Is it possible to exhaust yourself by making decisions?

According to research, yes it is.

In a 2018 research study by Sjåstad and Baumeister, the researchers wanted to see what would happen to someone’s willingness to think about the future before or after they had been forced to make hard decisions.

This was in order to study a concept called ego depletion, which suggests that our willpower and ability to focus on difficult challenges is not infinite, and therefore gets used up throughout the day.

The researchers set up both a lab and field experiment where participants were forced into situations where they needed to make lots of decisions, and then measured their willingness to make plans for the coming weeks.

What I really liked was the perfect use of a naturally occurring field experiment which drains our ability to make decisions: Furniture Shopping at IKEA!

The researchers set up the experiment outside of an IKEA, and tested people’s willingness to make plans both before and after they had spent several hours looking at and deciding upon what to buy.

[Note: I don’t know about you, but I can confirm how exhausting it can be walking through IKEA and looking at everything]

The result: fatigued shoppers exiting the store expressed more reluctance to make long-term plans than shoppers who were just arriving at the store.

The impact of this on innovation teams and people trying to improve their creativity may be profound.

Other research has indicated that once people are put into a decision-making position, they tend to avoid creative ideas and stick with safe ideas. Other research has shown us how assessing creative ideas requires significantly more energy for the brain.

Taking all of this research together indicates that for teams who are faced with a lot of decisions (which is likely to occur in the development of a new innovation) may see their performance deteriorate as their willpower is used up through ego depletion, and this may make it more tempting to tend toward less creative ideas down the line.

It might also be more challenging to get buy-in from senior decision-makers when their willpower has been used up, which can slow the pace of innovation projects or kill them completely.

So when structuring your creative work, try and schedule it for the earlier parts of the day, before other decisions and work remove your desire and ability to make creative decisions.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.