You Can Control Yourself More Than You Think You Can

You are what you make yourself to be

Ego-depletion gives an incomplete (and pessimistic) outlook on willpower.

You know how difficult it is to continuously exert effortful control when feeling mentally depleted and fatigued. The science tells us so; engaging in tasks that require self-control might actually reduce our performance in subsequent tasks.

Researchers call this phenomenon ‘ego depletion’ — and it’s a hot psychological topic about willpower and self-control. New findings, however, suggest there’s more to the picture than what ego-depletion says.

The concept of ego-depletion stems from what psychologists term the ‘strength model of self-control’ which describes self-control as being dependent on a pre-set supply of finite energy.

Proponents of the strength model view self-control as a limited resource, something that must be restored in order for you to continue chipping away at your strenuous goal pursuits. The strength model is believed to explain why we have those cheat days despite our best intentions. 

However, we’re now learning that subjective experience of effort matters more for our self-controlled behavior. That is, when we “see” something as effortful, we will show poorer self-control. If true, there’s powerful insight here. It means we can have more control simply by shifting our perspective on the things we do in life.

The concept of ego-depletion falls short in its explanatory value. According to the study’s findings, it seems that our egos can only be depleted if we perceive them to be. This opens the door to a more flexible and optimistic perspective of self-control.

Instead, the current findings lend support to a more growth-oriented perspective of self-control abilities. To increase your self-control, you start by shifting your mental state in order to ‘see’ certain tasks as less effortful.

Indeed, studies suggest that by mentally framing a task as amusing or beneficial, we can reduce our perceived effort. This might help promote a less limited perspective of self-control that can potentially be carried over to your future endeavors.

This different lens leaves more space for changing mindsets when it comes to your ability to exert self-control, and helps alleviate the dooming thought that your self-control abilities are completely pre-determined (and limited).