Tag Archives: self-control

Blood Sugar and the Depletion of Self-Control

Self-control is a finite resource, goes the ego depletion theory, and through various means can be “used-up”. What, exactly, depletes and builds this resource isn’t fully known but a number of studies have shown some intriguing correlations with blood glucose level (explaining, possibly, the cookie self-control study).

The abstract of a study by Roy Baumeister summarises the findings nicely, showing clearly the possible importance of keeping a moderate blood sugar in order to maintain self-control:

Past research indicates that self-control relies on some sort of limited energy source. This review suggests that blood glucose is one important part of the energy source of self-control. Acts of self-control deplete relatively large amounts of glucose. Self-control failures are more likely when glucose is low or cannot be mobilized effectively to the brain (i.e., when insulin is low or insensitive). Restoring glucose to a sufficient level typically improves self-control. Numerous self-control behaviors fit this pattern, including controlling attention, regulating emotions, quitting smoking, coping with stress, resisting impulsivity, and refraining from criminal and aggressive behavior. Alcohol reduces glucose throughout the brain and body and likewise impairs many forms of self-control. Furthermore, self-control failure is most likely during times of the day when glucose is used least effectively. Self-control thus appears highly susceptible to glucose. Self-control benefits numerous social and interpersonal processes. Glucose might therefore be related to a broad range of social behavior.

via Hacker News

Self Affirmations Boost Self-Control

I’ve written before on positive self-affirmations and how they are not of much use, but now it seems that if we are succumbing to temptation and we want to exercise self-control but are finding it difficult to do so, we should recite positive self-affirmations to help us resist.

A novel experiment has now shown that positive self-affirmations can help us all by boosting our self-control when it declines.

Self-control can be hard to maintain, as most of us know to our cost. One study has found that exercising self-control is such hard work, it measurably depletes our glucose levels. […]

To find out [if self-affirmation could help us exercise self-control] participants were asked to carry out a task that required self-control: they had to write a story but without using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’. Participants then wrote about their core values, e.g. their relationship with their family, their creativity or their aesthetic preferences, whatever they felt was important to them.

Finally they were given a classic test of self-control: submerging their hand in a bucket of icy cold water. […]

This group was compared with another that was allowed to use all the letters of the alphabet when writing their story, so didn’t have to exercise their self-control to the same degree. […]

Participants who could use any letters managed to hold their hands underwater for almost 80 seconds, on average. However those who had written the stories without the ‘a’s and ‘n’s only managed 27 seconds. […]

However in the group that had to write the tricky story, then self-affirmed their core values, self-control did recover. They managed to hold their hands underwater for an average of 61 seconds. So it seems that self-affirmation can refuel depleted self-control.

Note that self-affirmation didn’t improve self-control for people who completed the easy-peasy story. In other words the self-affirmation trick only works if you’ve already taken a hit to your self-control.

The article also notes that self-control has been linked to “all sorts of positive outcomes in life, like satisfying relationships and academic achievement” while the lack of self-control has been linked with “interpersonal conflict and underachievement”.

via Mind Hacks

Self-Esteem vs Self-Discipline in Children

Self-esteem, we are told, is a great virtue to foster in a child, hence the many school programs to instill it in young children and the self-help experts extolling its benefits to all who will listen.

This is folly, says psychologist Angela Duckworth in this interview where she discusses the futility of attempting to enhance self-esteem in children, and why self-discipline is more important.

When kids increase in self-control, their grades go up later. But when kids increase their self-esteem, there is no effect on their grades. The bottom line is […] that self-control is more important than self-esteem in determining achievement. […] Self-esteem should be earned. […] It’s a good thing for kids to lose sometimes. They see what it’s like to get up again. They realize it’s not the end of the world.

via Frontal Cortex