Is Decision Fatigue Sabotaging Your Workout?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                                    – Robert Frost

Decisions, decisions. They come at us every day, fast and furious.  They weigh on us, too, because, as Frost suggests in his great poem, “The Road Not Taken,” they have consequences.

That familiar sensation of being overwhelmed by decisions also has a physiological explanation. Because the brain has limited cognitive capacities, as the choices pile up, they drain us of mental energy.

It’s called Decision Fatigue and it’s a big problem.

“Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car,” writes John Tierney, co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, in a New York Times piece. “No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.”

Not to mention the economic, emotional and other prices we wind up paying as well.

According to Tierney’s research, after too many decisions, your brain looks for an easy way out, in one of two ways:

  • Act impulsively – just to get away from the decision and its consequences.
  • Do nothing – the brain basically plays possum through procrastination, avoiding the choice altogether.

The latter form of decision fatigue is what keeps so many people from having success when it comes to diet and exercise. Without guidance, it can be daunting to figure out the right “eat right and exercise” balance. I wrote recently about a study that showed people spend very little of their time at the gym actually exercising. Why? One theory is that they are overwhelmed with choice and don’t have the mental energy to decide what to do at the gym…so they do nothing.

In developing Koko Smartraining, we were intentional about limiting the decisions our members have to make, so they can really focus on the workout. People know they need to exercise, but they don’t want to think about HOW. The digital gym takes care of that.

“Koko does all the thinking for you – just show up, follow the program and you walk away leaner and stronger,” says longtime member Patty Thompson.

For Patty and many others, that has made all the difference.


Interested in Koko?
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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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