Why Your Mind is Like a Wheelbarrow

Most of my life I spent working manual labor jobs. Construction, landscaping, stocking shelves at Wally’s Supermarket. I loved coming home exhausted. It was rewarding. 

When songwriting became my full-time job, I didn’t feel great coming home exhausted. I felt guilty. I’d been sitting in a chair all day. Thinking thoughts. Humming melodies, trying to fit all the pieces together. My Fitbit read “182 steps.”

I’d never heard of “decision fatigue” until a few years ago. Decision fatigue is a biological reality that your brain has a finite ability to make choices over a period of time. Or I should say quality choices. 

You ever wonder why you’re so tired after you go to the grocery store? All those micro yes’s and no’s your brain selected down every aisle. Store brand or Jiffy? Buy in bulk or regular? Oh, maybe I should get this item. It’s not on my list, but I will need it in the future. 

Decision fatigue is the same reason why your life choices become worse and worse as the evening goes on. It’s the reason I find it extremely difficult to turn down a slice of pizza or nachos after 9pm. 

You’re probably saying, “Oh, that’s just a lack of willpower.” You’re right, but it’s just a little more complicated than that. Most of us don’t budget our mental energy and will power because it’s harder to be aware of than physical energy. 

That’s why I started to think of my mind as a wheelbarrow. My family didn’t deserve to have a guy with a fried brain moping around at the end of a workday. 

One of the biggest changes I made came when I realized I’d been hauling a lot of unnecessary bricks that contributed to the exhaustion. Let me explain. 

You could say my main brick is songwriting. Well, it’s more like a cinderblock. Thinking about how to craft a melody and words into a song is the cinderblock my brain needs to haul for most of the day. I need to budget a certain amount of mental energy for that. If I start the day by responding to non-urgent emails, talking in depth about politics with Heidi, worrying about our bank account balance, or going on social media, I’m essentially asking my brain to haul bricks before I’ve put in the cinderblock. Sometimes I don’t have a choice; the matter is urgent and important. But most of the time I do. 

If you’re like me and struggle to conserve mental energy for the most important things, try this simple routine. Before engaging in an activity, ask yourself, “Is this a brick I should be hauling in my wheelbarrow right now?” If it isn’t, see if you can leave it for the time being. For example, sometimes I ask Heidi if we can pause a deep conversation until later in the day. Sometimes an email or text message response can wait. And almost always my iPhone notifications are simply interruptions (which is why I’ve switch most off). 


P.S. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I highly recommend Daniel Pink’s book When or James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Both books have been extremely helpful in how I organize my brain’s workflow. 

P.P.S. The links above are affiliate links, so if you purchase through them I’ll receive a commission. This is good and bad. It’s bad because you might think I only wrote this post for money. Well, I didn’t. You’ll just have to trust me. The good: I only recommend things I have found helpful in my own life.