Teaching students executive function strategies can be a long and difficult process. To help students stay motivated, I’m always on the lookout for easy EF tips that are simple and lead to results that students will see immediately. I’m excited to present the first in this series of easy EF tips: make fewer decisions!
This tip comes from Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain by On Amir. Amir explains that the more choices you have to make in a day the harder each decision becomes for your brain:
“…use of executive function—a talent we all rely on throughout the day—draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. When this resource is exhausted by one activity, our mental capacity may be severely hindered in another, seemingly unrelated activity.”
The brain, explains Amir, is almost equally tired out by trivial decisions as by important decisions. This means we should save our executive function capacity for difficult or important decisions and not spend it deciding on unimportant choices such as whether to wear red socks or blue socks.
The idea behind “make fewer decisions” is to automate choices you have to make each day. Once these smaller decisions are either automated or simply integrated into your routine, you don’t have to think much about them. This frees up your executive function capacity for more important decisions that can’t be easily automated.
How can your students automate decisions? Here are some examples:
- Lay out clothes or pack your backpack for the next day before you go to bed.
- Eat the same thing for breakfast each day.
- Create a number of coordinated outfits and store them on one hanger so they are ready to grab and go.
- If a particular decision isn’t that important—like deciding which flavor of ice cream to eat—flip a coin to make the choice.
- Create an afterschool schedule. Block out the same time every day to do things like chores, homework, and watch TV.
- Program reminders in your phone to help you remember daily tasks (e.g., take medication, feed the dog).
Do you have other ideas about how students can reduce the number of decisions they make in a day? Let us know in the comments!
- Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager