Baumeister’s work has led him to conclude that the most important factors leading to happy and successful lives are intelligence and self-control – and by a long way. “Self-control is what people use to restrain their desires and impulses”. It is essentially about change and our tendency to self-regulate our responses, emotions, thoughts and performance according to some personal standard or ideal. Baumeister’s work has shown that successful self-control depends upon a limited resource of energy. When this energy is temporarily used up (termed “ego depletion”), for example when resisting the temptation to eat another chocolate, our willpower drops and we are much less able to resist the next temptation until the energy reserves are built back up. This explains why self-control is most likely to break down towards the end of the day. Baumeister describes one study in which five minutes of resisting temptation to eat chocolate biscuits led to a drop of ten minutes in how long people were able to persevere with a stressful task.
In coaching situations where we are working to assist people to change behaviour, thoughts or emotions and stick to their actions, this research has interesting implications. Making change is often the easy part in a coaching intervention. Maintaining those new behaviours is often the most difficult part. Baumeister indicates two areas which might have helpful applications:
- physiological basis – an accidental finding has led to the understanding that willpower is linked to glucose levels. The effects of “ego depletion” can be addressed by giving a dose of glucose. Apparently a prisoner coming before a judge after lunch has a 65% chance of getting parole.
- ‘muscle’ development – self-control is considered to have muscle-type properties in that it can be strengthened with exercise. Performing exercises designed to strengthen self-control are effective after just a two week period.
Another glass of Lucozade anyone?
- See more at: http://www.managingchange.org.uk/articles/page/5/#sthash.ViHjgrs9.dpuf