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• Tuesday, December 06th, 2016

Self-Control is Limited
Ever tried to turn over a new leaf? Ever started a health kick, or made a conscious effort to be more productive at work, and then been unable to make the habits stick? maybe you’re doing too much.

Changing behaviours takes self control. And self control is a limited resource. The more we use it, the more we run out of it.

Take some typical self-control research:

Two groups of people watched emotional movies for one hour. One group had to exert extreme self-control – they had to watch the movie with no reactions whatsoever. Complete poker face. The second group didn’t have to exhibit any self-control at all. They could cry, wince, scream or yell at the movie screen.

After watching the movie, the two groups ran on a treadmill at a set effort.

What do you think happened?

The extreme self-control group gave up pretty quickly. They depleted all their self-control while watching the movie – trying not to react, trying not to move. Fighting all their instincts to act out on their emotional reactions. But the group that didn’t exhibit any self-control during the movie, pushed through and ran for a lot longer. Because they hadn’t used any self-control while watching the movie, they were able to use it to keep running and not give up.

The same phenomenon happens to us when we are trying to change too many behaviours at once. If I use all my self-control resisting bad food during the day, chances are that I won’t have any left to make myself go to the gym after work. If I use all my self-control avoiding procrastination and paying attention in meetings, then I might have less left in the afternoon to avoid distractions.

Self-control is like a skill or a muscle. The more we use it, the better we get at it. But if we use it too much at once, it gets depleted. Instead of committing to too many things, try to change one thing at a time. Once this becomes a habit, then add another behaviour and then another.

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