How to avoid bad decisions when your regulators are down.
I haven’t been getting as much sleep as I might like lately. Long story. Won’t go into it.
Anyway, I always find it kind of funny the effect sleeplessness has on the body.
I remember watching one of those science shows years back. They got the presenter guy to do a bunch of tasks on a normal nights sleep, and then go a couple of nights with out sleep and do those tasks again.
As you can imagine, he was pretty useless the second time round. But the funniest thing was they sent him into an SAS simulator, where he had to walk through a warehouse filled with smoke and flashing lights with a paint gun, shooting the cardboard cut-outs of bad guys and leaving the innocents alone. You know the drill.
Anyway, he did a passable job on the first blush. But after a few days without sleep, he was a terror. Like literally. He just propped himself up into some wide-legged Rambo stance, and opened up on everything – little girls, dogs, walls, everything.
Bam bam bam!
It was hilarious. I think he even said, “F@ck this show,” at some point.
A few nights without sleep and we very quickly lose our ability to regulate our behaviour.
When I hear people fretting about US government torture tactics – waterboarding and all that, it kind of sounds like the intelligence guys are just bored (or maybe mean).
Like, is there anyone who can function with out sleep? Surely the most effective information extraction technique is to just wake somebody up whenever they try to go to sleep, over and over.
(I think they actually did this at Guantanamo Bay… with Britney Spears!)
Unless you’re some sort of yoga meditation guru, I don’t think anyone could hold out through that kind of business. I wouldn’t last more than a day.
Without sleep, we lose our ability to regulate our emotions. And because we’re physically tired as well, the emotions that are being generated in our body aren’t the nice ones – they’re irritation, anger, helplessness etc.
And they get to be in full control.
When I’m tired I know I need to watch this, and give my emotional regulators a bit of extra support. I find myself doing that by trying to give myself a bit of distance. Trying to see myself as a step removed from my reality.
This is a number (more numb) space to exist in, and I don’t like to stay there for long, but at least when I’m there I know I’m not getting buffeted about by my emotions. I’m not reacting to my emotions.
Successful adult life is achieved through choosing how we express our emotions.
With our regulators down through lack of sleep, we lose our ability to choose. We think we’re choosing but we’re not. We’re reactive.
I think these ‘regulators’ are really interesting. And I think they’re a bit of a blind spot in how we think about optimising ourselves for success.
We tend to think about it a bit like body building. We need to build up our courage muscle, our discipline muscle, our drive muscle etc.
We need to build up the things that make us do things.
But we also need to build up the things that stop us from doing things.
Take alcohol. Why is alcohol fun? For a lot of people I think the answer is because alcohol shuts down our inhibitions. With that function of our mind effectively poisoned to the point of disfunction, we find ourselves uninhibited. And suddenly we’re free – free to dance on the tables, sing Cold Chisel covers, tell your friends how much you love them…
“Nah, seriously. Listen…”
In the context of a party, shedding inhibitions is a fantastic thing.
However, inhibitions are also useful. They’re the things that normally stop us urinating on post-boxes, or telling the boss what you really think, or spanking your co-worker on the arse.
Because they know that by the time you’ve done all your shopping you’re facing discipline fatigue. You’ve had to make a 100 healthy choices. You’ve said no to a thousand sugary temptations.
Finally, right at the end, they present you with the option for just one, relatively small little treat. Your ability to regulate your decisions is worn out. Exhausted. You can no longer silence the voice that says, ‘I deserve it.’
Anyway, this is what I’m thinking about today. My regulators define my maturity. They guide me from unrefined boy to functional man.
But that regulation takes energy. And when I’m tired (or drunk) I know that my regulators are weakened. I become more reactive. I’m more at the whim of my emotions.
This is a risky state. I’m liable to do something I’ll regret – or at least something that isn’t in line with my higher purpose.
When I recognise that I’m in regulator fatigue, I need to slow down and double-check my instincts – make sure I’m actually making good decisions.
This is an important discipline for success.
Or maybe it’s not. Who cares?
F@ck this show.
How do you manage regulator fatigue?