Picture this: You have a long day at work where you had to make tough decisions left and right. Once you get home, do you stick to your diet, or do you reach for a hamburger and beer?
Photo by Dayna More (Shutterstock)
The reason you might be more tempted to "cheat" is because your willpower was drained throughout the day by exerting your cognitive abilities. There's research to back this up, as Serious Pony points out:
In 1999, Professor Baba Shiv (currently at Stanford) and his co-author Alex Fedorikhin did a simple experiment on 165 grad students.They asked half to memorize a seven-digit number and the other half to memorize a two-digit number. After completing the memorization task, participants were told the experiment was over, and then offered a snack choice of either chocolate cake or a fruit bowl.
The participants who memorized the seven-digit number were nearly 50% more likely than the other group to choose cake over fruit.
This idea isn't new, but it bears repeating. Some people like Mark Zuckerberg go so far as to wear the same shirt every day to save their decision-making power for more important things. But if you're aware of this cognitive effect, and you know that you'll be facing a particularly stressful day, you can plan ahead to take willpower out of the equation.
For example, you could prepare a healthy dinner for yourself before leaving in the morning so you'll be less tempted to stop for fast food after work. If your willpower is particularly drained, it might not end up making a difference, but planning ahead can dramatically lower the threshold to making good decisions.