Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the classic black mock turtleneck shirts, Levi’s 501 jeans, and grey New Balance sneakers. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he touches on when Steve tried to create a uniform for Apple. Employees didn’t like it but Steve ended up creating his own personal brand of style as a byproduct:
Sony, with its appreciation for style, had gotten the famous designer Issey Miyake to create its uniform.
In the process, however, he became friends with Miyake and would visit him regularly. He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.” Jobs noticed my surprise when he told this story, so he showed them stacked up in the closet. “That’s what I wear,” he said. “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”
Vanity Fair has a great profile on President Obama, in the piece the President describes conserving the decisions he has to make:
You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
The New York Times gives a glimpse of the research that the President references above in the article Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?. So what is decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy.
In today’s modern world, the amount of choices we are bombarded with is unprecedented. Never in our history have we had to filter so much noise. Need to buy some toothpaste? Great. A quick search on Amazon alone gives you 4,182 results and that was after filtering it down to just the “toothpaste” category!
The article goes on to describe what happens to your decision-making process whenever you become fatigued:
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. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
It frees your mental energy when you can get your day started and not having to worry about the minutia of every detail. That part of your day is on autopilot.
Life is a series of choices over the span of our existence. If you make poor choices, this creates poor habits, which in turn gives poor results. We must conserve our decision making “energy” so that we can make the right choices. Making the right choices consistently over time builds good habits and will create a lot of “luck”.
We make our own luck.