Want to Dramatically Improve Self-Control?

Then learn to manage your mental energy!

Science has made considerable inroads over the last few years defining, measuring and understanding the role mental energy plays in cognitive performance.  Mental energy is defined as the combination of the ability to do mental work, the motivation for doing that work and your subjective feeling of fatigue.   Key findings about mental energy include:

  1. We only have so much to use – it is a limited resource
  2. Exercising self-control or regulating our thoughts, emotions and behavioral responses burns considerable mental energy – much more than other cognitive processes such as learning and decision-making
  3. Running low on mental energy means loss of impulse control
  4. We can do specific things to replenish our supply of mental energy

Given the central role that mental energy (and its management) plays in cognitive performance it will be a frequent topic on the Next Brain blog.

Techniques for getting started in managing your mental energy include:

  • Measuring your level of self-control and other cognitive tendencies that make extensive use of mental energy
  • Journaling to understand how you wisely (or not) you use mental energy throughout the day
  • Planning or budgeting your mental energy so you don’t set goals or engage in activities that result in sever depletion
  • Developing habits that naturally restore your supply

Little things make a big difference when it comes to managing mental energy.

Take for example the recent research from Tel Aviv University on Flexing Your Marathon Muscles at Work.  Researchers studied the relationship between self-control and how mental energy is managed.   One important thing they found was just the awareness of an upcoming task sets in motion the ability to better manage our mental energy. We naturally save some for future tasks (the marathoner mindset) rather that using it all up on the first few challenges we face (the sprinter mindset).

“Participants were told they are about to perform two tasks. Those with forewarning did better than a second group who thought they had only one task but then were given a ‘surprise’ second task. This warning put the first group in the marathon mindset,” Dr. Ein-Gar says. “Our results can be applied across the board from managing a business to making sure we run our personal lives more smoothly.”

This gives scientific support for the idea that looking ahead to budget your mental energy for the day can improve your overall self-control.

I am very interested to hear from readers with experience in  planning/ budgeting  (or otherwise managing) mental energy.

Sources of images: brain plug