What is Your Decision-Making IQ?

Did you know that former President Obama and the late Steve Jobs wore basically the same outfits every day? Perhaps they are tapping in some fascinating research about how the brain makes decisions.

As Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012, the purpose was to cut away the mundane decisions. “I’m trying to pare down decisions and so I only wear gray or blue suits. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Last week, I shared some fascinating research about how our decision-making process is influenced by subconscious thought processes.

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.

It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. For example, we know the number of options we have can make a big difference in whether we purchase a product or not.  If you missed that one, check it out here: Neuromarketing: The Science of Buying and Selling

But it’s not just how many decisions or how many choices we have; we are also influenced by when we make decisions. Because of the possibility of conflict and unwanted outcomes, making decisions can be stressful. Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and those invisible forces that influence our decisions helps alleviate that stress and grow your decision-making IQ.

There is a wealth of literature about the very real effects of decision fatigue. Unfortunately, it happens to all of us and even small decisions add up and drain your mental resources.

Here are 4 secrets to grow your decision-making IQ.

1. Make important decisions in the morning.Save the mundane decisions for the end of the day and save the simple things for the evening.  Selecting your outfit the night before, making a shopping list and sticking to it, or putting your gym bag by the door so you don’t even have to think about whether you’ll go to the gym the next day can make a big difference.

2. Commit to scheduled routines. Don’t decide whether you’ll pick up dinner on the way home or warm up left-overs. Structure those things that you have to do – laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc. – in a predictable schedule that takes no decision-making and commit to it.

3. Keep your blood sugar steady. study that examined the parole decisions of a group of judges showed that they were more likely to grant parole at the start of the day . As time went on and they got more mentally fatigued, they were more likely to deny parole, which was the default decision. In the time right after their meal, their likelihood of granting parole jumped back up to morning levels and then steadily decreased throughout the afternoon.

4. Avoid impulse decisions. Don’t listen to the instant gratification seeker who doesn’t always consider the consequences.

The bottom line: the best decision-makers are those who know when not to make important decisions.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Melissa. How great this is. I agree with the am decision making. When later in the day.. I would usually apply the.. “let me sleep on that”.. this article here affirms I’m on the right wave. Thank you! Have a wonderful day 🙏 Paula

  2. Thanks for good suggestions. We face not only increasingly numerous decisions and more complex ones. I use the Situational Mindset framework for handling the business challenges we face. When we know what questions to ask, we are more prepared to make the right call at the right time. A situational mindset checklist helps us cope,

  3. As always, Melissa, food for thought. And it makes so much sense! I remember being in corporate, and every morning I know I took way too much time to decide what I would wear! That jacket with this shirt? No. That shirt! Hmmm, which shoes. And earrings! I could spend 10 minutes choosing my earrings!

    Now, of course, I work from home, so it’s seriously simple: Jeans. Sweater or T-shirt depending on the season. But when I attend a networking event, it is now much simpler because I don’t have many different anythings anymore. Four jackets, maybe 10 shirts per season. One pair of black flat shoes. One pair of indoor low boots. My tiny closet in my tiny cottage is half empty.

    I never considered that making those decisions had any effect on me (of course, I wasn’t the U.S. Prez, either!); I never realized that not making them or keeping things simple helps in the way you just taught me.

    Keep these lessons coming, Melissa! We all learn so much from you!