Picture a well, and imagine that the water in the well represents self-control. When the well is full, you feel abundant strength and energy to engage in tasks that require you to be careful with your behavior, to inhibit your impulses, and to persist in the face of emotional obstacles.
When the well is depleted, however, it becomes much harder to think creatively in the face of challenges. You do not feel like you have the energy to transform bad habits or avoid temptation.
There are many different tasks that use up the supply of water in the self-control well. The water level sinks lower whenever we resist temptation, hold back distressing emotions,suppress forbidden thoughts, and try to make a choice from an overabundance of options.
Add to that list many of the situations that we may encounter on a daily basis, such as resisting potato chips, making sure we don’t speed on the way home from work, and managing the impression that we make on other people.
What is the end result of all of this restraint, suppression, and self-supervision? According to the research literature, the end result is an inability to persist in the face of obstacles. The official name for this is regulatory depletion. It means that if we use up much of our supply of self-control on one task, we have limited self-control available to use on the next task.
Consider the implications for the habit that you are trying to change. Is there a way you can avoid high-risk or tempting situations when you know that your well of self-control is depleted?