Controlling Habits in a Post Ego-Depletion landscape!


What on earth am I talking about, you may well ask?

Firstly let’s talk ego depletion.  What on earth is it?  Well …..  it turns out (or does it?) that we have a finite amount of willpower and when we have to use our willpower over time, said will power will run out.  Like a gas tank.  Boohoo.

Now – picture yourself resisting lovely fresh cookies and then being given an unsolvable task.  Would you quit sooner at the task if you had not had the trauma of the cookie resisting beforehand?  This is exactly what a husband and wife team demonstrated in 1998. The couple even baked the cookies.  This so-called ‘breakthrough’ was subsequently recreated in many similar ways around the world.  Even experiments with dogs seemed to support the theory, which was called ego-depletion. (I know – double WTF?)

How exciting is the idea? I was convinced, we all were convinced!   I felt so vindicated, I thought of all those times I drunk a few too many wines after resisting killing a colleague all day in the office – not my fault, my ‘ego’ was so depleted, I was only human – yippee!

But wait there is more – research also demonstrated that you can get some of your willpower back with … get this …. a bit of glucose!  Doughnut anyone? IFuckingLoveScience!

Then Bad Stuff Happened

Stop right there – SPOILER ALERT – this story does not have a happy ending.

Recently some researchers in multiple places around the world had a crack at repeating these findings using the same methods.  They even consulted with one of the original authors.  To be fair to him, they did not take his favorite ideas as they were too difficult to repeat consistently.  For example biscuits are very difficult to bake with equal quality and temptationey-ness by different young academics, on different continents.

Guess what they found?vvNothing!

I know horrible.

What now?

Is there anything left of ego-depletion that isn’t broken or is just one part of it bung?

What else is known about willpower?

What other theories were pushed out of the way in the few decades that this one became the yard stick for all such things?

What does this sort of drama mean for science in this post truth, don’t vaccinate your dog (true story) world?

Well I aim to try and answer these and more questions ….. a quest that might be dangerous, difficult and ultimately pointless – see you there!

With love as ever,

The Wellbeingatwork(ohsonearlymycompletedraftisdone)Dr,

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