Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Decision Fatigue and Ikea

The worst place in the world to go when you're tired, hungry or grouchy is Ikea, especially if you go with a significant other.

If you're a fan of the TV show 30 Rock, you probably saw the Valentine's Day episode where Criss and Liz attempt to go to Ikea together. If you haven't seen it, take a moment and enjoy.

Ikea is the quintessential place where decision fatigue strikes people down. The New York Times ran an article  on what decision fatigue is and how it affects people. You can read it here. Basically the more decisions you make, the more of your finite decision energy you use until you're all out.

When decision fatigue sets in, you will choose the easiest answer to the choices you face. Depending on your personality, though, the answer might be different. For me, it's usually the easiest answer to just not do anything. We won't buy that thing, we won't get food, we'll just go home. But that's not always the way that Andrea feels when she's also experiencing decision fatigue. For her, the easiest answer might be to just buy it or just get the food now instead of waiting. Now we're in a situation where we're tired, hungry and have no decision energy left - you might as well ring the bell to start the boxing match.

Since we've learned about decision fatigue we've been getting better at spotting it and doing something about it. When Andrea asks me what I want to do, I can say: "I'm at decision fatigue, you need to choose." We don't do it all the time, but we do sometimes and we're getting better at recognizing the warning signs.

Like last night we went to Ikea. It was rough. Before that we went grocery shopping and then we walked through all of Ikea (not just to the place where we could pick up items). We started off alright, but by the end we were both all out of deciding-juice. It wasn't pretty. But, because we knew what was happening, we stopped and got a cup of meatballs and restored some of our energy.

You can get more decision power back by eating, resting and not deciding on things for a while. So, if you know you have a lot of decisions coming up, plan for rests before and after. One option that we use is to take turns being in charge of things. Yesterday I was in charge of the grocery shopping and then Andrea was in charge of Ikea. That kept us from a 30 Rock-style meltdown.

How have you experienced decision fatigue? What do you do to recover?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carrots and Sticks

Motivation can come from rewards or consequences. It's important to find the right motivation for the right time. The metaphor of the carrot and stick comes from the image of a donkey being motivated to pull a cart by holding a carrot in front of its face, just out of reach. Plus it's really funny to see a person trying to eat a carrot on a stick.

Andrea and I go away on a marriage retreat every  year. We take go away for one night to a business-quality hotel in town and we work through our goals for the coming year. We talk about any conflicts that have come up, work on a budget and process through what we want to do in the future. It's incredibly helpful, but it's not much fun. It's the stick in the metaphor of the carrot and the stick.

Last week, we went to Seattle for the night. We took a tour, ate out and enjoyed life. Each year after we go on our marriage retreat we plan a romantic get away. We've gone to a bed and breakfast, headed out to the coast, explored downtown Portland and several other things. It's the carrot; it's our reward for the hard work of the marriage retreat. We give ourselves something to look forward to so that we can be motivated to get through the hard process of planning and discussing.

How do you find motivation as a couple to do the things that you need to do?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Communicate about Communication

The only way to get better at communicating is to communicate about communication. Is your brain alright after that sentence? Mine's a little on the woozy side. Nevertheless, it's true. If we just keep communicating the way we always have, we won't get much better at communication.

Your marriage is a system that's perfectly designed to get exactly the results you're getting now. 

So, if you don't work on the system, you won't get different results. It's that simple. But, if you start picking apart the system and looking for things that could improve, then you're actually addressing the eventual results you want to get. In your marriage, communication is, perhaps, the core system that connects and drives all the other systems. If you have dysfunctional communication, then it's going to be incredibly difficult to work on your conflict, budget or sex life.

What results do you wish you were getting from the system of your marriage? What one thing could you change in your communication that would help produce those results?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Communication and the "Aha" Moment

Do you ever have one of those big "Aha" moments where it feels like the world spins around 180 degrees (or it's always been that way and you just realized it). When you start working on communication with your spouse, you're bound to get at least one of those moments. You both view the world in a slightly different way, but now you get to share a house and a life.

But the communication discoveries aren't just for newlyweds, you can have them at any point in your marriage. It just takes the commitment to keep learning about each other and to keep learning about how you communicate together.

One of my best "Aha" moments came a few years after we were married. We took a few personality surveys for a job opportunity and we learned that I (James) am a natural introvert and Andrea is an extrovert. With that one bit of information we were able to go back and explain any number of arguments we'd had. Now we knew that they were due to me being tired of people and Andrea craving time with people. Using that information has helped us to choose our activities and address both of our needs. Mostly it's helped us to communicate better.

If you've had a great "Aha" moment around communication, you should go over and share it on The Marriage Challenge Facebook page. We're starting a community discussion through the book (today). Join us!