Over the past couple of blog posts, you’ve learned about the “unthinking side” of yourself, which includes the gut reactions and snap decisions that happen underneath the radar of your consciousness. You’ve also learned about the “thinking side,” which is the systematic, logical planning system that makes sure the impulsive self does not always get its way when you are making important decisions about your health.
Now, think for a moment about the reasons why the unthinking/automatic system can overwhelm your thinking/controlled system. In other words: Why do your impulses take over your behavior, even when you have the best intentions to stick to a health-related goal?
Here are five reasons:
- Ego depletion. This is also known as regulatory depletion. Think about all of the situations you encounter in a day which require you to regulate your behavior, hold back distressing emotions, suppress certain things you want to say or do, or choose from an overabundance of options. Scientists have discovered that all of these tasks drain your supply of self-control and make it more difficult for you to persist in the face of obstacles. Regulatory depletion means that if you’ve used up much of your supply of self-control on one task, you have limited self-control available to use on the next task, even if it is a completely different task.
- Cognitive overload. Basically, the more you have on your mind, the easier it is to give in to temptation.
- Emotional overload. The more stressed you become, the more difficult it is to maintain self-control.
- Lack of awareness. If you aren’t aware that a given situation is one that could cause you to lose sight of your health-related goals, your self-control can be obstructed.
- Overpowering urges. Sometimes, an urge is so powerful that it saps every bit of energy required to maintain self-control. For those who have good inhibitory control and who have cultivated discipline in their lives, this happens less frequently. But no one is completely immune to overpowering urges.
In the next blog post, you’ll learn about strategies for strengthening self-control.
Until then, ponder this: Which one of the five conditions listed above do you think is most problematic, either for yourself or for other people?