In my last blog, I wrote about ego-depletion. Another related phenomenon is decision-fatigue. Think of all the decisions that have to be made in a day: Should I get up when the alarm rings or press snooze, what will I wear, what do I eat for breakfast, what time do I need to leave to get to school on time, how will I get there, what do I do first, how do I restrain my frustrations and make the effort to contain normal impulses, etc.
As the day progresses, each decision we make depletes us of a little more mental energy. Have you ever gone home at the end of the day and can’t even think what to eat for supper? Let alone have the mental energy to make important financial decisions, think about what needs or does not need to be purchased, or even plan your next holiday. This is called decision-fatigue.
How do we support ourselves with this? We create structure and routine so that we don’t need to make so many decisions. The alarm rings, we get up. We eat similar things for breakfast every morning, we leave at the same time to get to school, we have a routine for the day, we know when we will eat lunch and where because we do the same thing every day, etc. And we know that the best time to make important decisions is when we are feeling fully-fueled.
The Third Teacher tells us about how our environment influences us. Mostly we think about our physical space, however, we are also highly influenced by the environment of our daily routine and the people with whom we spend the day.
How do we support our children with decision-fatigue? All parents and teachers know the importance of structure in a child’s life. By taking away the routine choices, we leave energy for the more important and deeper learning choices. The more structure we have, the less we have to worry about.
Helping our students know what is expected of them by modeling the expected behaviour, creating a structure to the day and keeping it, always responding in the same way to a certain type of behaviour, and being consistent. It is not about militaristic, unforgiving daily routines, it is about persistent kindness. It is about respectfully teaching our children how they might interact successfully with others, and how to follow social pragmatics so that they use their energy to think creatively, be empathetic, and innovate their world.
I wonder, if we give our children and ourselves the gift of externally generated discipline vs internally generated discipline what might we do differently?