Willpower, it seems, is a finite resource.

Is It Hard for You to Say No to Sweets and Temptation? You May Be S...

Saying no to every naughty impulse requires a little bit of willpower fuel, and once you spend that fuel it becomes harder to say no.

A great deal of your thoughts and behaviors are automatic and unconscious. Blinking and breathing, for example, need no help from the conscious part of you. Much of your behavior, like driving to work or toweling off after a shower, just happens...When moved by a song or a painting or a kitten, the emotional rush comes without volition. Much of your mental life is simply not under your conscious control, and Baumeister’s research suggests once you take the helm every act of volition diminishes the next.

In this analogy, taking control of the human mind includes making choices, avoiding temptation, suppressing emotions and thoughts, and acting in a way deemed appropriate by your culture. Saying no to every naughty impulse from raiding the refrigerator to skipping class requires a little bit of willpower fuel, and once you spend that fuel it becomes harder to say no the next time. All of Baumeister’s research suggests self-control is a strenuous act. As your ego depletes, your automatic processes get louder, and each successive attempt to take control of your impulses is less successful than the last. Yet, ego depletion is not just the effects of fatigue. [emphasis mine]

As I get older I apparently have a smaller reservoir of "willpower fuel" too. Today the township inspector looked at the obviously inadequate job of spray foam insulation in our sunroom and said he had no way to judge the quality of work. You could see it wasn't filled to within 1/2 inch of the end of the studs. Large areas had a three inch gap till the end of the studs. "The contractors send us a certificate and we go by that." he said. Why even have inspectors if the company gets to certify it's own work? Now I'm so irritable my head could explode. Who feels like going to the gym or avoiding candy? Not me.

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What exactly is being depleted ? Is it;

-a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. 
-the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.  
-the conscious thinking subject itself.

Whatever, I say give in to temptation wherever and whenever possible and avoid this depletion.


I'm guessing that it's neocortex restraint over limbic system and reptile brain control of our behavior. This is just my take on it, based on Paul MacLean's Triune brain theory. Symbolic thinking (higher brain function) takes effort and it's slow in comparison to primitive brain functioning, which seems effortless and relaxing by comparison. It's like: after solving math problems for a few hours, or some other intellectually demanding task, watching Futurama feels like a vacation. Or swimming. Or chowing down at the Chinese all you can eat buffet. Your stress goes down. *big sigh*

If you had to face a screaming two year old right after the math work, you'd have less patience. Once you've relaxed with not-challenging primitive brain stuff, you're once again prepared to cope.

I wrote a piece on a similar and possibly related phenomenon, reported by NPR's "Morning Edition" some time back.  You might want to have a look.

Whether it's related or not, the mind is a purdy strange SOB, for sure!

You're right, this is about the same basic phenomenon. Your piece ties in to

Analytic Thinking Can Decrease Religious Belief, Study Shows

...the cognitive system related to analytic thoughts is one factor that can influence disbelief.”

Intuitive thinking fosters religion and analytic thinking fosters disbelief in religion. In short, atheism is harder cognitively and emotionally than religion because it requires higher thinking. We have a slope of least effort toward religious or superstitious thought. The logical extension is that you might slip into woo if you resist too much temptation.


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