Mental Energy and Planning

So here’s how my normal eating plan went. I would think to myself, ugh, I need to eat properly and more cheaply, definitely that is a thing that needs to happen. It will happen as of now! Yay! Then I would work all day and come home and once I was in my house everything would be too hard and I would sort of drift around my kitchen and then think, stuff it, just this one time I’m going to just eat this random crap I have to hand, or go out and just eat in a restaurant. And then I would sit down with my bowl of cereal or packet of chips and relax, or I would stop at the restaurant on the way home because I’d worked hard and I deserved it.

At the same time I would usually plan to bring my own lunch to work, rather than eating lunch in cafes every day. But I would leave that process to the morning. And this is what my mornings look like – sleep until the last possible second, shower and run out the door arriving at work just barely on time. Who am I kidding? I am a late sleeper (in the sense that I’m not tired until quite late at night and I wake up later naturally when I’m not forced out of bed by an alarm), so my mornings are not times of productivity. I am profoundly not a morning person and no amount of early starts and alarms has ever changed that. I wasn’t going to get up much earlier in order to make food in the morning.

So there were two problems. One, no food was going to be made in the morning. The solution to that is easy – food must be ready the night before. And two, when I got home I was seemingly unable to muster the energy and willpower to cook (either that night’s dinner or tomorrow’s lunch).

One of the interesting things I’ve been reading lately is how we have limited willpower, and that making decisions saps our mental energy far more than we realise. It occurred to me this might apply to my situation – that what was really stymying me when I got home from work was low mental energy more than anything. That the main problem was deciding *what* to make, not so much the process of making it. I was double damned by this because making dinner by necessity comes before eating, and one way to restore at least some of your decision making energy is to eat.

So I’ve implemented a new way of doing things. During the day, say, in the morning or even the early afternoon, I think about what I’m going to have for dinner, and also what I might need to buy from the shops to make that happen. I try to keep these plans realistic, and appropriate to what my state of energy is like after work – the meals have to be super easy to prepare and also appealing. And it has been working for a week now – longer than I’ve ever managed this before. It turns out that after work I do have the energy to prepare food, but what I don’t have the energy for is deciding what to prepare. I am mentally exhausted.

I can kill two birds with one stone like this – as a single person it’s easy to make more than one portion, giving me lunch the next day as well. I am, it turns out, capable of putting leftovers in a plastic container the next morning. This has another upside too – I often think I should prepare wraps and sandwiches for lunch, or salads, but it turns out I find all those things fairly unappetising. Microwaved leftovers, on the other hand, are actually appealing to me (as long as I made something I actually like). I did make sandwiches for lunch at work on Friday last week, and I made them in the morning too – getting up 10 minutes early to do it, but I had planned what I was going to put in them the day before, and I made them 100% more appetising by remember that work has a sandwich press and I could have them toasted. Yum.

The Takeaway Lesson: do not underestimate the difficulty of thinking when you get home from work. It’s the thinking that’s the killer – just mechanically going through the steps of an existing plan is not nearly so difficult.

Also, keep it simple and be realistic about your interest in cooking after work. It must be fairly quick and easy. Nothing elaborate.


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