Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide explains how the brain is in a constant state of conflict. To decide on something, the brain engages in a battle of neurons; a threshold is met, and a decision is made. Lehrer points out that emotions often help us make certain decision. If, for example, one exercised critical thinking for every decision (dispassionately), it would take a long, long time simply for one to shop at the grocery store. So, emotions, he argues, are very useful in everyday life; and aren't, as many assume, always in the way of our more reasonable selves.
I read the book some years ago, but someone recently privately commented on how indecisive, or overly analytical, I can be at times. It reminded me of the book, and that I related very much with an experience Lehrer recounts of taking too long to decide on which cereal to buy. Not only has that happened to me, but I often find it takes me much longer to make certain (simple) decisions than most. Perhaps I lack some of the emotional advantages others do. Perhaps I have better analytical skills. Maybe a bit of both.
But here's the thing. I find my ability to consider deeply even simple decision to be useful in my life, even if momentarily inhibiting. The reason is that these decision (when multiplied many, many times throughout the course of my life) have a greater compound effect than people normally assume.
So I'd like to share just one example (otherwise I'd write a book) of a minor thing most people don't think much about that I do, and why I think it's important to think critically about it, at first.
What to Eat for Breakfast
Something I still haven't completely stopped thinking about. For example, what's the best macronutrient ratio for breakfast? Here's one study on the topic I used to learn more about the issue. For me, because a relatively high-fat (HF) breakfast was correlated in the study with greater overall caloric consumption (and I'm trying to gain weight, and consume more fat since I'm vegan, or trying to be), I prefer it over a high-carb (HC) breakfast on most days. A HC breakfast, though, was shown to lead to less hunger later in the day, which would certainly be of benefit to me during long workdays.
But it depends on the day. For days that I'm going running or to the gym, I will eat a HC breakfast, such as a fruit smoothie (using low GI fruits, water, and kale) or oatmeal (using a low fat plant milk and low GI fruits). Of course, I wait a minimum of an hour before heading out, for digestion. I will also do a HC breakfast if I have a long workday and won't be able to consume another meal for some time.
However, on most other days, to encourage greater overall caloric and fat intake, I will breakfast HF; I might eat "oatmeal" (with coconut milk, peanut butter, and chia seeds) or avocado, hummus, and almond bread. Of course, I have to be mindful that I will get hungrier earlier than usual later in the day. Thus, I'll bring some slow carbs (such as a slightly green banana) with me to work to tame hunger till my next meal.
It's interesting that the study found HC was slightly correlated with greater awareness later on, which I conjecture might be due to fat taking longer to digest. So I may not want to breakfast HF before, say, a test or quiz; conversely, I can assuage any supposed negative cognitive effect with caffeine about 20 minutes before any mentally challenging activity. Nevertheless, the correlation was slight, and the researchers suggest further investigation into it.
There are other considerations for breakfast, such as micronutrient content and whether or not to cook and, if so, how. Generally, nutrient-dense foods are better. So I opt for those whenever I can. For instance, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, beans, and peas are nutrient dense. (I may also consider which nutrients are most important for me as someone who is mostly vegan, such as B12 and D3.) And regarding cooking, it depends on the food; some become more bioavailable after cooking them while others are better raw. But this subtopic can be a blog post by itself. I'll have to do a part two, after doing some research.
The reason I have done critical thinking about this is that health is deeply important to me. It really is the requisite quality of a good life. Some might disagree. I call such people philosophers. But, personally, I couldn't live a good, worthwhile life if I were terribly sick (racked with physical pain and an inability to perform certain basic functions). Health is something many take for granted. And diet is perhaps the single most important contributor to one's overall health because of its consistent contribution to one's body makeup.
Sure, no one wants to spend a lot of time in deciding what to eat for breakfast. But once you do, you can eat the most optimal breakfast for you every morning. And that leads to optimal living.