The economical model of self control
It is easy to miss how staggering the consequences of this result really are. You have probably been raised thinking that willpower is a trait, something that you have to some degree or other. But that it is fixed. That you are just wired to have a certain degree of willpower, selfcontrol and self dicipline, and that is that. This turns out to be all wrong. You have willpower and self control for a certain limited time of active use. It is pretty much like your muscles when you do a set of squats or bench press. After a while you cant perform at the same level and to avoid catastrophic failure you cut back on effort: as the pain makes is harder to motivate actual lifting you perform at a much lower level.
In physical training you tend to exhaust yourself because this will make the body overcompensate and build better muscles over time as you repeat the exercises. In relation to self control we expect to have a certain level of control at all and any time. We expect that we will perform at our best level whenever we feel like it. And we take it as a sign of a grave personal flaw whenever we find that we cant perform at the level that we expect of ourselves. We let our performance at the low point – when we are depleted and exhausted – define our self image.
I will argue that we need to shift to a view of this that is modeled on our management of our personal finances. That we adopt an ecconomic model of self control, one that looks at a wider picture, does some budgeting and is not focus on “cash on hand” to the exclusion of any other measure. This model will lend itself readily to viewing self control management as a form of business with a certain fixed income, expenses and investment opportunities. It will let you model a path to growth and set in place practices and procedures to handle any crisis and sudden demands. None of this is easy, but it is entirely possible if you change your view from a fixed “trait” view of self control and adopt an economical model of self control.