March 12, 2012

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.”

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    BobF March 12, 2012 Reply

    Check out the Burpee Mile video on today. That girl is a PHREAK….

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    SteveG March 12, 2012 Reply

    Great post. Thanks Matt. Loved that girl at the end who started eating the marshmallow before the lady was done talking!

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    Gretch March 12, 2012 Reply

    Too cute! I think those kids have more self control than many adults… And the one little girl just couldn’t hold out 🙂 Thanks MD – great info!

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    Jan March 12, 2012 Reply

    ohoh. psydramedy has come to CF. where’s the like button?

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