by Angela Reed-Fox
You’ll end the day with less willpower than you started with. This is a result that is frequently replicated in psychological research. It seems that willpower is like a muscle that gets tired the more we use it throughout the day.
We seem to start the day with a full tank, and as the day wears on we’re making choices as we go along, which sees our willpower sinking gradually over time. If you read the short post on willpower anatomy here, you’ll recognise that it takes energy for the prefrontal cortex to be continually overriding and cajoling the primitive brain into making ‘grown up’ decisions and delaying gratification. Trying to control your emotions, resist temptations, and make good decisions are all work for your prefrontal cortex.
Clearly – if something’s available, then it’s an option. And then it’s your choice whether you resist temptation or not. If you’re constantly coming up against temptation, it makes resisting the next time even harder.
Interestingly, being tempted in one area can make you succumb in another area. That might seem odd – but if we look at what happens in our brain when we’re tempted by something and seeking gratification our brain releases dopamine. When there’s dopamine around, we’re more keen on instant gratification (however it comes) and therefore more likely to give in to any kind of temptation.
Both unsupportive peers and self-criticism can increase feelings of negativity, guilt and shame. This negative mindset doesn’t support us to make the right decisions. Quite the reverse – studies show that not only are we more likely to give in to temptation when we are not feeling good about ourselves, but also when we do give in to temptation we're likely to indulge more than if we gave in to temptation while feeling good about ourselves.
When we feel good about ourselves, we feel stronger. We’re less likely to give in to temptation - and if we do, we’re less likely to overindulge. We’ve discussed before the different reasons we eat (please see post here), and treats and rewards are one of the ways we justify eating what we otherwise might not. When our system is brimming with dopamine, we’re more likely to give in to temptations that we might be able to resist at another time. Advertisers and supermarkets recognise this – tempting foods are put directly in your eyeline. If you reject temptation the first time, you might not reject it again in the next aisle!
what can you do?