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  • Dr. Eric Rooker

November 2021 Countdown to Success: On ego depletion, decision fatigue and systems thinking

“Helping you achieve high performance medicine.”

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Happy November,

Your journey of professional development is important to me. Please hit that reply button or join our Facebook Group to share your journey and inspiration with our community.

You never know when your ideas, stories, actions or reflections will inspire another vet out there!

Alright, let’s get to it!

Here are 5 Inputs to Inspire, 4 Quotes to Contemplate, 3 Thoughts to Ponder, 2 Challenges to Conquer and 1 Reflection Question to help you grow this month.

5 Inputs to Inspire

I. Ego depletion was a psychological theory popularized in the 1990’s by world famous author and researcher Dr. Roy Baumeister. This theory stated that we had a limited amount of willpower, which had an unknown “fuel” cost, and as this “fuel” was used we became more and more likely to give into poor decisions. Read the original research by Dr. Baumeister titled Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource? here.

II. While Baumeister’s ego depletion theory was widely accepted as fact for decades challengers to the theory began to appear as early as 2010. Since then, several efforts to replicate and reproduce this effect at scale have failed. It seems that the still widely believed ego depletion only manifests itself in certain conditions, which we still have yet to understand. Interestingly, personal development psychological researchers Job, Dweck and Walton did publish a challenge article, Ego Depletion – Is it all in Your Head?, that IF you believe and buy into the fact that ego depletion exists you WILL experience the end result of just that, ego depletion. An interesting case of belief breeds causality.

III. A derivative theory of ego depletion, decision fatigue, is often blamed for why medical professionals cannot make decisions at the end of the day or once they arrive home. This interesting article in Medium discusses just how alike decision fatigue is to ego depletion and the real factors you can use to mitigate the risks of the onset of this condition.

IV. While ego depletion theory may be as close to debunked as we will ever see it; there is another school of thought out there that suggests that we should be looking deeper than willpower; at our systems. Systems thinking is a challenge to how we manage our lives. Rather than seeing a problem or a willpower “failure” outcome, systems thinkers instead seek to understand the processes that lead to this failure. This thinking meshes well with our natural medical training, but yet is routinely ignored by medical professionals. The website The Quintessential Mind has an excellent article introducing the topic. Be sure to checkout the compelling quotes and anecdotes that help explain this mindset.

V. If you’re looking to implement systems thinking into your daily life then you’ll want to read this introductory article on how to integrate it into your life. It’s source The Systems Thinker is a great resource for the beginner to the expect!

4 Quotes to Contemplate

I. Mark Cole, CEO overseeing ALL Maxwell Companies, writes about the power of preparation and its role in overcoming current willpower to achieve desired outputs:

…the results of being unprepared are predictable. Things I hoped wouldn’t happen do happen-and occur with greater frequency than the things I hoped would happen.

II. Author Jeff Haden explains that motivation is not some special sauce; it lives innately inside of us as a result of the systems and habits we put in place:

We all have limits. But in most cases, those limits are self-imposed.

III. Cosmologist and physics professor Janna Levin discussing the importance of accepting life’s challenges which will test our willpower:

I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking, 'If only that hadn't happened life would be so good.' Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path.

IV. Personal development mentor and author John Maxwell on the importance of taking responsibility for the condition of our attitude, even in the context of our willpower:

The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.

3 Thoughts to Ponder

I. The biggest bottleneck in your life is you. You craft the systems and habits that yield the results you want. If you fail to get those results you need only look at the systems you put in place to find the cause of that failure.

II. Choosing not to choose is still a decision. It is simply a decision built of fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of perturbing someone, etc. It is simply a statement that you are insecure about your direction or your commitment to it. Instead, if you are being indecisive focus on what is “right” to you in the moment and allow this believe to carry you vs relying on the level of your current willpower to carry you to success.

III. To implement systems thinking one must consider the future and ones goals. This requires reflection on the past and why it may have occurred as well. Therefore, when you craft the framework for any new system you are engaging in some of the highest level of mindfulness a human being can undertake.

2 Challenges to Conquer

I. The next time you’re struggling in the middle of the day making decisions OR making the “right” decisions STOP for 5 minutes and consider these questions. 1) Why am I facing this decision, and do I need to make this decision now? 2) What is the “right” answer to this question; regardless of the amount of work or restraint that might be required? 3) What emotions or circumstances are currently influencing this decision, why, and do I want them to have the effect they are having?

II. Identify one area in your life that could be improved with an appropriate system. Once you have done this determine that system using article #5 to aid in it’s crafting. Once crafted determine a trigger that will tell you it’s time to engage this system. This trigger might be a post-it note, a timer on your phone or a song that you play prior to engaging the system. Focus on this one system for the entire month before you consider implementing a new one.

1 Reflection Question

Why am I really mentally fatigued right now?

Until next month,

Dr. Eric Rooker

Founder of Operators to Owners

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