Psychological Super Powers: How to Conquer Self-Control

Have you done this before? You have procrastinated all day, and you sit down, ready to work on that project. I'm going to write that blog post or write that manuscript. It's 3:00 p.m. and then you say, "Oh, I don't actually have the energy to do any of this. It doesn't even matter that there's a deadline approaching."

I've been there. My name is Caitlin Faas. I'm a psychology professor and coach, and in today's psychological super-power video, we're going to break down what you can do about those deadlines and procrastination.

So this would happen to me all the time in graduate school. I would say, "I'm going to read five journal articles after dinner today." I'd set that goal in the morning, and dinner would roll around, and then I wouldn't be motivated to do any of that after dinner. And I would actually feel guilty that I hadn't met the goal that I set for myself. Well, what I didn't know at the time was that it's actually ... There's a term for this. It's called Ego Fatigue, and it wasn't necessarily my fault that I wasn't setting that goal.

Ego fatigue is a cognitive concept that actually describes your self control, a really important resource for your brain.

When things are automatic, and just naturally occurring, your ego fatigue is ... You don't have any. You don't have any depletion and you feel really great. You're just running along, you're doing your thing. As the day goes on, we actually experience a lot of decisions and these decisions add up quickly and wear down our willpower. Even picking a shirt for the day. Making the decision about decaf or not, or adding the almond milk or not. People asking you questions at work.

All of these add up so that by the end of the day, a lot of us feel a lot of ego depletion.

Task switching is another thing that contributes to ego depletion. When we check our email, go back to the manuscript, talk to somebody about this, go back to the manuscript, right? All of these things, we think it's just a second, but it really isn't. It's task switching, and it's distracting us. 

The last thing that contributes to ego depletion is creativity itself.

It takes a lot of creative energy to be able to write that post or come up with a brand new sentence. One new sentence takes a lot of work. All of those things add up for ego depletion, and at the end of the day you're tired and making maybe poorer decisions because of this ego depletion that's happened. 

My amazing friend, Dr. Amanda Crowell, writes more about ego fatigue on her blog post here.

Let me tell you three tips to help with this:

The first is to always do a task at the same time, same routine.

We want you to rest on your routines. So when I was writing my dissertation I would go into my office, even though I didn't have to I could've stayed home and worked technically, but I would go into the office, sit down at my desk, pull up my laptop, put in my headphones, put on the classical music, pull up the document, and start. That routine got my brain ready to know this is what I do, this is when I focus, now I have to make this happen. 

The second tip is to make sure that you don't actually break up your writing.

You can take breaks, but you want to focus on the writing task all at once. So, when I was working on my dissertation, I knew that this was the time I was designating towards writing, and I could take a break, perhaps after 15 minutes, or even 25 minutes on some days, but when I took that break, I didn't then task switch to checking my email, for example, because that's distracting and my brain, our brains, can't handle too many of those switches. It actually takes a lot to be able to come back around, to focus when it's time to focus. So stay on the same task.

The third tip is to do your creative writing or work during your most productive time.

Figuring out your patterns for that is really important. I'm a morning person, it took me awhile to figure that out in graduate school, but I knew that I needed to go in in the morning and get that creative writing done so that when the evening rolled around, which is not my productive time, maybe I could edit then or work on other tasks, but that was not my creative time. That's still true now.

Find your time. Then, for me, it was really a game-changer in terms of knowing, "I don't have to feel guilty about not being able to work in the evenings." I just needed to be able to harness the right energy at the right time.

So the next time you find yourself with a big creative task that you need to get done, make sure you remember this concept of decision fatigue.

It's not your fault that you work best at different times during the day and the key is to harness that energy and figure out what works best for you.

So I challenge you today to think about what's one way that you can avoid decision fatigue this week?

Also, I want to invite you to make sure you download the worksheet that goes with this that gives you tips on what you can do and it can be a visual reminder of how to remember decision fatigue.