Self-control is finite.
The act of self-control is like pumping out reps on any exercise, sooner or later you can’t do any more.
Those of you relying on willpower or self-control, or some other sort of self-discipline are in for a treat, especially if you’re wondered why it let you down in your weight loss pursuits.
Last decade, researchers put a two groups of hungry people into one room.
People that were instructed not to eat for at least 3 hours prior to showing up for the experiment.
One group of people were instructed to eat some delicious chocolate chip cookies from one bowl.
The other group of people were instructed to eat some even more delicious radishes from another bowl.
Sweet! I know…
You can imagine being stuck in a room with a bunch of people eating delicious chocolate chip cookies, while I’ve been instructed to eat the radishes and the radishes only.
Not only that, radishes are the near opposite of chocolate chip cookies (unless you add a little butter and salt…), so it’s not like the ladies and gentlemen eating the chocolate chip cookies are thinking, “wish I had me some radishes right about now…”
One might think that there was a lot of temptation to just mozy on over to the chocolate chip cookies and get in on the action, but no go.
All the people in all the groups did exactly as instructed, and no one deviated from the plan.
This would be surprising in and of itself, but the second part is where it all starts to get interesting…
For shits and giggles, the researchers then assigned a series of insolvable problems and timed how long (on average) it took for people from each group to give up solving what were essentially unsolvable problems anyway.
This is the best part!
The chocolate chip group spent nineteen minutes and made thirty-four attempts to solve the unsolvable.
The radish group spent less than half the amount of time of only eight minutes and attempted only nineteen solutions of the same problems.
This study, and a few others like it show pretty plainly that will-power, or more important self control is a lot like a muscle and you’re flexing it all the time.
You may be able to train it sure, make it stronger, but sooner or later it will still get tired, so the more you have to fight off the harder it is to overcome a big change in your diet.
Too Much Stress = less self-control to deal with eating the way you know how.
Too Much Junky Food in the House = even less self-control for your eating habits.
Out with Friends at a Pub that only serves crappy fried food = you betcha! – less self-control for your eating habits.
The more you compound these issues on one another the more difficult self-control becomes. The more you try to change at one time, the more difficult it becomes.
Have you checked your pantry lately? Find easier ways of controlling your environment by keeping healthy food on hand and junk food out of sight.
Did you check in with your friends to if you were drinking the same thing as last night?
Do you find ways to de-stress? Hint, hint, exercise…
Check for anything in these 7 dimensions, for triggers that may be limiting your ability to resist temptation.
Use imagery instead of relying on willpower.
The best way to fight temptation, or a lack of self-control, is to eliminate as much of it from your current situation, as you possibly can. The fewer decisions you have to make in a day, the more automatic your skills become, the less likely you are to suffer from ego-depletion and potentially make bad decisions.
We reach for pizza, cake and muffins when we’re tired; Also tired of making decisions.
Oh and as always, change one thing at a time.
Update August 2012:
Dan Ariely, a psychology and behavioral economy professor at Duke University, wrote a piece that further explains this post.
I highly recommend that you read it here.