Whether it's New Year's resolutions or any other milestone we want to achieve, most of us give up on that career goal, diet, mindfulness practice, or exercise regimen we committed to however long ago. All too often, our efforts fail, and we find ourselves unable to detach our backsides from the sofa and our hands from the chocolate.
There’s a scientific reason for this. You’ve basically got self-control fatigue. The good news, however, is that research also shows that keeping your resolution doesn’t have to be hard.
In a classic study by willpower psychologist Roy Baumeister, researchers baked chocolate chip cookies, filling their lab with a wonderful aroma. They then brought in research participants. Some participants were invited to eat the chocolate chip cookies and a bowl of chocolates laid out before them. Others were invited into the same delicious-smelling lab but told to eat the unappetizing radishes that were displayed right next to tempting cookies and chocolates.
Then both groups were given an exercise: to work on a puzzle that was, unbeknownst to them, unsolvable. The researchers found that participants who had exerted self-control by eating radishes and avoiding the tempting cookies and chocolates gave up trying to solve the puzzle much more quickly than those who had eaten the chocolates (or a control group that had not been shown the chocolates or radishes).
Why is this? Self-control actually exhausts us, it’s a limited resource like gasoline or the charge on your cellphone. The more you use it, the less you have it. Researchers have found that it literally depletes your blood sugar. Ever wondered why you are more likely to binge on ice cream at night? Self-control literally gets depleted as the day goes on
After all, we are using self-control all day long at work.