Monday “Did you know…?” It’s a muscle
Whether “ego depletion” or “self-control as an exhaustive resource” or simply “giving in”…the concept is important re: fitness, wellness.
Why is self-control so hard? Because it’s physically exhausting, it’s a limited resource…like muscle power, it dwindles.
Baumeister studies with radishes and chocolate. Group A was told to eat the chocolates but not the radishes (low self-control needed). Group B was told to eat the radishes but not the chocolate (high self-control needed). On later puzzle tasks, Group B (who exerted more self-control) persisted less. Or see reviews here, and here
Now, possibly, it explains why after a long day we totally gorge through the cupboards and fridge. Or why some days at CF we just can’t tough out the warm up, 30 secs, or a 400m run.
So what might be going on? Maybe some tension between our older emotional brain and the newer rational brain.
The “limbic system” contains the structures with control reward, pleasure, emotion (to some extent) and arousal to fight-flight events. In short, it’s the approach-pleasure/avoid pain center. This activates the draw, in eating, toward the handful of cookies, super-sized fries…in fitness, it’s the withdraw from the lung burn, legs aching, HR screamin…(“c’mon, just step out for second, it’ll feel good…don’t push it, slow down…there you go.”)
Then the frontal lobe, specifically the pre-frontal cortex (somehow) has the unenviable task of trying to over-power that. Reason, rational, drive, determination, “way to be tough.” Positive self-talk, delaying gratification. It’s what makes us human.
If indeed self-control is like a muscle, then like muscles, it grows when exercised. Practicing self-control, increases the “motor units” you are able to recruit in response to temptation. In essence, you increase your power output to “stay strong, be tough.”