Emotional Patterns

Good morning, Sunshine! (Yes, the picture slants. I rather like it that way.) October 23, 2014. Magnolia Grove, Houston, Texas.

Good morning, Sunshine! (Yes, the picture slants. I rather like it that way.) October 23, 2014. Magnolia Grove, Houston, Texas.

The Leslie you get depends on the time of day you greet her.

Well, not entirely. Most people won’t notice the subtle shifts in my mood over a twenty-four hour timespan.

But I do.

Early in the day, I feel positive, happy, can-do, and ready for anything. Bring it on, world. Whatever you have to throw, I can field it.

I pop out of bed bouncing fresh (provided I got a full night’s sleep, which I find essential) and often have more knocked off my to-do list by 9 a.m. than I’ll manage to cross out before bedtime.

Catch me in the evening, after I've been buffeted by the day, and you’ll mistake me for Eeyore. (I hope that’s an exaggeration—only my closest associates can tell you for sure—but you get the idea.)

Exhaustion has set in. One after another, the day’s events have piled onto my shoulders, weighing me down. I feel completely overwhelmed. I don’t know how to keep going. Everything seems bleak, necessitating immense effort, and tiresome. The week seems eternal. I don’t know how I’ll get through tomorrow.

It seems that way because it is that way—at least in that moment, at that time of the day. I do not have additional energy to expend on any life facet. Not work, not household, not social, not family.

I’m done.

At least numerous studies prove I have company.

Since the 1990s, researchers have found in more than a hundred experiments that willpower and self-control deplete over the course of the day. You can easily resist a chocolate croissant or a new pair of shoes in the morning. By afternoon or evening, you’ve spent the entire day resisting temptations. Cognitively resolving conflicts between what you want and what you feel you should have exhausts the brain. When offered an after-dinner slice of cake, you’ll lift your fork a lot more easily.

In fact, research shows that the brain grows weary of all decision making as the day progresses. Decision fatigue most often plagues people whose days fill with choices and verdicts. One study found that judges return more positive and lenient decisions early in the day. Quarterbacks make questionable late-game decisions. Chief financial officers make riskier decisions in the afternoon. Celebrities make dubious decisions at night, giving the public the pleasure of dishing out ridicule. And so on.

Rest recharges our brains.

Feeling frustrated? Weary? Negative? Grumpy? Tempted?

Don’t beat yourself up. Check the time. Think back on your day.

You’ve likely depleted your willpower, self-control, and decision-making reserves. You need a refill. Give yourself a break and go to bed. Even if it seems “too early.” (In that case, take a book.) You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

I always do.

How does your mood change over the course of the day?