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Did you know that your willpower can ‘run out’?

Posted by: Emma Sanders-Edwards | Posted on: October 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments

It can. Psychologists call it ‘ego depletion’. Or we might also recognise it as that scratchy, tired, overwhelmed person who is eyeing up the snack machine.

Why does this happen?

Studies show that we have a finite amount of willpower. When we use our willpower up by;

  • controlling our thoughts (“Don’t think about eating that extra piece of pizza”),
  • controlling our emotions (“I am going to try not to feel so disappointed”),
  • or making decisions (“Do you want the red or blue?” “The 18cm or 30cm?’ “Can Bob take leave over Easter?”),

we show signs of ego depletion. This is when we will find ourselves reacting more strongly, feeling more tired, and having more negative emotions.

The good news is that studies have shown that you can not only reverse the effects of ego depletion with glucose, you can also build your willpower muscle.

So, how can we use this?

  • Build your willpower muscle for all situations by doing something you only need to use a little bit of willpower for. For example, if you find it relatively easy to motivate yourself to go the the gym, keep this up and you’ll find increased willpower flows into other areas of your life.
  • Studies show that if your goals are inconsistent with each other, you will worry a lot more, get less done and your health will suffer. So aim to keep all your goals aligned. For example, if you want to get fit, be more sociable and spend more time with family, think about joining a family-orientated sports team. Thinking you will be able to spend more time at work, more time with your family AND more time getting fit is just asking for failure!
  • If you’ve used a lot of willpower on a task, try eating some slow-burning fuel to keep yourself in control, for example whole grains or fruit and vegetables.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney


Posted by: Emma Sanders-Edwards | Posted on: September 22nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

Multi-tasking often makes you feel as though you are being exceptionally efficient, getting lots done and are on top of things.
Except generally you’re not. In fact, you’re probably faring a lot worse. We know that brains need to focus on one thing at a time to get things done – our brains don’t work in parallel.

To multi-task, they need to stop one thing, then start another – first, remembering what they were doing, then work on that one for a bit, then stop that, then return to the first task, remember what they were up to….

Sound confusing? It’s probably why if you take an IQ test while you’re trying to multi-task, you are actually 13 points DUMBER. Think about that next time you’re trying to finish a piece of work, answer a colleague’s email, and answer the phone!

Why does this happen? Researchers at the University of Rochester found that the ability to focus is strongly correlated with intelligence. Being able to drown out interruptions and background noise, and focus on the task in front of you means your brain can work more efficiently and isn’t dealing with an overload of information.

This isn’t surprising when you think about how well sports stars and the like do – they give up a lot of other activities to focus in on achieving one goal.

So, how can we use this? Practicing focus is something you can train yourself to be better at. With all the new technologies and expectations thrown at us everyday, everyone struggles with focusing to some degree. As I write this, I have heard my phone go off telling me there is a text waiting for me. It is taking all my focus to continue to write and not quickly check what has come through to me! Good people just have systems to deal with it. For example;

  • Pick small tasks and goals and finish them without a single distraction. Maybe start with five or ten minute blocks of time where you won’t check your phone or do anything other than what you are focusing on. Increase over time. Tell those you are working with so they don’t think you’re just being rude!
  • Reward yourself. When you have completed your focus time/task take a break and reward yourself (a coffee, a chat, whatever).
  • Remove the distractions. Put your phone on silent. Tell the guys that you are all having ten minutes of focus – no interruptions – at all. If you need to read, go into a room and close the door. Do whatever you can to remove the things that normally distract you.

Finally, take note of how much you achieve when trying these tips. The good feeling you get from completing tasks will help build a new focusing habit, and before long you’ll be focusing like Dan Carter.


Test yourself on the focusing task given in the University of Rochester study
John Medina – Why we can’t multi-task

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