Can you imagine your brain giving out from exhaustion? It seems hard to believe, and it probably won’t happen, but your brain is capable of getting tired out, and when that happens it can have consequences. The thing is, you probably won’t even realize it’s happening. When your memory is tired or brain is tired it impacts everything.

We are confronted every day with choices, throughout the day. Most of us feel tired, and then take a nap or go to bed. But, is there such a thing as having too many choices to make, and what happens then?

Our brain is not without it’s limits. Like any other muscle it requires exercise, nutrition and rest. Decision-making requires the use of “executive functions” in the brain. Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to find out if there are limits to our number of choices. To improve your memory sleep could be a big help.

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience and memories with present action. It is used to perform activities such as strategizing, planning, organizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

If you are focusing on a specific task for a long period of time, or making a decision as to what to have for dessert, you are stretching your executive muscles. These decisions require a conscious effort to focus on a certain thought, and draws upon one limited resource. When you exhaust this resource on one activity it lowers your ability to take advantage of the resource on a seemingly unrelated activity. It doesn’t seem to be a good multi-tasker.

Perhaps exercising your brain with brain games such as can build that mental muscle we all need to keep our brains from getting worn out.

For example: You are thinking over a decision as to which job to take, a boring one with job security; or one that could be the dream job for you, but may not be so secure. Ten years of psychology research says that if you had an unrelated decision to make prior to making this important decision – like where to go for lunch, you put a lot of pressure on your executive function. This may interrupt your brain’s ability to make a good decision. In other words, whether you go to McDonald’s or Burger King could just be the decision that cost you the job you should have taken.

Researchers have centered on self-control and focus as the main factor in depleting executive function. Their theory is that cognitive tasks requiring a lot of memory and different mental skills, like studying for an SAT, make it harder to focus on other tasks. Now it seems other types of mental activity may also be involved in straining your executive function.

Through a series of experiments and field studies, psychologist Kathleen Vohs and her team of researchers at the University of Minnesota, found that the simple act of making a selection of any kind could deplete your executive function. Students in one task were asked to mark the courses they would like to take to complete their degree requirements. When faced with all these decisions researchers found the students tended to put off studying for important test that were coming up, and instead their  “tired” minds became distracted in other leisure activities.

There could be two reasons why making a choice can put so much pressure on your executive function:

1.      Commitment. Committing to a decision requires switching from thought to action.

2.      Different vs Similar options.  In one study, conducted by Yale University researchers, shows that people who had to rate the pros and cons of different options showed less executive function depletion than those who had to actually make choices between the very same options.

If making a decision depletes executive function, then the decisions we make when our brains are tired could be questionable. A University of Maryland team found this to be true. “Individuals who had to regulate their attention—which requires executive control—made significantly different choices than people who did not. These different choices follow a very specific pattern: they become reliant more and more on simplistic, and often inferior, thought process, and can thus fall prey to perceptual decoys.”

If spending a large amount of time concentrating on a specific task, applying self-control, or making a large amount of seemingly minor choices depletes our executive function then we probably shouldn’t try to make a major decision after them.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion , memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker. It is important to know that your brain is like any other muscle in your body and can only take just so much exertion. When faced with a major decision, a tired brain can have a major, and perhaps even adverse affect on your final decision.




Scientific American – Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain:

PubMed – Ego Depletion: Is the Ego depletion: is the active self a limited resource?