Monday Message 1/21

Dear Families and Friends of Trinity,

I am intrigued with brain research; after all, I am in the cognitive brain business. According to a new field of research on decision fatigue covered by The New York Times Magazine, the avalanche of decisions we are confronted with every day takes a toll. One study in the article found attached shared, that judges grant parole to inmates who have appointments first thing in the morning 70 percent of the time. By the end of the day, inmates have less than a 10 percent chance of being released from prison. Why? Having expended all their decision-making energies, they choose the least risky proposition: the status quo.

Children are making a series of decisions all day long, “should I talk to this person, does my pencil need to be sharpened, should I listen and answer the next question?” People experience what psychologists refer to as “ego depletion” — that is, a loss of willpower. In experiment after experiment, researchers have found that not only do our powers of intelligent decision-making decline after making lots of decisions; ego depletion inclines us to avoid decisions altogether. (This explains why core classes happen early in the morning.) The subsequent loss of impulse control also explains the willpower of bad habits at the end of a long day: most behavior problems happen later in the day. This research has huge implications for how we educate and motivate our children.

Our children have so many options, so many channels, so many privileges that they are exhausted by too many trivial choices. So, the next time you’re tempted to give kids yet another choice: oatmeal or cereal, banana or grapes? Think again! (Or rather, decide for them!) Preserve their willpower for planning.  It is important to raise a good decision maker; however, it is important to avoid decision-making overload; “This morning we are having oatmeal!” or “Tonight we are watching a family show!”

People who intuitively understand this conserve their energies by relying on other strategies to avoid decision-maker overload: they develop a habit. Strict routines and habits around sleeping, exercise, screen time, eating, and studying pay dividends down the road by training children to do certain prescribed behaviors (e.g. Go to sleep when you’re tired, brush your teeth, read books in bed), thereby avoiding the myriad possible decisions that could have harmful consequences. After all, we are the adults, and they are the children. Parents can make such a huge impact on kids’ long-term success quite apart from big influencers like high-quality schooling or your child’s innate talents

With warm regards,

Mark Ravelli / Head of School

Trinity Episcopal School

720 Tremont Street Galveston, TX 77550