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Self-control – how does that go with lemonade?

Imagine the following: You are working on a task that requires all your concentration and demands. You will eventually complete the task with a high degree of self-control. Afterwards you should master a similarly demanding task – do you still have the necessary strength? Or do you feel depleted?

Ego Depletion

When we are depleted, our self-regulatory resources decrease. To master a second task successfully becomes much more difficult if it also demands a high level of self-control from us [1-3]. Psychologists call this effect ego depletion.

Self-control is the ‚ability to change one’s behaviour, especially to reconcile it with […] ideals, values, morals and social expectations and to support the pursuit of long-term goals‘ [1].

Not only mentally demanding tasks lead us to consume resources, but also, if we resist beloved sweets [4] or make many decisions [1]. Our resources are sufficient to cope with one of these challenges, are significantly reduced for subsequent demands where we have to control ourselves strongly [1,2]. As a consequence we become more prone to substance abuse or eating disorders [5] and our blood sugar levels drop [6].

Strengthen self-control and prevent ego depletion

There are quick and easy ways to strengthen our self-control and counteract self exhaustion. Probably the simplest tip: drink lemonade. This increases our blood sugar level and gives us the strength to cope with other tasks [6].

Humour, laughter [7], positive emotions and a positive mood [8] as well as a straight posture and the use of the non-dominant hand when performing simple activities (brushing teeth, combing hair, etc.) contribute to an increase in self-control [1].

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the day – after sufficient and restful sleep – we show less loss of self-control and less exhaustion after mentally strenuous tasks. In the course of the day self-control seems to decrease [9].

However, studies suggest we can exercise self-control despite ego depletion, namely in the case of monetary reinforcement of our behavior and performance [10]. 

There are not only external factors that influence our self-control. To reduce the ego depletion effect, it is also crucial to what extent we ourselves believe that our willpower and self-regulating resources are unlimited [11].

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[1] Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The Strenghts Model of Self-Control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 351–355. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00534.x

[2] Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1994). Losing control: How and why people fail at self regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. DOI:10.1016/0272-7358(95)90149-3

[3] Inzlicht, M., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2012). What is ego depletion? Toward a mechanistic revision oft he resource model of self-control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 450–463. DOI: 10.1177/1745691612454134

[4] Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252–1265. DOI:10.1037//0022-3514.74.5.1252

[5] Tangney, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Boone, A. L. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72, 271–322. DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-3506.2004.00263.x

[6] Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., & Tice, D. M. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325–336. DOI:10.1037/0022-3514.92.2.325

[7] Tice, D. M., Baumeister, R. F., Shmueli, D., & Muraven, M. (2007). Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following ego depletion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 379–384. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2006.05.007

[8] Tice, D. M., Dale, K. P., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Replenishing the self: Positive emotions offset the effects of ego depletion. Manuscript in preparation, Case Western Reserve University.

[9] Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Ego depletion and self-control failure: An energy model of the self’s executive function. Self and Identity, 1, 129–136. DOI:10.1080/152988602317319302

[10] Muraven, M., & Slessareva, E. (2003). Mechanisms of self-control failure: Motivation and limited resources. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 894–906. DOI: 10.1177/0146167203029007008

[11] Job, V., Dweck, C., & Walton, G. (2010). Ego depletion: Is it all in your head? Implicit theories about willpower affect self-regulation. Psychological Science, 21, 1686–1693. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610384745

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