NEW YORK, New York - A recent op-ed in the New York Times discussed the alleged fact that the brain has a limited reservoir of self-restraint and willpower and speculates on the possible causes and resolutions:
The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.
What limits willpower? Some have suggested that it is blood sugar, which brain cells use as their main energy source and cannot do without for even a few minutes. Most cognitive functions are unaffected by minor blood sugar fluctuations over the course of a day, but planning and self-control are sensitive to such small changes. Exerting self-control lowers blood sugar, which reduces the capacity for further self-control.
The article mentions activities that deplete willpower, including "resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone." They don't mention the one that seems, to me, the most important of all - the daily dose of willpower it takes to go to a job you dislike. A job that is both boring and demanding - a job that requires intelligence, yet insults your intelligence. I have such a job.
Now, combine the fact that I have to deplete willpower at the job with the fact that my diet of choice consists of eating in ways that will not elevate blood sugar. So when I notice after work that Ben & Jerry's has released a new flavor (like the recently introduced One Cheesecake Brownie), my willpower is sapped for the day. After I eat a pint, my blood sugar and presumably my willpower engine is replenished, but the damage is already done.
Found via Marginal Revolution