The following is a guest post by Tamsin Astor, Ph.D., author of Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits. If you’d like to submit a guest post to Money Q&A, but sure to check out our guest posting guidelines.
We make about 35,000 decisions every day, which is crazy when you think about it.
And, of course, as many of us are living an overwhelmed, stressed out experience, those decisions may not all be of the most self-loving variety… such as that second glass of wine, that third slice of pizza, or my personal struggle – that fourth episode of Queer Eye at 10pm on a weeknight! We get what’s called decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is a psychological phenomenon which marketers use when they place candy by the check-out counter.
They know you have just made thousands of decisions (blue cheese or brie? Unsweetened vanilla almond milk or oat milk or sweetened coconut milk? Tex Mex seitan or chipotle tempeh or steak or pork or tofu or …) and so you are fatigued. When we are fatigued, we reach for sugar, caffeine, fat and have a lower tolerance for saying no, i.e. our willpower is worn down and we make poor decisions!
Women struggle with this even more, because they experience a higher level of role overload, which means they are making more decisions for each of their different roles. A role is defined as a set of behavioral expectations, and is most often associated with a relationship for women – mother, partner, daughter, employer, colleague, sister, kids-chauffeur, home-chef etc! Studies by Csikszentmihalyi show that men do 1.5 things at a time, whereas women, especially mothers do 5 things at a time. Pulled between all these roles, they often experience what Brigid Schulte calls time confetti – this scattering of their time and thus, attentional focus, which makes it harder to Get. Sh*t. Done.
This is very important for women who have become the fastest growing group being diagnosed with ADHD. Some researchers suggest that it is simply huge-scale overwhelm which creates anxiety and impacts one’s ability to plan and be goal-directed.
To add to this further, there is an awful amount of should-ing going on in our world and again, this is something that women struggle with intensely. I should look like this, I should feel like that, I should have the perfect life, flat stomach, even white teeth, beautiful balayaged hair, insta-worthy dinner table, a financially-successful side hustle and that we should want to have kids and stay at home with them (or if we do go back to work, that our kids still have this perfect experience of childhood). Yada yada yada. This should-ing creates the feeling that we are not living up to societal, familial, cultural, or gendered expectations.
For these reasons, I believe it is vital to help people, especially women, work on three vital areas of their lives:
- The first is to create some organization and a framework for their daily habits, to reduce those decisions and make more time for what they need to do, want to do and time for fun!
- The second is to cultivate strong mental habits – mindset – so that the resiliency, grit and gratitude are there to provide the basis to keep going when the going gets tough.
- The third is to focus on a vision – for without that, there is no direction.
Let me explain why these three components are vital for a life of direction, joy, and success!
If you have vision you have direction. You know where you are going. You have a clear idea of the life you want. You can create a vision for a variety of different areas of your life – spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, business, family, health, etc. The point is to create a clear, specific, measurable goal.
- “Lose weight” is general. “Fit into those navy size 6 Hudson flared jeans” is specific.
- “Get control of my finances” is general. “Inventory my expenditures and commit to paying off x% of my debt by x date (depending on inventory)” is specific.
- “Eat healthy” is general. “Cut out sugar and eat a plant-based 5 days a week” is specific.
If you have healthy habits, you know how to manage your daily rituals and routines – sleeping, eating, exercising, working on your book, your business, your non-profit or charitable interests, your side hustle, which serve you well to keep you on your path to your vision. This is the big action area of the three. You are doing on the daily the small habits which lead to your bigger life goals.
If you have a healthy, strong mindset, you are resilient when the proverbial hits the fan. You are motivated to keep on your path. You can manage the blows that will inevitably get in your way because you *know* you have the mental skills. Again, this is really important for women to manage because stress is connected to depression and anxiety and women are twice as prone to these conditions than men.
Now, what happens if you only have two of these?
Vision + Habits = Direction and Good Daily rituals
But no mental resilience for when things go wrong. Which inevitably happens in life.
Vision + Mindset = Direction and Mental resilience
Habits + Mindset = You are working well with your daily actions and have them organized well, and you are mentally resilient.
But you don’t have a focus or direction. Where is this work leading you? What is your bigger why?
Of course, we don’t operate in a vacuum, or as John Donne said “no man is an island,” so it’s important to remember that we are navigating all this within our communities. Support and accountability go a long way in turning these ideas into reality. So, reach out to those people who can help you. Offer to trade time with friends. Get your partner and friends on board with your vision so they can help you move in the direction of your dreams with a combination of both practical and emotional support.
Creating a successful life which is really your own, not the one that others have pressed on you means determining, on your own terms, what you want your life to look like: your visions, combined with healthy habits that are organized and ritualized to avoid decision fatigue and a sturdy mindset, operating within the communities that you choose to operate in (familial, spiritual, health, business etc), will allow you the space for fun and freedom and success!!