Self-Control and Personal Productivity
“Emotional self-control is the result of hard work, not an inherent skill.” ~ Travis Bradberry
In each and every one of us two ways of thinking exist which have been differently named by psychologists throughout time. Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences due to his investigations on human judgement and its involvement in economical decision making, describes these two systems as follows:
- System 1 operates in a fast and automatic way, with hardly no effort or voluntary control.
- System 2 carries out mental activities that require effort in the moment they are demanded. These are activities related to subjective experience of acting, choosing and concentrating.
The existence of these two systems implies that, if we are facing a challenging cognitive task and a temptation at the same time, it’s more likely that we surrender to the temptation. System 1 influences more our behaviour whenever System 2 is busy.
Self-control, which is one of the tasks that System 2 executes, requires attention and effort. It’s been conclusively demonstrated that all variants of voluntary effort use a sort of mental energy shared fund. It isn’t just a metaphor. It seems to be that when we put effort into a mental activity our nervous system consumes more glucose than it would normally do (yes, restabilising the brain sugar levels can help you maintain an effort a longer period of time).
Making use of will or self-control implies an effort that can be exhausting (ego depletion). This is why whenever we put a lot of effort on doing something, exercising self-control becomes difficult if the next challenge is near.
There is a great variety of tasks that weaken our self-control, from making a somehow complex mathematical calculation to trying to impress someone or even inhibiting an emotional response at a given time. Moreover, when self-control starts to run out we start performing some cognitive tasks very poorly, we make the worst possible decisions, we become more irascible and we are more likely to stop a diet or buy something compulsively, for instance.
The clear conclusion is that after exercising self-control to do a task, we have less effort capacity to do the next one.
In his absorbing book Thinking, Fast and Slow Kahneman tells that one of the most shocking studies about the effects of the self-control depletion was carried out with some judges from Israel who spent entire days revising parole applications. The number of petitions approved was seen to significantly decrease during the two hours previous to their next meal, reaching nearly zero just before eating. However, after eating the proportion of petitions approved boosted up to 65%.
Fatigue and hunger makes us make the easiest decision, the one that requires less effort. System 1 beats System 2, that is exhausted.
Definitely, it becomes quite obvious that both self-discipline and rest are fundamental aspects that you need to know how to manage, not only in order to improve your personal productivity, but also the quality of the outcomes.