Ego Depletion

excerpts from Is It Hard for You to Say No to Sweets and Temptation? You May Be Suffering From "Ego Depletion"
By David McRaney
Alternet.org June 26, 2012

based on the book:

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
Kelly McGonigal (Author)

All brain functions require fuel, but the executive functions seem to require the most. By being aware of the mechanism, we can ration more wisely - save our willpower for the important battles. And learn to expend less fuel on the battles we already know how to fight. If eating right becomes a habit, it becomes less taxing to the reserves of self-control. Vince Lombardi said "fatigue makes cowards of us all." Studies show that when low on glucose, those executive functions suffer, and the result is a state of mind called ego depletion. That mental state harkens back to the way Freud and his contemporaries saw the psyche, as a battle between dumb primal desires and the contemplative self. The early psychologists would have said when your ego is weak, your id runs amok. We now know it may just be your prefrontal cortex weakened by a lack of glucose.

Stay fresh. Take breaks. Get some sleep. And until we understand just what ego depletion really is, don’t make important decisions on an empty stomach.

Taking control of the human mind includes making choices, avoiding temptation.

1. Feeling low - you are more inclined to eat cookies to salve your hurting ego.
2. Resisting temptation seems to have produced a psychic cost.

The results suggested it wasn’t just restraint in the face of desire that could deplete your ego, but any choice at all. The subjects who didn’t have to choose a topic were able to allow their volition to take a break, and their ego energy reserves remained intact.

Strengthen your reserves. Exercise the reserves. Be aware of times you have to fight.

  • contacting prospective clients or prospective employers
  • going to the gym
  • eating sensibly

The results suggested that focused concentration later made people less eager to make active choices.

Baumeister’s research suggests once you take the helm every act of volition diminishes the next. It is as if the mind is a terribly designed airplane. As long as the plane flies in a straight line, it burns very little fuel, but as soon as the pilot takes over in any way, to dive or bank or climb, the plane burns fuel at an alarming rate making it more difficult to steer in the future.

Ego depletion can go both ways. Getting along with others requires effort, and thus much of what we call prosocial behavior involves the sort of things that deplete the ego. The results of the social exclusion study suggest that when you’ve been rejected by society it’s as if somewhere deep inside you ask, “Why keep regulating my behavior if no one cares what I do?”

You feel an intense, deep pain when rejected socially.
Most of what you know others will consider socially unacceptable are behaviors that would demonstrate selfishness.
People who are unreliable, who don’t pitch in, or share, or consider the feelings of others get pushed to the fringe.
Stealing, raping, murdering, fraud and so on harm others while sating some selfish desire of an individual.
Being part of society means accepting a bargain between you and others. If you will self-regulate and not be selfish then you get to stay and enjoy the rewards of having a circle of friends and society as a whole.
The researchers in the “no one chose you” study proposed that since self-regulation is required to be prosocial, you expect some sort of reward for regulating your behavior. People in the unwanted group felt the sting of ostracism, and that reframed their self-regulation as being wasteful. It was as if they thought, “Why play by the rules if no one cares?” It poked a hole in their willpower fuel tanks, and when they sat in front of the cookies they couldn’t control their impulses as well as the others.

They found that right after breakfast and lunch, your chances of getting paroled were at their highest. On average, the judges granted parole to around 60 percent of prisoners right after the judge had eaten a meal. The rate of approval crept down after that. Right before a meal, the judges granted parole to about 20 percent of those appearing before them. The less glucose in judges’ bodies, the less willing they were to make the active choice of setting a person free and accepting the consequences and the more likely they were to go with the passive choice to put the fate of the prisoner off until a future date.

[Perhaps this can apply to you. When you make phone calls trying to line up a meeting with a potential client, call right after lunch.]

It seems as though you are more able to exert willpower and control, to make decisions and suppress naughtiness by eating and drinking beforehand. [So allow yourself some comfort food before an interview.]



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