Why Your Mindset Matters

Did you know that lawyers are 3.6x more likely to become depressed than any other person of the working population?

Why is that? Don’t lawyers have all the ‘necessary’ things in life? High levels of education, lots of money rolling in, high social status.

Back at law schools, the aspiring lawyer begins to learn critical analysis. He learns to poke holes in cases, looks for weaknesses and flaws in arguments…

They learn a negative mindset.

Lawyers have trained and as a result re-wired their brains to scan legal documents for mistakes and errors. The same with tax auditors – they scan tax forms for errors and mistakes.

They scan everything through a critical lens. In fact, some lawyers think of spending time with their loved ones in terms of billable hours.

They’re so entrenched in their negative mindset that they enjoy a lot of success in the workplace. But through years and years of training they’ve rewired their brain in a way that’s not helping them in their personal lives.

So just by working you’re learning a specific mindset.

Athletes learn a competitive mindset that helps them succeed in their sport but they can’t stop competing with their friends. Financial traders can’t stop assessing risk in everything they do. And managers actually manage their children.

So you see how your mindset can change without you even noticing and it can happen just by being employed.

Our mindset can be easily manipulated

Our mindset can be manipulated so easily that Just by changing one word you can change your entire behavior.

In one experiment, a group of participants were asked to play either the “Wall Street Game” or the “Community Game”. And this was the same one game, just named in two different ways.

Participants that played the Community Game would help each other out when playing it.

They were primed to think of community, cooperation, and helping each other out to achieve a common goal.

The people that played the “Wall Street” on the other hand were more egoistic and competitive, and they would actually pounce on the opportunity to exploit any sort of cooperation.

This is an example of our stereotypical view of Wall Street and how it can influence our own behaviour.

You will be a happier person if you interpret events in a way that is most beneficial to you

Speaking of framing, why are bronze medalists happier than silver medalists?

Silver medalists frame the situation that if they had performed a little bit better, then they would have won the gold.

Bronze medalists on the other hand think that if they had done slightly worse – they wouldn’t have won anything at all.

Framing things positively can make a huge difference.

If you think you’re an unlucky person, you will fail to notice the opportunities that present themself to you

Just by thinking you’re a lucky person can help you take advantage of 100% more opportunities than people that think they are unlucky.

In one experiment, people had to read through a newspaper and count how many photos there were in it.

There were two groups: people that thought they were lucky, and those that felt they were unlucky.

The lucky people did the task in only a few seconds.

The unlucky people took around two minutes.

On the second page of the newspaper there was a large message saying ‘stop counting, there are 43 photos in the newspaper”.

This message took up half of the space on the page and was written in a type that was over 2 inches (5cm). The people that thought they weren’t lucky didn’t even notice this.

If the experimenter put another large message halfway into the newspaper but this time it read “stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250”, the unlucky people still didn’t notice that message.

Imagine how this translates into real life, where there are so many opportunities around you, but you don’t notice them.

Even if opportunities fall right into your lap, you won’t do anything with the opportunities because you just don’t have the right mindset.

The reason people who think they are unlucky miss so many opportunities

So why does this happen to unlucky people? What’s wrong with them?

There isn’t anything wrong with them per se but unlucky people tend to be more anxious and it’s been shown that anxiety stops you from noticing the unexpected.

Unlucky people also tend to focus too hard on looking for something else. This way they miss out on a lot of things.

For instance, they go to parties to look for the perfect partner and miss out on the opportunity to make good friends. Lucky people are more relaxed and open to a variety of different opportunities.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

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This blogpost was inspired by the research mentioned in Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage”.

 

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Summary: The Dip by Seth Godin

Everybody wants to make their ideas happen.

In the beginning, all ideas are exciting.

You’re inspired.

Commitment levels are at a peak.

You get all of this support from your friends and family.

It’s an incredibly rewarding stage to be in.

But then comes a more difficult time that seeps into whatever you might be doing.

Your motivation starts to wane, you’re not garnering the regular support that you used to. It’s not a particularly rewarding phase to be in because rewards are so much scarcer than before.

In the Dip, it can feel like you’re running in place and not really progressing. You might be putting in all of this effort but nothing seems to change. You’re stuck.

This stage in your career, in your relationship, in pursuing your dreams, in making your ideas happen is called the Dip.

“[The Dip doesn’t] spoon feed you with little bits of improvement every day.”

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How to get past the Dip

The Dip is harsh. The Dip is difficult. The Dip hurts.

It is a breeding ground for uncertainty. It fills you with paralysing self-doubt.

The dip is a bit like a sieve. It’s designed to filter out the less committed, less passionate, less tenacious; to filter out those who, as Seth says, “don’t have the guts or wherewithal to take their work to the next level.”

Not many will be able to persevere when the going gets tough. Not many have the resolve to get through the times of constant uncertainty and near pathological self-doubt.

Sheer grit and determination will ultimately be the deciding factors whether you’ll get past the Dip or not. And if you’re passionate about something, you will be able to withstand the wherewithal of the Dip. 

“Passion yields tolerance – tolerance for all of the frustration and hardship that comes your way as you seek to make your ideas happen.”

– Scott Belsky, Making Ideas Happen

The Dip creates scarcity

Not many get through the Dip, though. People self-disqualify.

As Scott Belsky writes in Making Ideas Happen, “perspiration is the best form of differentiation.”

But few manage to put in the perspiration to reach the next level in their work.

This is what causes scarcity. And if we draw on Brock’s (1968) commodity theory, we’ll learn that scarcity enhances value.

“Where does scarcity come from? It comes from the hurdles that the markets and our society set up. It comes from the fact that most competitors quit long before they’ve created something that makes it to the top.”

-Seth Godin, The Dip

The Dip will test you

For many, the Dip will be a gruelling, uncomfortable time where there are more costs involved in sustaining our efforts than there are benefits.

Sure, that might be the case for a short while – but then it gets better. A lot of people though can’t bear to keep on going in the face of such difficulty.

People start the drop off one by one and give up on their dreams. Only the person that has the resolve to see through this arduous period by managing to persevere in spite of the circumstances will be the last man standing.

“Successful people don’t just ride out the Dip. They don’t just buckle down and survive it. No, they lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go.

Just because you know you’re in the Dip doesn’t mean you have to live happily with it. Dips don’t last quite as long when you whittle at them.”

-Seth Godin, The Dip

Consider Richard Branson for a second.

He wanted his own airline. But to make that happen, he couldn’t have just bought a bunch of planes and let skilled pilots fly them and that was that.

Before a Virgin Atlantic plane could take off from a runway, Branson had to get through the hurdles that the murky terrain of various laws and regulations have to offer.

On top of that, he had to deal with brand disparaging remarks of the competition who was trying to ruin his reputation and force him out of business.

That was Branson’s Dip. But he had the resolve to get through that challenging period where just about everything was turning against him. And he benefited greatly.

“If you can get through the Dip, if you can keep going when the system is expecting you to stop, you will achieve extraordinary results. People who make it through the Dip are scarce indeed, so they generate more value.”

When to quit

If you manage to get past the Dip, extraordinary results await.

However, that might not always be the case. Which is why you should know when to quit.

A Dip, as Seth says, is temporary. But a cul-de-sac (French for dead-end) is permanent.

The distinguishing feature of being in a cul-de-sac with your project, your idea, your job, or whatever, is that no matter how much effort you will put in, no progress will be made.

You just can’t move forward. It’s a dead-end.

You don’t want to be in a position where you’re wasting valuable time and expending precious mental resources on a project that isn’t worth the time investment.

“Why not quit? (…) because day to day, it’s easier to stick with something that we’re used to, that doesn’t make too many waves, that doesn’t hurt.”

That is why you need to be cautious of when to quit. You need to know when to quit so that you can free yourself up to pursue other, potentially more worthwhile projects that will have a higher Return On Investment.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you want to get these posts delivered to your e-mail address as soon as they are published, you can sign up for my free weekly newsletter in the sidebar.

What Popcorn Can Teach Us About Habits

Is popcorn eating an automatic behaviour?

Can just sitting in a cinema and watching a movie subconsciously influence you to eat more popcorn?

These are some of the questions Neal and colleagues (2011) set out to answer with a series of experiments.

Can a setting subconsciously influence you to eat popcorn?

In an experiment by Neal et al. (2011), participants were required to watch movie trailers and music videos in either a cinema context or in a meeting room context.

They were given a bottle of water and a box of popcorn, which either had fresh popcorn or stale popcorn in it.

They viewed and rated the movie trailers/music videos for 15 minutes.

Afterwards, they were asked about how frequently they ate popcorn at the cinema to test their habit strength. They were also asked about their liking to the popcorn they had just eaten.

The participants were then divided into groups depending on popcorn eating habits: low, moderate, and strong.

What was found was that the participants who received the stale popcorn didn’t like it very much. Quite surprisingly however, the ‘moderate’ and ‘high’ groups still ate a lot of the stale popcorn, especially in a cinema context.

What about eating fresh popcorn?

What people say and what people do are two different things

You’d think that if someone said that they didn’t eat much popcorn then you’d have reason to believe them.

The key finding of this study however suggests that what people say and what they do are two different things.

It was found that even though participants had varying popcorn eating habits (i.e. low, moderate, high), they would all still eat very similar amounts of fresh popcorn in a cinema setting.

Those who had ‘low’ popcorn eating habits ate just as much popcorn in a cinema as the participants with ‘high’ popcorn eating habits.

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BreeAnn via Flickr

It goes to show that if you have an attitude to a behaviour, it doesn’t necessarily affect the way you behave towards it. You can say you don’t eat a lot of popcorn, but when you’re in a cinema you just can’t help it.

That’s because the concepts of  ‘cinema’ and ‘popcorn’ go hand-in-hand.

The link between the two is deeply buried in the unconscious parts of our minds.

Eating popcorn during a movie in a cinema is as firmly ingrained in our minds as it is in our culture.

It’s just something you do in a cinema. As a result, it’s a habit.

Habits are automatic and are practiced subconsciously.

And habits are reinforced by cues such as certain contexts, just like a cinema reinforces popcorn eating.

What can you do to disrupt a (popcorn eating) habit?

Get rid of the cue that triggers the habit

So what happened when the participants watched a movie in a meeting room setting? Did they eat a lot of popcorn?

Participants with ‘low’ popcorn eating habits didn’t eat very much whereas ‘moderate’ and ‘high’ popcorn eating participants didn’t eat that much more.

So we see that just by changing the setting of where the movie is watched, the amount of popcorn that was eaten drastically changed.

Simply put, the popcorn eating habit was disrupted by changing the cue that triggered the habit (i.e the cue being the cinema setting).

Disrupt the automaticity of the habit

Another study by Neal et al. (2011) found that you will eat less popcorn if you use your non-dominant hand to eat it.

This disrupts the automaticity of the habit and brings the behaviour under intentional control.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

 

 

Give Yourself Permission

People always wait to be coddled and told it’s OK bud, you can go do that thing.

You don’t need permission and you don’t need approval.

Go do that one thing you want. Nobody is going to stop you.

Enter and act with boldness and you’ll be fine.

Don’t wait to be given permission.

“If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness.

Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honours the timid.”

-Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power

Everyone else is looking for permission

Realise that everyone else is looking for guidance and for permission.

If you act like an authority, the funny thing is that they’ll come to you. Fake it till you make it. 

And you’ll be thinking to yourself – who gave me this power?

You did.

Because you had the audacity to take it and assume it.

And it comes around full circle, that the only people who got what they wanted were the ones that went out and got it.

Nothing will come to you so assume your position and don’t ask for permission.

Give yourself permission. 

“The world is malleable. The only people that have been able to change it are the one’s stood up and said: I’m gonna do it.

And if you listen to all those people that told you that you can’t – you’re going to be just like them. 

Why give up on your dreams listening to people that gave up on theirs?”

– Jay Samit, author of Disrupt You

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter.

How To Improve Your Willpower

In this third part of my series of articles on willpower, you will learn why willpower is like a muscle and useful tips on how to improve your willpower.

Willpower as a muscle

The analogy stems from the findings of recent research which show that willpower, similarly to a muscle, a) uses glucose for energy, and b) can be strengthened with practice.

This is what psychologist and leading researcher on the subject of willpower Roy Baumeister says about the analogy:

“Self-control resembles a muscle in more ways that one. Not only does it show fatigue, in the sense that it seems to lose power right after being used, it also gets stronger after exercise.”

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Willpower can be replenished by glucose

Matthew Gailliot of Florida State University and his colleagues (2007) conducted 9 studies that investigated a link between self-control and low glucose levels.

The experiment looked at studies that used various willpower-draining tasks such as:

  • Thought suppression tasks (e.g. trying not to think of a white bear),
  • Emotional regulation (e.g. trying not to laugh when watching a funny movie while simultaneously trying to remember to squeeze a handgrip every so often),
  • Tasks that required high levels of attention and concentration.

In all 9 studies, there were many commonalities. The conclusions of the experiment showed that:

  1. Self-control tasks resulted in glucose level drops,
  2. Self-control gets progressively worse as glucose levels continue to drop,
  3. Giving glucose drinks counteracted the above effects and replenished willpower.

As Dr. David Lewis, author of Impulse puts it:

“Just as a torch bulb glows fainter and fainter when battery runs down, so too, according to this widely held view, does our self-control become weaker as glucose levels fall.”

Gailliot and colleagues suggest that unlike any other cognitive process, self-control is unique in the sense that it is highly susceptible to changes in glucose levels.

And judging by the findings from their experiments, willpower can be replenished by glucose.

In one of those experiments, the researchers gave participants either a sweetened drink with glucose in it or a sweetened drink with Splenda (a sugar substitute that does not increase blood sugar).

It was found that some of the ego depletion effects were reduced with the glucose drink but not the second drink. This is interesting as diabetics are allowed to sweeten their tea with an artificial sweetener – it doesn’t cause fluctuations in blood glucose!

Willpower can be strengthened with practice

Following from the ‘willpower as a muscle’ analogy, self-control can be improved if it is trained.

As Dr. David Lewis astutely compares:

“In much the same way that building up one’s biceps involves using progressively heavier weights, so too does increasing resistance to ego depletion require practice with smaller temptations.”

A study conducted by Muraven and colleagues investigated this very assumption. The researchers asked 69 college students to spend 2-weeks doing one of three self-control exercises. For all of the exercises, the participants were asked to keep a diary of progress.

The self-control exercises included: a) monitoring and improving posture, b) improving mood and emotional states, and c) keeping a food diary.

After 2-weeks, the participants took part in a hand-grip exercise following a thought suppression task (e.g. trying not to think of a white bear while engaging in a written task). This exercise was designed to drain the willpower of the college students.

Interestingly, Muraven and colleagues found that those who had focused on monitoring and improving their posture or keeping a food diary were less susceptible to ego depletion.

That is, the hand-grip exercise didn’t drain their willpower as much it did in the control group (i.e. the group that had no resolution to strengthen their self-control.)

However, there was no effect for the participants that were required to regulate their mood. The researchers suggested that mood regulation isn’t something that can be easily done and might not be as dependent on self-control as initially thought.

How to improve willpower?

So far we’ve learnt that willpower can be strengthened with practice.

Erin Doland, editor-in-chief of a website that provides daily articles on home and office organisation, aptly summarises the key points from Roy Baumeister’s book Willpower on how to go about improving one’s self-control. Here’s Erin:

“For his book Willpower, psychologist Roy Baumeister analysed findings from hundreds of experiments to determine why some people can retain focus for hours, while others can’t.

He discovered that self-control is not genetic or fixed, but rather a skill one can develop and improve with practice. (…)

Baumeister suggests many strategies for increasing self-control. One of these strategies is to develop a seemingly unrelated habit, such as improving your posture or saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘yeah’ or flossing your teeth every night before bed.

This can strengthen your willpower in other areas of your life. (…) Even simple behaviours like regularly getting a good night’s sleep are shown to improve focus and self-control.”

– Erin Doland, Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

Simply put, willpower can be strengthened just by training it.

And because willpower is such as finite resource, we can’t rely on it all the time. That’s why we should try to automate certain behaviours so that they don’t require self-control. We need to build habits so that we can devote our willpower to something else.

Here’s Erin once again:

“Additionally, once the new habit is ingrained and can be completed without much effort or thought, that energy can then be turned to other activities requiring more self-control.

Tasks done on autopilot don’t use up our stockpile of energy like tasks that have to be consciously completed.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

In case you missed the first two articles, here they are:
What You Need To Know About Willpower
– What Depletes Your Willpower And What You Can Do About It

 

 

Why Pregnant Women Change Their Mind

Ever wondered why people change their mind in key moments?

Why they change their plans?

Why they behave in contradiction to what they say?

To answer these questions, Christensen-Szalanski (1984) conducted a study on pregnant women and their decisions regarding the use of pain relief (i.e. anaesthesia) during labor.

In the study, the expectant women were asked ahead of time whether they would prefer to deliver the child with or without anaesthesia.

When presented with these two future outcomes, many women refused the option of giving birth with pain relief.

For the soon-to-be mothers, this was a rational choice. It was the decision that had a greater overall value to them.

During labor however, the expectant women went against their past decision and opted to give birth with anaesthesia anyway.

Why did these women suddenly change their minds?

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Ola Pemberton via Flickr

Why we make plans but change them later

The concept of delay discounting best explains why the pregnant women changed their preferences.

Delay discounting is the process of devaluing future outcomes (e.g. Green and Myerson, 2004). In essence, it is the overvaluing of smaller-sooner rewards (i.e. immediate gratification) at the expense of larger-later rewards (i.e. delayed gratification).

For instance, smokers will enjoy a cigarette because it brings them a lot of pleasure in the moment. However, they are giving in to the immediate gratification of smoking while discounting the value of a larger-later reward which is long-term health.

In the study, the women wanted to give birth to their child without any pain relief when asked ahead of time.

However, the appeal and value of pain relief was suddenly much greater when the women were experiencing the excruciating pain of childbirth than it was when making the decision weeks or months earlier.

In the moment of childbirth, it just didn’t make sense to tough it out and suffer so much when all the pregnant women had to do to make the pain go away was ask the doctor for some anaesthesia.

They experienced immense pain so they gave in to the immediate gratification of their visceral emotions and asked for some pain relief. Problem solved.

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That’s why the women made what is called a present-biased choice, which means that the value of the pain relief option was suddenly highest in the present moment.

Ahead of time though, the women underestimated the value of pain relief by failing to gauge how painful the experience of active childbirth tends to be.

Though they may have been experiencing huge levels of pain when giving birth, in the grander scheme of things the women sacrificed a larger-later reward (i.e. childbirth without anaesthesia) for a smaller-sooner reward (i.e. pain relief).

This preference reversal is in line with a concept called time inconsistency. That is, the preference between two options changed simply because of the passing of time (Angner, 2012).

Interestingly, the preference reversal was observed in first-time mother’s as well as mother’s that had experienced childbirth pain in the past.

The expectant women who had given birth already once before still did not account for their present bias and lacked awareness of their discounting tendencies.

In effect, they mistakenly assumed that their initial decision would remain unchanged regardless of the passing of time and shift in circumstances.

The study demonstrated how short-term thinking can prevail in making a decision for an outcome that has a greater present value, simultaneously reversing the rational decision that was made in one’s long-term best interest beforehand.

Closing Thoughts

It’s not just pregnant women who reverse their preferences.

It’s everybody, man and woman. It’s just human nature.

But if we really care to stick to our initial decisions, we can help ourselves out and use what are called commitment devices. You can read more about those here.

In the case of the pregnant women mentioned earlier, one idea for a commitment device would’ve been to tell the doctors to ignore the women’s requests for pain relief. An even more extreme idea would be to get rid of all anaesthesia in the hospital…(disclaimer: I am not suggesting this as a viable solution).

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you want to get these posts delivered to your e-mail address as soon as they are published, you can sign up for my free weekly newsletter in the sidebar.

 

 

What Depletes Your Willpower And What You Can Do About It

Apart from time spent resisting temptation and just getting tired from a full day’s work – what else should you know of that will deplete your willpower? IMG_4207.JPG

Lack of sleep

Your willpower may dwindle as the day progresses, but you can enjoy peak willpower levels the moment you wake up every morning.

Your mind is fully rested and your willpower levels are replenished after a goodnight’s sleep.

But if you fail to rest up properly during the night, not only will your focus and concentration suffer, but your willpower and ability to make good decisions will suffer, too.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Willpower Instinct, advocates the importance of getting a good night’s rest:

“Sleep deprivation (even just getting less than six hours a night) is a kind of chronic stress that impairs how the body and brain use energy.

The prefrontal cortex is especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response.

Unchecked, the brain overreacts to ordinary, everyday stress and temptations. Studies show that the effects of sleep deprivation on your brain are equivalent to being a little bit drunk!”

Luckily, poor self-control caused by sleep deprivation can be easily reversed just by getting more sleep. Here’s Kelly:

“The good news is any step toward more or better quality rest can be a real boost to self-control. When the sleep-deprived catch a better night’s sleep, their brain scans no longer show signs of prefrontal cortex impairment.”

Staying up late

At the very end of your day, your willpower will surely be running on empty. And instead of going to sleep to rest to regain your energy, you will have to eat food to sustain your inner night owl.

What food might that be? Chances are you’ll eat whatever your heart desires.

After a full day’s worth of making decisions, your mind is exhausted. Your capacity for self-control is very low.

It would be in your best interest to try to avoid making big decisions late in the evening.

Here’s Roy Baumeister on our evening willpower levels:

“Diets are broken in the evening, not the morning. The majority of impulsive crimes are committed after 11: 00 p.m. Lapses in drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual misbehavior, gambling excesses, and the like tend to come about late in the day.”

Decisions

Making decisions

In the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz emphasises that we live in an world that is abound with choice.

What types of jeans to wear, what type of beer to drink, what type of restaurant to eat in…the list is endless.

He claims that this abundance in choice can in reality be more paralysing than liberating.

Because of so much choice out there, we really need to pick our (choice) battles. That is, we need to be selective in our decision-making.

Here’s Barry:

“We must learn to be selective in exercising our choices. We must decide, individually when choice really matters and focus our energies there, even if it means letting many other opportunities pass us by. The choice of when to be a chooser may be the most important choice we have to make.”

There is an abundance of choice in the world but your willpower is limited.

The odds are stacked against you and that’s why you should be selective in your decision-making.

Thinking about making decisions

Interestingly enough, ego depletion doesn’t only happen due to active decision-making.

In fact, research suggests that we can drain our own willpower just by watching or imagining others making decisions.

In an experiment by Vohs and Faber (2007), participants were required to put themselves in the shoes of fictional waiters who were forbidden to eat while working in a gourmet food restaurant.

The participants had to exercise self-control by merely imagining being a waiter and thinking of the various difficulties one might have when trying to resist eating food on the job.

Later, the participants were shown pictures of watches, cars, and other appliances, and were asked to rate how much money would they be willing to pay for them.

It was found that this imagining of being in the shoes of a waiter led the participants to be willing to spend more on these goods compared to the control group (i.e. the group that didn’t imagine being a waiter).

Because of this, they had much less self-control that would stop them from spending more money on certain items later on.

The main lesson from this piece of research is to conserve willpower and use it wisely.

After all, if self-control is exercised on one thing, then you’ll be less likely to exercise self-control successfully on another thing.

In his book Impulse: why we do what we do without knowing why we do it, Dr. David Lewis illustrates this point nicely:

“Refrain from having a fight with your partner before leaving for work and you may find it harder to control your irritation with a colleague later in the day.

Refuse a second helping of strawberry cheesecake at lunch and you may find it far harder to resist a high-calorie snack in the afternoon. (…)

This resource is easily exhausted and, once depleted, the likelihood of self-control failure increases. Ego depletion may occur, for example, in people who have been trying to stop thinking about food all day or coping with a stigmatised social identity. (…)

The more we have to employ self-control in one area of life the less there is available for use in another.”

Low blood sugar

It might just make up 2% of our body mass, but the brain consumes 75% of all our blood glucose. Naturally, whenever we experience low blood sugar, our brain is being starved of very fuel it needs to function properly.

Ever heard of the term ‘hangry’? It stands for hungry when angry. The irritability that you experience when hungry is your brain’s way of telling you that it’s struggling to function optimally.

Your more rational part of the brain starts to shut down and any sense of self-control goes out the window.

As Dr. David Lewis puts it:

“Low blood glucose has been associated with such problems as lack of self-control, aggression, criminality, poor emotional control, impulsivity, difficulties in coping with stress and giving up smoking.”

You can learn more about this trend of research in next week’s post (sign up for an update so you don’t miss it).

Poor nutrition

What you eat and how you nourish yourself also influences your willpower.

Not only should we eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar levels, but we should focus on eating food that is healthy and nutritious.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Willpower Instinct, mentions the importance of diet:

“Nutrition comes into play because it also influences how available energy is for the brain. Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution.”

Stress

In an earlier post on cravings, I mention a useful conceptualisation of our brain and how we are governed by two systems: the ‘hot’ system and the ‘cool’ system (for more on that, click here).

What stress does is it accentuates the ‘hot’ system and attenuates the ‘cool’ system. That’s why we struggle to resist temptations and fail to exercise self-control when under stress.

Here’s Kelly:

“The fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for wise decision-making.

Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes, but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind.”

In a nutshell

What depletes your willpower

  • Lack of sleep and staying up late
  • Making decisions and thinking of making decisions
  • Low blood sugar (being hungry)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress

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More posts on willpower:
What You Need To Know About Willpower
How to Improve Your Willpower