Do You Have More Self Control Than You Think?

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Do You Have More Self Control Than You Think?

Self_2013_vectorIf it feels like you have no willpower at the end of a long, tiring day (pass the barbecue chips, right?!), think again, suggests an opinion piece recently published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. The authors say that while self-control is harder for us in moments of fatigue, we still do have some. It’s not that we can’t control ourselves, but rather that we don’t feel like it.

“When people are ‘depleted’ or fatigued, they experience a change in motivational priorities such that they attend to and work less for things they feel obliged to do and attend to and work more for things they want to do—things they like doing,” lead author Michael Inzlicht, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told SELF.

That’s significant, Dr. Inzlicht says, because it’s counter to both popular belief and what some psychologists have been preaching for some time. “The field of psychology in the past 10 to 15 years has characterized self-control as relying on some limited resource that runs out after use, with the suggestion that when it runs out, people can no longer control themselves,” Dr. Inzlicht says. “The problem is that it has become increasingly apparent that this view is wrong. Self-control is not like brain-fuel that runs out after use.” So, what’s the message? First, remind yourself that you have more self-control than you think! “Research shows that people who think self-control is limited tend to show less self-control when they are tired. This is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy,” Dr. Inzlicht says. And second, shift your goals—whether eating healthier, exercising more or getting more sleep—from “have-to” status to “want-to” status. “When fatigued, people will shy away from obligations and goals they feel they ought to do and instead focus on goals that are inherently gratifying and enjoyable,” Dr. Inzlicht says. “So if people can start conceiving of their goals as personally meaningful and enjoyable, they may be able to better resist temptation even when they are tired.” What do you think? Does your willpower fade at the end of the day? How do you make healthy choices when you’re tired?      SELF is the magazine that makes living healthy easy and fun. SELF’s motto: Being fit, strong and active means feeling great, being happy and looking your most beautiful. With trademark authority, SELF speaks to women about three key areas of her being: her body, her looks and her life. SELF makes it fun and fulfilling to be your happiest, healthiest, best self. Reaching a total audience of 12 million each month, SELF is the founder of the Pink Ribbon for breast cancer awareness and an ASME National Magazine Award winner for excellence in journalistic achievement in print and digital. SELF is published by Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Bon Appétit, GQ, Glamour, The New Yorker, Wired and other celebrated media brands. Visit and follow @SELFmagazine on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Foodily and Google+. Check out these other great articles from

Photo: David Gelves

About the Author

SELF is the ultimate wellness resource and community. We recognize that wellness is as much about self-expression and self-esteem as it is about exercise and nutrition; that it’s not an all-or-nothing lifestyle; and that every person’s individual goals for healthy living are different, and that’s OK. We’re here to celebrate, motivate, support, inform and entertain you—and make you laugh, too. Join the conversation and catch the latest SELF news, recipes, advice, laughs and more on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.



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