigidity of thinking that may be complicating your decision?
- Notice any emotions that you’re feeling. Where in your body are you feeling these emotions? Are they tied to any particular thoughts?
As well as a brief cognitive respite, the mindful check in allows us to be the observer of our thoughts rather than being caught within them. Often this yields a different perspective that allows us to consider our options more dispassionately and thus come to a decision more quickly.
5. Simplify your life
The fewer things we have to do, the fewer decisions we have to make. When assessing self-care in mindfulness classes we often look at the balance of nourishing vs. depleting activities that we engage in, in everyday life and whether we can better re-distribute this balance. Naturally we think about whether we can reduce the number of depleting activities but sometimes we can be caught out by trying to do too many nourishing activities. Running here and there between activities can be stressful in itself. Often our well-being can be improved by doing fewer nourishing activities but more mindfully, with more space in between to rest and just be.
6. Getting out of the mind and into the body
Taking time out to have a bath, practice yoga or play football is also a good way to get out of your mind and into your body so the mind can rest. Any activity that allows you to focus your attention on physical activity or sensations rather than thinking will work.
So in a nutshell be kind, rest and simplify.