Ever notice how you can resist chocolate far more easily in the morning than at night…
I can often push myself to exercise, meditate, eat well, sit down to write and pretty much overcome most forms of resistance in the early part of the day. But, as the day progresses, especially if it’s a brain-engaging day…ugh.
I literally feel like I burn through my willpower…
And, it turns out, there’s a bit of science (beyond serotonin re-uptake) to back this feeling up. A recent study by Kathleen Martin Ginis, Associate Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University confirms what a number of other studies have pointed to.
Self-control or willpower is a finite resource.
Like the water at the bottom of a well, you can use it up. And, once you do, you’ve got to let the well refill to give you more to draw upon.
The more you use your brain to engage in rigorous processing and other tasks that require a degree of self-control, the closer you get to the bottom of your well. The less able you are to resist the siren song of the couch, the TV and that big, fat hunk of grandma’s seven-layer chocolate cake.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And, according to the McMaster study, with practice and planning, you can actually increase the size of the willpower reservoir, giving you more to draw upon in future bouts.
Strategies to refill your willpower well include:
- Challenge & Build – Regularly challenge yourself to do something you don’t want to do or resist some urge. Over time, this can help increase your capacity for self-control. It’s like raising the max-fill line for the water in your well.
- Music – According to Martin Ginis, things like listening to music help refill the willpower tank.
- Daily Practices – And, though I haven’t found the research to back it up yet, I’d say it’s a safe bet the first two strategies from our Visionary Tactics series—building-in space, exercise and attentional training—help refill the well, too.
Beyond increasing your capacity for self-control or refilling your willpower well, a few other strategies can go a long way toward making sure you do the things you’d be tempted to blow off.
- Front-load – If you know your day will demand a lot of self-control, schedule the tasks you’re trying to “not blow off” earlier in the day, before all the other activities leave your willpower reserves depleted.
- Schedule – Schedule your workout or other higher-priority activities in advance and build other plans around them. Having that structure makes you more likely to honor the commitment, even if your willpower is waning.
- External Willpower – Accountability partners are another great strategy.
So, I’m wondering, has anyone else noticed this effect in your daily life?
Have you experienced a change in self-control after a rigorous mental task or a series of other activities that require a degree of self-control?
Share YOUR experiences, thoughts and ideas in the comments.
And, hey, if you’ve enjoyed this post, why not share it…
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