How do you feel after a long and busy day? You may feel the energy start to decrease within you and you just want to rest without doing anything at all. Sometimes people feel tremendously drained by something known in psychology as ego depletion.
Ego depletion occurs when people use willpower to do a task. As a result, they are unable to exercise the same level of self-control in later tasks, often unrelated to the initial task. Willpower is a limited resource. The idea behind this theory is that willpower is like a muscle in that it can become stronger and fatigued. For example, if you exhaust yourself doing sprints, you will be less able to perform other physical tasks.
Self-control is important. Having good self-control is beneficial in a number of ways. People with high levels of self-control tend to have better relationships and higher levels of performance. Those who lack self-control, on the other hand, are more likely to experience social conflict and poor academic performance.
How does it work?
People can be faced with natural urges, desires, and tendencies that demand satisfaction. When you give in to such feelings you are not always realistic, or it is not socially accepted, or it may not be healthy to do so. To meet these challenges, people must exercise self-control to regulate their actions. Very often, we need to delay the gratification of these impulses until a more appropriate time and place.
Such self-management requires great mental effort, both cognitive and emotional. Some of these efforts require less willpower, while others require much more. Even relatively minor acts of self-control can take their toll.
There are many examples in everyday life of ego depletion and how this can affect people’s behaviors. What could happen if you find yourself with little self-control due to ego depletion?
Give up on goals
Imagine you want to diet to lose weight. This is one of the most obvious examples of how ego depletion can sabotage your willpower. You can diligently spend all day on a strict diet, but when night comes, after the exhaustion of all day, your ego has weakened and you no longer have the self-control to follow the diet.
Because a lot of mental energy has been expended throughout the day resisting the urge to indulge, a state of ego depletion is reached at dinner time. When this happens, instead of eating healthy at night as you had planned, you order takeout at your favorite fast food restaurant or spend the afternoon watching TV and eating chocolate or chips.
Less likely to help others
Ego depletion has also been shown to influence what is known as prosocial behavior or social interactions designed to help others. When people reflect on their own behaviors, they sometimes experience feelings of guilt. It is these feelings of guilt that sometimes lead people to behave in a prosocial way.
The studies have shown that people who are out of ego experience less guilt. In studies in which people were induced into a state of ego depletion, these participants were less likely to experience feelings of guilt and therefore less likely to engage in prosocial actions.
There are also other effects of ego depletion such as:
- Not taking good care of your health
- Poor decision making
- Lower performance in physical or academic handicaps
- Substance use or abuse
Improve your motivation
Ego depletion can have a serious impact on motivation, success, and performance. So what can you do to minimize the effects of this drain on willpower and self-control? These are the keys:
- Improve your mood
- Change the perspective of your life
- Have a positive thought
- Think about what really matters to you
- Work on self-control and self-esteem
- Put aside the toxic in your life