Preview: As moms, we look for ways to reduce our mental load. In this post I explain why we feel mentally exhausted. I also share simple ways to conquer the problem of mental fatigue by implementing strategies that will pay off over and over.
How often do we feel a little brain-fatigued? If you ask me, daily. There is an explanation for this. It’s not that we’re less intelligent than we were before we became moms.
In her groundbreaking book Eve, researcher and author Cat Bohannon, PhD explains the “mommy brain” phenomenon. Firstly, before becoming a mother, our brain undergoes a dramatic period of “pruning” so that it can handle the massive cognitive and social strain of motherhood. That, coupled with the mental load of parenthood (that in our culture mostly falls on the mom), causes us to be just plain mentally fatigued.
So, what can we do as moms to reduce the mental load?
When you read about the lives of happy, successful people, there is a recurring theme. It’s reducing decision fatigue – a pet topic of mine. Whether it’s a relatable internet mom like Kendra Adachi of The Lazy Genius Way or a finance bro like Tim Ferriss of the 4 Hour Workweek, I see them implementing this tip: make fewer decisions about less-important things.
Why is decision fatigue a problem? Because it can lead us to making poor choices or avoiding decisions altogether when our mental energy is depleted. No bueno.
So what can we do as moms to lighten the mental load?
Automate and simplify the things that just aren’t as important. Why? To save brain space for creativity and things that require more energy and willpower. Kendra Adachi refers to it as “Decide Once”, and it’s one of the 13 Lazy Genius principles she writes about in her book.
Name something that stresses you out, and make one decision to make it easier. One, not thirty-seven.– Kendra Adachi, The Lazy Genius Way
You could “decide once” about a million things. A list of suggestions are at the bottom of the post. Here are some of the things I’ve decided once, in order to reduce my mental load.
Thinking about what to eat for breakfast and lunch every day is not something I want to ask of my brain. So I eat the same thing for breakfast every day: oatmeal with dried fruit and flax seed, or if I have it, my homemade bread, toasted with butter. Lunch is nearly always dinner leftovers.
Dinner is more varied. But even then, I stick with simple, mostly one-pot meals. I list some of my favorite simple healthy cookbooks here if you want recommendations.
A lot of moms love a “meal matrix”. For example, Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Fish Fridays, etc. There’s structure but it’s loose, allowing for variety.
What do Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Albert Einstein, Susan Sorokanich and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They wore a “uniform”, or more or less the same outfit, every day. That allowed them to save precious brain-tiring energy on more important things.
I’ve written about my minimalist wardrobe at length here. I dislike having to take more than a few seconds to pick out what to wear in the morning.
You might love having an outfit “recipe” or matrix that works for you.
For example, all summer I wore one of my two favorite summer dresses, or the combination of brightly colored top + solid dark-colored bottoms + Birks (always!). I chose this because I look best in bright, jewel tones, so I keep that color near my face, and more neutral bottoms means everything goes with everything else.
In winter, a brightly-colored long-sleeved tee/blouse, skinny jeans (you could not pry the skinny jeans out of this Gen X mama’s cold dead hands!) and a cardigan or jacket is my wardrobe.
If you’re a fashionista and clothes are a thing that bring you a lot of joy, by all means skip this tip! But for many of us, figuring out what looks best on us and what we feel most comfortable in, and creating a uniform out of that, is freeing.
Simplified Workout Routine
I recently toyed with the idea of taking Pure Barre classes because a friend of mine is an instructor. Another friend teaches yoga, something I’d love to do more. And honestly? When my little kids are older, I might very well join a gym again.
However, at this time it’s best for me to keep my workouts simple. Fussing with yoga or other structured class schedules would be just enough “friction” to prevent me from actually moving my body. An important part of being consistent with a habit? Removing the friction.
So, I keep my exercise routine really simple. I walk or bike every day, and lift weights at home every other day. That’s it. Doing the same things helps me not spend time wondering what to do (scrolling Instagram or YouTube for workout videos and getting distracted? Who, me?!), but instead I get down to the business of doing it.
Routines for the Day/Week
I follow a routine (note: not a schedule, they’re different) for my day. This includes time for work stuff, being a mom taxi, self-care (exercise, journaling) and household chores.
Having a routine down on paper for your day and week helps your brain relax. It knows the important things will get done!
As an example: have you ever been sitting on your living room couch reading a book or cuddling with the kids and you notice the room needs to be vacuumed? That thought will distract you and take you out of the present (pleasurable) moment. Unless you have that weekly chore in your routine somewhere. Then your brain can relax, knowing there is a time for that task.
I love my Bullet Journal for creating routines and writing them down. My BuJo is my “decide once” for a planner. I’ve been using it for years and won’t do anything else at this point. No need to choose a new calendar or planner every year. That decision is made already.
Now it’s your turn. What are some things you could put on autopilot to create more ease and flow in your life? Kendra Adachi recommends starting with sticking points: things that feel hard. But it could be anything.
A few more ways for moms to reduce mental load:
- Create a simple morning or evening routine that includes something good for your body, mind and spirit.
- Eat the same thing every day for breakfast or lunch
- Decide on an outfit matrix or personal uniform
- Decide once about a parenting matter (sleepovers – yes or no?)
- Teacher appreciation, hostess and other gifts
- Which grocery store you shop at
- Automate your finances with bill pay and recurring investments
- Establish a fitness routine you can stick to long-term
- Create a weekly/monthly/quarterly home and automobile cleaning/maintenance task list and have your Google calendar email it to you as a reminder
- Use the same 2-3 products to clean everything (per @gocleanco, I use the powdered Tide + hot water on every surface in my home)
- Write everything down in one place instead of having multiple calendars/journals
- Outsource as much as possible, ask for help, train kids to be more independent
Highly recommended reading: The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi