Have you ever asked yourself why you feel pretty much beaten up at the end of the week, even though you did not do anything physically exhausting?
Wondering how you ended up watching bad TV the whole weekend, and why you find it so hard to get off the couch to catch up on your yoga practice or do something productive or different?
This very common condition is named ego depletion in psychology. It means we have a limited resource of willpower, which wears out every time we use it. That includes resisting temptations, fighting desires, controlling impulses and behaviors, and compelling to society rules.
Why Ego Depletion is Dangerous
Scientists discovered this through a very simple test. They tempted people with chocolate-chip cookies, and then found out that trying to resist the cookies, lowered people’s ability to resist other temptations later.
So, exercising willpower in one situation, reduces our ability to make sound choices and decisions, apply self-control or offer quality focus and effort on tasks in proceeding situations.
Depletion is a dangerous thing. Like stress, it prevails subtly then announce its presence all the sudden with the tiniest trigger.
Unlike working on our Locust Pose, as we feel the pain in our muscles rise until we reach a point where we let go and rest, we cannot measure depletion. Therefore, it proceeds affecting our emotions and thoughts, and exposing us to bad judgment and undesirable actions.
Ego Depletion and Decision Making
Depletion appears in many sides of our lives, but decision making is where we see it most. The more decisions we have to make, the worse we get in making the next ones — whether it's choosing from dozens of brands of breakfast cereals or making a list of attendees to a dinner party.
If we are under the influence of ego-depletion, we are more likely to do two things when making decisions:
- We make hasty choices, because we do not have enough energy to think everything through. Remember how many orders you canceled the next morning?
- We do nothing and keep everything the way it is. How many things you need to make decisions about and just keep putting them off?
Ego Depletion and Our Social Relationships
The impact of ego depletion on our behavior with others is very critical. Under the influence of depletion we tend to make ill judgments and engage ourselves in improbable social interactions.
All the natural responses we try to keep under control along the day can make an appearance as our depletion increases. We are also more likely to cross lines.
For example, we are more likely to cheat. We are more likely to find ourselves on the side of one of two extremes. We can be very aggressive — yell at strangers, beat our kids, etc. — as we lose self-control, or very passive, as we become easily influenced by others.
Any effort to compress our normal impulses in social interactions can take a toll on our willpower. It accumulates gradually, so that by day's end we are more likely to lose it.
What can we do about ego depletion?
We can do few simple things to counter the effect of this depletion:
1. Pay attention.
We should observe our days thoroughly. Keeping a journal or making a list of relaxing situations vs. not-so-relaxing situations is helpful in this case.
Identifying ego-depleting events provides a level of self-awareness that can give us the chance to avoid them, or prepare for them with suitable decisions and actions.
2. Make timely decisions.
Deciding on an issue with a full tank of depletion might be the stupidest thing ever. Make the important decisions the first depleting event in your day, not the last.
3. Re-motivate yourself.
To get yourself off the couch to that yoga class, motivate yourself by recalling the importance of yoga to your well-being! Also practicing activities that motivate you will help restore internal resource of will power.
4. Limit your choices.
Limit the number of choices or decisions you have to make during the day, because each one drains part of your willpower resource, which we now know is exhaustible.
5. Plan ahead.
We are often advised to include more spontaneity in our lives, let thing for crazy for a while, and go with the flow. However, planning is the most effective tool in beating depletion.
Plans slow down how fast our willpower and self-control burns out. When we follow plans, we don't have to make as many choices or put extra mental and emotional energy into them. This means less depletion along the way.
For example: When you plan your day the night before — set the alarm, prepare your outfit, make the coffee — you are more relaxed and automatic in getting ready the next morning.
No decisions needs to be made, no worries about getting late, or overlapping thoughts about choosing outfits or getting to work on time. Therefore, less energy is being exhausted, and less ego depletion.
On Plans, Habits, and Routines
If we provide ourselves with enough plans, we will have better control over our own mind. We will suffer less from depletion, and respond better to things when we are already depleted.
We rely on plans in small ways every day, we just call them habits or routines. The things we perform perfectly, on autopilot, because we know when and how exactly we are going to do them.
You need to make your days — with all its choices and decisions — automatic whenever you can. Remove the mental burden, even if it means planning most of your time.
You will learn that following plans and making earlier choices is actually better, because you skipped the hard and complicated step of facing sudden decisions or choices, along with the accompanying ego depletion and laying-on-the-couch-all-weekend side effects.
Tell us about your experiences with ego depletion, and how you tried to counter its effect!