Great decision-making starts with what you wear

Gray T-shirts for days.
Gray T-shirts for days.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Successful people thrive, achieve, and enjoy success because they make smart decisions every day.

However, we all know that there are a million and a half things that have to be decided daily, and as a day rolls on it can be hard—near impossible—to make the right decisions constantly.

When our willpower wanes, it seems pretty difficult to even decide to get off the couch. As anyone who’s been on a diet can attest, making smart decisions is sometimes a lot harder than it sounds.

While it would certainly be nice to have iron-clad determination to make smart decisions all the time, recent studies by Columbia University suggest that unlimited willpower is about as real as the Tooth Fairy.

If you think of willpower as a muscle, then it is easy to see how it might get tired and lead to the wrong decisions as the day slogs on, no matter how determined you are. Just close your eyes and imagine running all day or doing squats—I know the muscles in my arms and legs would turn to jelly after just a few minutes.

If you look at willpower this way, you may be surprised by just how much small daily decisions impact the willpower you have for important choices.

You’ll realize that each decision, even the tiniest one, is a potential tipping point for that willpower muscle.

Look no further than president Barack Obama for the perfect solution. He once said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions.”

It might be that our Commander in Chief and a slew of other successful business people (including Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg) are on to something.

Obama’s approach might be a little extreme for the average businessperson, but he has the right idea. He’s simply avoiding what many refer to as “decision fatigue“ by trimming down the amount of choices he makes each day, and keeping his willpower in check for the right ones.

This isn’t limited to outfit choices, either. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel examined the decision-making process of that country’s parole board. It turns out that the parole board started making very poor decisions as the day rolled on.

They discovered you have a 70% better chance of seeing the light of day if you go before the board in the early morning. Those prisoners that appear in the late afternoon are only paroled about 10% of the time. This isn’t intentional on the part of the judges—they simply suffered from the same problem that affects US president’s wardrobe.

Embracing your own decisions

For some baby-steps to fight decision fatigue, start by defining daily decisions and see which ones you can streamline. The president copes by wearing the same basic suit every day; and you might opt for picking out your clothes before you go to bed, instead.

Another one of Obama’s tricks is to keep a very select social calendar. Instead of wasting focus trying to decide where to meet a business partner for a drink, limit your choices to one or two places with a very select group of people. You’re not being antisocial—you’re being time savvy.

Focus on what really matters

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community” — Mark Zuckerberg

Even if you aren’t donning a grey shirt every single day, you can shift your focus in the best way possible like Zuckerberg.

I’m blessed (or cursed) with the ability to make a million business decisions every day as an entrepreneur. When that process gets overwhelming, I always ask myself “Is this decision helping my firm’s mission?”

If a decision doesn’t ultimately help my end goal, I stop thinking about it and eliminate that decision, just like Zuckerberg did with his shirt.

You can do something similar and avoid the decision wormhole. If something doesn’t fit your mission in life, why waste time thinking about it?

Don’t decide, DO

“…Allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. At that point, we’re free from the need to decide and the need to use willpower.” – Gretchen Rubin

When it comes to reaching a goal, that amount of deliberating you do can have a huge impact on achieving it.

Case in point: I stopped deciding when I would find some time to relax, or when I would get exercise. Instead, I started walking to work every day. Now, walking to work is an enjoyable habit and I’ve made it a part of my daily routine. It might seem simple, but whatever your goals are, you can use the power of habit, and eliminate decision-making to reach them.

Dreams aren’t achieved by thinking about how to reach them—they are achieved when you have a specific, well-conceived desire that you can work toward. You can do this today by turning your dreams into specific, time-sensitive goals, and placing them on the top of your priority list every day.

This goes beyond habit: it’s the mentality that you can accomplish anything. You don’t decide if you want to lose weight or head your own department; you are going to do those things. Once you move beyond the sticking point of trying to decide to do something, you’ll find the inner motivation to tackle it.

So stop deliberating, and start automatically deciding that your goals and dreams are worth it.

This post originally appeared at Medium.