Used up self-control

There has been some back and forth on the subject of whether self-control is a limited resource. Not too surprisingly, marketing researchers are interested in this subject as well as other psychologists and neuro-scientists. They will, after all, be working on how to overcome the self-control that limits spending. William Hedgcock has just published a paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology on self-control. According to a University of Iowa press release:

“The reason that people have diminished self-control after first exerting self-control is not really well understood, so we just thought the MRI might be a good way to get some information about why this happens to people and it might help us try to prevent it in the future. What we’re seeing with the MRI is that a certain part of the brain has less activity. Actually, specifically what we’re studying is blood flow, but there’s a pretty good link between blood flow and neurons firing so we think that part of the brain is less active when people fail to exert self-control.” Once that well of self-control has been tapped dry, Hedgcock says there seems to be just one way to fill it up again. “For the most part, the only thing we know that can help with that is just time. If you take a break and you don’t have to exert self-control, it will replentish that resource.”

I think there are several ways to deal with depleted self-control: leave, just walk away from temptation with your last little drop of self-control; don’t tempt yourself (like the recovering addict) to prove you have self-control; use firm habits to reduce the need for decisions ‘on the spot’ that requiring self-control; discover an great interest in something else; take a nap.

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