Decisions are rarely easy to make, and there are countless ways to mull your options over. You can sleep on it, pluck flower petals, make a list of pros and cons, or even follow the advice of a psychic. Yet to make the best decision possible, you might want to consider holding off until a certain time of the day—or even until you feel specific emotions. The state you find yourself in has significant impact on each decision you make.
It might sound obvious, but when you need to make an important moral or ethical decision, it's best do so first thing in the morning.
Why are early morning hours the best choice? It has to do with your energy and self-control. According to a series of studies conducted at Harvard University and the University of Utah, we behave most ethically when we're well-rested and fully energized.
The studies found that, when given the chance to be unethical and cheat, participants did so later on in the day. Researchers split participants into two groups: one that performed complex math problems in the morning, and one that did the same in the afternoon. Both groups were responsible for reporting their own scores and, overwhelmingly, those in the afternoon sessions lied about their performance.
A lack of self-control played into the afternoon participants' dishonesty. As we become less energized throughout the day, we simultaneously deplete our ability to manage our self-control. Even the smallest actions, such as choosing between eating fast food or a salad for lunch, become increasingly difficult as the day drags on. So, when we try to make important, morally weighty decisions late in the day, we don't have enough self-control to choose wisely.
Not all decisions have to be made before lunch. In fact, waiting until after you've eaten a fulfilling meal can also help you make better choices when facing tough decisions.
In a study conducted by Shai Danziger, the decision-making process of parole judges was examined. Researchers discovered that there was a certain consistency in the judges' decisions: a prisoner was more likely to be granted parole if their case was heard first thing in the morning or right after lunch.
Much like early morning decisions, choices that are made after meals are often better because they take place after we've reenergized. In Danziger's research, judges tended to grant parole to fewer and fewer applicants as the workday dragged on—but as soon as lunchtime ended, the judges were happy to offer parole to more prisoners. Once they replenished their energy by eating, the judges were refreshed and ready to tackle tough decisions once again.
When morning decision-making isn't an option, save your pros and cons list until after lunch. You'll regain some of the self-control and energy you had earlier in the day, and feel more capable of making sound choices.
There's one more time of day that can help you make decisions you won't later regret: when you really, really need to run to the restroom.
When we have to pee, we utilize a lot of self-control to keep our bladder in check. No matter how exhausted or depleted our energy reserves are, we'll go to great lengths to avoid peeing in public. This hold-on-tight response affects our decision making ability, too.
Because we're already controlling the almost undeniable urge to let everything go, we exhibit that same control when faced with choices. We're less likely to make impulsive decisions, and are more careful about weighing our options. After all, one wrong choice and everything might spill out onto the floor.
Improving your ability to make decisions doesn't have to be limited to a certain time of day, or even specific urges. By increasing your energy throughout the day and avoiding exhaustion with frequent breaks and regular meals, you can make sound decisions no matter the time.