Do you have problems to keep motivated?
In one of this experiments, several test subjects skipped a meal to be hungry and then were split in 3 sets. One would eat nothing (poor lads). Another set were left alone in a room with a bowl of radishes and a bowl of chocolate cookies, freshly baked, and were instructed to eat two or three radishes while avoiding the cookies. And the lucky set were told to eat chocolate cookies, while avoiding the radishes.
After this, they were instructed to try to solve a geometrical problem, with the possibility of giving up if they wanted to. The trick here was that the problem was unsolvable. And the non-eating set and the chocolate cookie eater set tried longer to solve the problem, and reported being less tired than the radish eaters. Since they didn't spend their mental energy in forcing to eat the radishes instead of the cookies, they had more willpower to keep on trying.
More research in this subject (and there is plenty!) has shown that there are some ways to replenish this ego depletion. Forming implementation intentions (like plans, projects, todo lists) helps, but is not the only solution. Getting rewards, doing fun things, eating something pleasant (or even mildly pleasant) can also help, but as before, it is not the only solution.
From some other experiments, it looks like ego depletion is just a self-regulatory method. Your brain just leaves some energy in reserve after a hard try. Which means that when you have almost no willpower left, there is still a lot you can do.
How can you use this to your productive advantage?
When when you have no willpower left, there is still a lot you can do. Take a short break and give yourself a treat you like. You can eat a chocolate cookie, for example. Or draw a little, read a (not online) newspaper. Do something you enjoy but does not lead to procrastinating. Checking online feeds leads to checking Facebook which usually can end in doing nothing for an hour. Refrain from this and just eat that cookie.
Don't forget to share this post in Twitter if you enjoy chocolate cookies!
- Psychwiki article on Ego Depletion
- Baumeister, Vohs: Self Regulation, Ego Depletion and Motivation
- Baumeister, Vohs: Intelectual Performance and Ego Depletion: The role of the self in logical reasoning and other information processing