This is the sixth segment in a series on Reason
Mental gadgets like logic, decision-making, planning, and willpower produce truly amazing results, but they are by no means infallible. Sometimes we can’t access reason's mental devises, no matter how much we need them (for example, when we are physically tired, angry or mentally overwhelmed). And sometimes our dazzling abilities just don't work very well (for example, when we are anxious or rushing). It turns out that in order to be effective, reason’s super gadgets require more care and forethought than most people imagine.
How is it that reason (and its many wonderful capacities) can be so elusive at times? Our mental superpowers all draw from a common power supply -- one that does not hold a charge for very long. And like many newfangled electronic devices, your mental devices like logic, willpower, and planning require a lot of energy to run at their best. Reason's mental resources need to be recharged regularly before using them, just like your laptop and cell phone.
You must attend to your primitive needs to recharge reason’s batteries: spend time in a safe environment (like home, nature or with friends), eat healthy food and get plenty of rest. Signs of your mental depletion may not catch your attention as easily as signs of your physical exhaustion, However, you probably already know signs of mental depletion (for example, becoming cranky, indecisive, inert, over-sensitive, or overwhelmed), even if you don't pay them much mind.
Unlike with a dying cell phones, you have no bars to alert you when reason's batteries are running low. And there often are no clear indications (like a dead computer) when your mind is not working well. So, you may not always treat your low mental reserves seriously. Even when you "sort of know" that you’re mentally drained, depleted or overwhelmed, you may not regularly take appropriate precautions to recharge. Most people pay more attention to the energy sources for their electronic devices (their batteries) than they do to the energy supplies needed for their own minds.
How to conserve reason’s energy more effectively?
Monitoring the demands on your concentration, decision-making, and self-restraint is one way to anticipate when your energy supply will start to run low. Taking indications of your mental fatigue seriously is another way to know when to recharge your batteries. Actively conserving your mental energy also keeps your reserves available for when you need them.
Try to avoid wasting mental energy on decisions with unimportant consequences. Check out this great TED talk about the folly of carefully selecting a brand of toothpaste! (Click here if the video is not in your email).
Give yourself permission to be "reckless" about certain decisions (like hairstyles, books, toothpastes). I, for one, let myself “go wild” when at a Farmer’s Market, figuring that I can’t do too much damage spending recklessly on fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you haven’t read it, look at a cpy of the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff" - it is very short and offers good reminders of how to conserve mental energy.
Give yourself time to make important decisions. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to make major decisions. If you procrastinate too long, your energy for logic, self-restraint and foresight may be running low on power!
Once you appreciate how finicky and short-lasting reason's mental gadgets can be, you may start treating your mental batteries with the care they deserve. Recharging your mental batteries before you need to use them will help you use reason's amazing resources more prudently. Such care and planning will soon be rewarded, with reason's amazing devices ready to work for you when you need them most.