challenges of staying on course

22 Apr

the article below was written with physical training and dieting in mind but could also be applied in other areas or goals in life, or wherever you find willpower to be lacking and need to strategise.

Ego Depletion & Cognitive Currency

by Chris Shugart – 04/20/2011

Imagine getting ready for work or school in the morning. Along with some cash or a debit card, you reach into your dresser drawer and count out a certain amount of cognitive currency. This is the amount of willpower, discipline, and self-control you have to spend for the day.

Now, during the day you spend some of this mental currency on work or school stress, some focusing on your job, relationships, and family, and some on your training and diet goals.

On a rough day, you return home with your wallet empty. You’ve exhausted all your willpower, all your mental money, for the day. Diet plan? What diet plan? Dinner turns into a refeed, which turns into a cheat meal, which turns into a junk food bender.

What happened?

Psychologists call it ego depletion. The gist is that willpower and self-control are limited cognitive resources. When you overexert yourself in one area of life, you have fewer resources left over to “spend” on other areas of your life.

(This is probably why experts don’t encourage alcoholics to quit smoking as they try to quit drinking. They don’t have enough willpower to spend on those two equally “expensive” goals.)

This is why so may knowledgeable physique competitors pay someone else to write their training or diet programs for them. They’re not ignorant; they just know they need to conserve as much cognitive currency in their psychological bank accounts as possible.

If they spend a lot of mental energy on writing the perfect twice-per-day workout plan, then spend more on designing a 12-week diet, there wouldn’t be enough left to spend on willpower, self-discipline, and simply carrying out the all-consuming plan.

So what do we do with this info? Well, maybe starting a super strict diet at the same time you start a new job isn’t the best idea. Maybe a twice-daily workout plan is best performed in the summer, not when you’re carrying 18 hours and a double major.

I’m not saying to slack off. Far from it. But you must learn to spend your mental currency wisely. Focus it mostly on a singular goal while maintaining everything else. Remember, chase two rabbits and both will escape.

And, if someone else can help you, if you can borrow some of their mental currency, then do it. Adopt someone else’s program, do someone else’s diet, take the supplements they recommend (assuming you trust and value their expertise.) Save your brain juice for the intense focus it’ll take to work those plans.

Remember too that life is full of people and situations that drain your mental currency faster than a gold-digging girlfriend who nicks your Visa. Many of these toxic people and situations are avoidable. So sack up and avoid them.

Now, all that said, keep this in mind: cognitive currency can be invested and grown.

Every successful investment of willpower pays dividends in the future. Spend wisely, profit from your investments, and the next time you tackle a goal you’ll have more capital in the bank.

original article from t-nation.


2 Responses to “challenges of staying on course”

  1. xB April 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Thats a great article! Thanks for sharing.

  2. rockstaraltair April 26, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    hope it was useful! :D

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