Arianna Huffington’s work on the impact of a lack of sleep is ironically awakening. She notes, “when we’re awake for more than 16 hours – we experience a cognitive impairment equivalent to .05 blood alcohol level. Staying up just an hour or more than that, and the equivalent jumps to 0.1 which means cognitively, we might as well be legally drunk.”
But what does this have to do with confidence? Confidence happens in your brain. It takes energy and effort to think critically, to focus and be present so you can decide what is the best action, reaction or interaction. The mental effort required to do that just isn’t possible when you don’t have cognitive fuel.
We often slog through our day and manage to get our work done at least well enough that most others don’t notice.
But when you’re tired, both your competence and your confidence are compromised so you aren’t as sharp as you could be. You may make avoidable mistakes or miss opportunities to shine. Not having enough quality sleep can chip away at our confidence without us even realizing it. When our brains are tired, it’s hard to make confident decisions, especially when we have too many choices in front of us. It's what psychologists call overchoice and it causes a very real and common condition called decision fatigue. When we’re in this state, we get easily annoyed and frustrated, so we make rash, thoughtless decisions.
At work, decision fatigue shows up in situations like this: Which task do I tackle first? Do I CC my boss on this email? Do I respond immediately or wait until later? Should I pursue a certification? How soon can I ask my boss for a raise? Should I call a meeting to get more consensus on this project? Should I ask when people are available or just send a proposed calendar invitation?
Together, all these micro-decisions steal cognitive energy from the more important, strategic and higher-order thinking that lets you effectively calculate, create, and collaborate. The good news is, there are things we can do to offset the effects of exhaustion so you can act from a place of real confidence:
• Take sleep seriously. It will improve the quality of your work and empower you to make better career decisions. Experts say adults need 7-8 hours of quality sleep to do their best thinking.
• Build micro-breaks into your work day. Set a timer to accomplish 90 minutes of focused work and then do a 1 minute stand and stretch. If you can afford a few more moments to reboot your brain, take a walk to get some fresh air and admire some nearby nature, or even just close your eyes and do a mini meditation or some deep belly breathing.
• Schedule decision-making. Save larger, more critical decisions for earlier in the day when you have the most cognitive energy. Make less risky decisions at night such as what you’ll wear tomorrow or what you’ll eat for lunch.
• Press pause. Remember you don’t always have to respond or react to anyone immediately. Before you answer, take a minute, or even the night, and give yourself the time you need to recharge those brilliant brain cells so you can review and then respond confidently.