Lead like Obama: make fewer decisions to make better decisions

by |

Barack Obama doesn’t pick his suits. He doesn’t pick his breakfast, or his lunch. He focuses instead on the big decisions put in front of him every day.

Obama told Vanity Fair that he was trying to “pare down decisions… because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Busy professionals can learn from Obama’s example, according to Harvard Business School lecturer Robert Pozen.

Pozen eats the same breakfast and lunch every day and he limits himself to a select number of outfit options, and he says there’s a good reason for it.

“Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy,” he said. “So, if you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day, you should identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane — and then "routinize" those aspects as much as possible. In short, make fewer decisions.”

His reasons are based on a series of scientific experiments, including a study from the University of Florida showed that certain types of conscious mental actions appeared to draw from the same "energy source" — gradually diminishing our ability to make smart decisions throughout the day.

In one of experiment, subjects were forced to eat a pair of radishes instead of the freshly baked, aromatic chocolate chip cookies sitting on the same table. In another, subjects were instructed to suppress their emotional reactions to a comedic or tragic film. In both cases, those subjects were quicker (relative to control groups) to give up on a problem-solving task that followed, suggesting that their previous acts of self-control and self-regulation — eating the radishes or maintaining a stoic appearance — had depleted their mental resources.

Another series of experiments by University of Minnesota’s Kathleen Vohs who tested whether everyday choices — which candy bar to eat or what clothes to buy, for instance — wear down our mental energy. The results? Making repeated choices depleted the mental energy of their subjects, even if those choices were mundane and relatively pleasant.

For Pozen, this means “wearing dull clothing and eating the same breakfast and lunch nearly every weekday,” he said.  “Instead of wasting your mental energy on things that you consider unimportant, save it for those decisions, activities, and people that matter most to you.”

HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions