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Willpower Is Not a Limited Resource

Ego depletion

The theory of 'ego depletion' refers to the idea that there is a connection between willpower and one's limited reserve of mental energy. 

However, evidence has been brought to support an opposite point of view, according to which ego depletion is caused most likely by self-defeating thoughts, rather than biological limitations.

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Willpower Is Not a Limited Resource

Willpower Is Not a Limited Resource

https://forge.medium.com/this-is-what-most-people-get-wrong-about-willpower-72deab39fa59

forge.medium.com

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Key Ideas

Ego depletion

The theory of 'ego depletion' refers to the idea that there is a connection between willpower and one's limited reserve of mental energy. 

However, evidence has been brought to support an opposite point of view, according to which ego depletion is caused most likely by self-defeating thoughts, rather than biological limitations.

A self-defeating state of mind

Having a self-defeating state of mind makes one believe that he or she is not able to achieve certain goals, by providing a logical reason to give up.

Willpower as emotion

According to the psychology professor Michael Inzlicht, the individual is able to control his or her willpower, taking into account current feelings and events. 

This is perceived as a decision-making tool that enables its owner to have full disposal of the mental energy and, therefore, to accomplish even the most challenging tasks.

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Ego Depletion
Ego Depletion

Ego depletion happens when people use up their available willpower on one task.

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Self Control

People having a high level of self-control experience better relationships and have higher achievement levels. Lack of self-control is associated with social conflict and low-grade academic performance.

Example: While following a diet regime, a person spends a lot of willpower the whole day trying to avoid junk food, but by the end of the day, all his mental energy has been exhausted, and there is no self-control left, resulting in snacking on unhealthy food.

Causes of Ego Depletion

Many emotional and physical factors contribute to ego depletion, like:

  • Emotional distress
  • Struggling to learn something new
  • Mental fatigue due to anxiety
  • Low levels of blood sugar
  • Too much choice
  • Conflicting beliefs and actions (cognitive dissonance)
  • Heart Rate
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Being young and immature.

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The Ego-Depletion Myth

One of the most popular folk psychology may be the belief that self-control is somehow "spent."

The idea received support in the late 1990s and has been cited over three thousand times...

The ego-depletion study error

A recent study that involved over 2,000 participants attempted to reproduce the experiment that led to the ego-depletion theory but found no evidence of ego depletion.

Scholars looked into a 2010 meta-analysis of nearly 200 experiments and discovered that the meta-analysis showed a "publication bias" in which studies that produced contradictory evidence were not included.

Looking at willpower differently

The idea of ego depletion may have caught on because it satisfies a need to justify why we sometimes do things we know we shouldn't.

Instead of looking for an excuse, we should perhaps accept that we are fragile, distractible beings and cut ourselves some slack. Maybe our waning energy and wandering minds are trying to tell us something.

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Staying in shape is mostly about program compliance.

It’s not about having the best fitness program, but about having one that’s good enough, eating less junk food and making sure you...

Off limits foods

Successful dieters usually declare certain foods to be completely out of bounds, or allowed only during occasional designated cheat meals, rather than expecting themselves to eat everything in moderation.

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It might seem like a simple matter of self-control. But it turns out that people with high self-control may not necessarily be better at resisting temptation. They might just experience it less often in the first place.

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