My wife and I were recently discussing an article she had read for her social psychology class about mental fatigue. The article was about a study conducted to see if we experience mental fatigue the same way we experience physical fatigue.
For example, a runner can’t run the tenth mile as fast as they can run the first mile and a weight lifter can’t lift the 50th rep as well as they did the second one. Muscle fatigue sets in. There’s an efficiency that begins to fall off the longer you continue physical activity. The study wanted to test if there’s mental fatigue as well.
The control group was brought into a room and given a problem to solve. It was an unsolvable problem because there were too many variables missing from the problem. The study recorded how long it took for the control group to figure out that the problem was unsolvable.
Next, they contrasted the control group to two other groups. When both groups walked into the room there was a plate of radishes and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. The first group was told they could eat radishes, but not cookies and then they were presented with the same problem as the control group. The second group was told they could eat the plate of cookies, but they couldn’t eat radishes and they too were given the unsolvable problem.
What the researchers discovered is that the people in the control group figured out the problem was unsolvable faster than the radish group and the cookie group. The study created mental fatigue by putting a distraction in front of the two groups which occupied bandwidth in their mind. That’s the reason why it took both groups longer to figure out the problem was unsolvable. Instead of figuring out the problem, they’re sitting there trying to understand why they can only eat radishes and why they can’t have any of the cookies. The distraction became noise. The chocolate chip guys are asking the same question and wondering why they got so lucky as to have the cookies.
It fascinates me how easily the researchers created mental fatigue in the two groups with just a plate of cookies and a plate of radishes. And whether you ate chocolate chip cookies or you ate radishes, it didn’t make any difference in how long it took to figure out that the problem was unsolvable. Both groups did equally poor.
As Holly is telling me about this study, it suddenly hits me and I ask myself: “What are the radishes in my life? What is the stuff that goes on in the background that causes me mental fatigue? What distractions in my life are causing me to take longer to figure out my unsolvable problems?”
Since our conversation, every time something flashes in front of me that I start to get worked up about, I have to ask myself if this is a radish or if I really need to spend time with this. It’s amazing how much space I’m freeing up by identifying the radishes in my life.
We each have about 2.5 hours a day of high level, creative thinking. Do you really want spend that time thinking about radishes?
I encourage you to spend time this week thinking about the radishes in your life and trying to eliminate those from your mind. I guarantee you’ll be my happier and much more productive.