The Path To Great Decision-Making

How to make a good decision.

Decision-making is tough and yet every day we’re all at it. Whether you took the nanosecond choosing to click this article, or spend 3 days mulling an important choice, your decision-making impacts both your working and personal life on a daily basis.

To make a good decision, we’re often told that a clear head helps clarify your thinking. However it has recently been found that there’s a far more direct route to great decision-making. Through our stomachs…

The fact is being hungry has a major effect on our decision-making abilities. So much so that researchers found we are 62% more likely to get things wrong when in a hungry state. This is a direct result of being hangry – a new Collins Dictionary addition - that, for the uninitiated, means you start to get ratty or irritable when hungry. If you don’t necessary become outwardly hangry, we all have at least one sensitive-to-meal-times hangry friend.

what can i eat to help focus at work

The study, by Channel 4’s Secret Eaters food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson, asked a series of questions to a group of both men and women to test cognitive function when hungry. After being placed randomly into groups of four and not being allowed to eat for at least four hours, participants were asked to answer a series of brain teasing questions. After a break of healthy carbohydrate and protein snacks, participants were again challenged with a series of mentally challenging questions.

When hungry, the group only managed to answer correctly 27% of the time. Post hunger-abating snacks, the team answered 231 questions correctly out of the 480, a 48% success rate. A big improvement.

It is becoming a bit of a modern-day phenomenon, and it’s something most of us aren’t even aware of. We think we are overstressed or out of sorts, yet a lot of the time we are just ‘hangry’. We aren’t giving our brains and bodies the macronutrients they need.
— Dr Christy Fergusson

Not only that, but participants were asked to rate their level of irritation both before and after snacking. Once the hunger grumbles were shaken, vexation levels dropped 40%. People also noted to feeling relatively calmer, happier and more co-operative.

In other words, people are in a better state of mind to make the right decision when not worrying about food. This makes a lot of logical sense. For starters you aren’t pre-occupied with uncertainty about when your next feed will come and you mind is purely focussed on the task in hand. Try watching a thinking movie such as Inception next to a crying baby whilst stuck in Economy class on a long haul flight. Hard to follow all the nuances isn’t it? Well this is exactly what we do to our bodies when we miss a meal. In fact, imagine that those same sounds are being emitted from your stomach and that only you can hear them. Try grappling the theory of relativity now.

There was also another surprise uncovered by the study - men and women are not created equal when it comes to our stomachs. Male participants in the study had a 10% improvement in their answers. Females on the other hand improved by 30%.

Some people have breakfast and then don’t eat again until early evening, drinking coffee to keep them going. If we go for long periods without ‘feeding’ the brain, we end up irritable and in a bad mood.
— Dr Christy Fergusson

Doctors have long known that low blood sugar levels can lead to crankiness. This is often attributed as a symptom of modern life, as people skip meals and more important activities get in the way. But people are actually making a detrimental decision in doing so as studies repeatedly find skipping lunch reduces your productivity at work.

The science behind all this says that the brain performs at its optimum when there is 25g of glucose circulating in the bloodstream at any given time. To put that into perspective, 25g of glucose is about the same as what you’ll find in just one banana.

The problem we all often face is about the quality of food or snack we choose to eat. That’s because it isn’t just the amount of glucose that is important - the origin is too - in other words, quality over quantity.

how to make the best decisions at work

If you wolf down an off-the-shelf chocolate bar, your body will quickly react to the glucose hit you have just ingested. You’ll even feel an initial surge of energy.

But as you can see from this graph, the sugar high won’t last long. After just 30 minutes your body responds by pumping insulin through your bloodstream to neutralise the sugar dose. What you will feel is around 20 – 30 minutes of alertness, followed by a sugar crash leaving you unable to focus anywhere near optimally. Eating sugary snacks result many of the same physiological properties as a drug. 

The brain can’t store glucose, that’s why it’s important to eat natural, wholesome foods every three to four hours
— Dr Christy Fergusson

If you make the choice of a slow-acting carbohydrate or protein-based snack, typically found in wholesome, natural, healthier foods such as 9bar or Hectares sweet potato crisps, the glucose release is more subdued. As the glucose impact is not as sudden, your body does not counter-attack in the same manner benefiting you as the positive glucose mind-focussing effects are felt for hours afterwards.

So how can I improve my decision making?

1.   Don’t skip meals

It might feel like you’re saving time and beating the system, but really your harming your body. Over the course of a day you will actually be slower at simple tasks, make poorer decision and struggle to focus.

2.   Make sure you eat between meals

Keep your glucose levels high and prevent yourself from becoming grouchy or hangry by grabbing a snack in-between meal times, in those 11am and 3pm moments. It will keep your mind sharp.

3.   Eat healthy, wholesome snacks

By snacking on slow release carbohydrate foods, you will fuel your body with plenty of energy. The glucose will be released slowly throughout the day, keeping your mind free and focussed to make the right decision.


It turns out we really do need food for thought...

What's the best decision you have ever made?

TOP TIPS: What not to do when you’re hangry

Make Decisions - you’re almost twice as likely to get them wrong.

Food Shopping - you’ll find you have bought more than you intended.

Go to an interview - you only get 7 seconds to make a good impression, best not to spend them salivating at the site of a biscuit in the middle of the table.

Drive - pump ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black out the stereo too and feel that road rage build to excruciating levels. Hair loss guaranteed.

• Argue - especially with your better half. It’ll only get ugly and one of you will be on the sofa tonight.