What’s Making You Cranky?

Boss scolds businessman. Conflicts at work. Pop art retro vector illustration

We’ve all had those days when we have felt like a serious firefighter dousing “flames” of crisis through the day. Running from meeting to meeting and situation to situation making decisions right, left, and centre.

Then by the time you got to your last meeting of the day, you found yourself being more abrupt and short than your norm aka cranky.

Roy F. Baumeister coined the phrase “Ego Depletion” to explain this phenomenon. He felt we all have a limited resource to self-regulate that becomes depleted throughout the day.

Basically, the various acts that are required to engage in self-regulation such as resisting the urge to say something, making trade-offs, constraining our desires, adhering to other’s rules wear down your ability to control yourself at a later time. While some of his research has been challenged, I think it’s still a worthy concept to consider.

Somedays, it’s much more subtle. For example, you’ve been restraining yourself in meetings to enable others to give their feedback when you really wanted to just challenge the discussion, or you have been dieting and resisting the temptations at the office potluck, then you find yourself making less than optimal decisions by the afternoon.

This depletion is a silent enemy. That erodes your self-control hour by hour. And because you don’t have “symptoms” like being tired from stress, it can be easy to miss that you are experiencing it. Until you’ve done something that isn’t normally you or you make a bad decision late in the day.

Marshall Goldsmith suggests that tracking your days in terms of what depletes you is a helpful exercise. What is happening on those days that you snap or engage in unhelpful behaviour?

Once you can isolate the factors that impact you then you are able to create some structure or a plan to ensure that you are less likely to become depleted.

For example, making important decisions earlier in the day is more likely to result in better decision making. If you are skipping meals, engaging in meal planning may be helpful. If you are tired and stressed by the demands of meeting client needs, schedule in a break. If you are constantly looking for documents on your desk, get in the practice of cleaning your desk off every day before leaving the office or each morning before turning on your laptop.

Take time to understand what is depleting you and how you might be able to create a system or structure that assists you to manage those aspects of your day are likely to result in less crankiness and greater success at work, and in life.

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