Put the Boring Things in Life on Autopilot

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Photo: Paramount Pictures

For an easier, better life, put the boring stuff in your day on autopilot, suggests author Christine Carter in an interview with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, where she works as a sociologist. In a conversation about her new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, Cutter discusses her spin on what social scientists call decision fatigue, the idea that you lose a little bit of your willpower with each decision you make throughout the day, which means you make worse and worse choices as the day drags on.

On the subject of automation, Carter said:

The things that take self-control or willpower, for the most part, involve decision-making, and we don’t want our willpower muscles to become fatigued by every day decisions when they could be automated. We don’t really need to spend a lot of time deciding whether or not we’re going to exercise in the morning, or what to eat or what to wear. 

For instance, Carter says she long ago stopped asking herself whether or not she’d work out; instead, the behavior became something she did without question or even much thought, every single morning. (After two years of this, she says, she’s got herself a set of “Michelle Obama arms.”) And while the concept of decision fatigue is something more people are becoming familiar with — think of Mark Zuckerberg and his zillions of gray T-shirts, or President Obama and his boring suits — I think what Carter calls automation is a nice way of describing a simple way to fight against this human tendency. A solid routine, it seems, may have the somewhat paradoxical effect of making your life ultimately more interesting.