How “decision fatigue” can affect your recovery
Julie Myers, Psy.D., MSCP
Recent research on the topic of willpower shows that we, as human beings, have limited decision making capacity. That is, in any given day, we may simply run-out of the mental energy that is required to make decisions. Researcher Roy Baumeister, PhD calls this depletion of mental energy “decision fatigue.”
Every day, we make hundreds of decisions, from large to small. Even something as simple as eating breakfast may entail many decisions, such as what, where, and how much to eat. We need to make decisions about our personal selves, our work, our relationships, how we move about and relate in the world, and how to resist a temptation. The more decisions we must make, the more mental energy we use up. Making decisions, particularly making good decisions, becomes harder over the course of a day as our mental energy wanes.
So why is this important for recovery from substance abuse? Because the choice to not use is a decision. Much of drinking/using is automatic, that is, we use simply because it is our habit to do so. We step into the house after a long day, we have a drink or we get together with friends, we smoke a joint. It may cross our minds not to use, but to not use requires a decision. To say no, we must think about the consequences. When our mental energy is low, we tend to act impulsively or do nothing different than usual.
We need to give ourselves the best chance at making good decisions, particularly when we are trying to change our relationship with drugs or alcohol. Continue reading