This is the fifth segment in a series on Reason
We all spend A LOT of time (and energy) trying to control ourselves. A recent study suggests that nearly one-fifth of our waking time we must resist compelling impulses - three or four hours a day. Wow!
We often waste unnecessary mental energy on situations that are overwhelming and tempting, situations that should be so-called “emergency cases.” Tempting circumstances drain our energy, requiring us to resist things we really desire (like delicious food, new purchases, or illicit romance.)
Using willpower to resist immediate temptation depletes energy that could otherwise be channeled toward more productive efforts. Once we become mentally drained, we can't weigh options as carefully. Usually we become either passive (and do nothing), or more impulsive (succumbing to primitive impulses like inertia, greed, or lust).
When people lose access to reason, sometimes they can “snap” -- losing self-restraint and becoming illogical (consider, for example, the public meltdowns of Mel Gibson or Donald Trump, or the recently disclosed affair of General Petraeus).
While reason has amazing superpowers, it is not invincible.
As your evolutionarily youngest aspect, reason is your most immature and finicky facet. Research has shown that even expert deciders like parole judges adjudicate best in the morning, before their mental reserves are depleted. When judges make parole decisions later in the day, even they start to falter, inclining heavily toward the status quo and intertia. Thus, it is good to remember that reason is not always up for heavy lifting, even among expert decision makers.
We see mental fatigue in all walks of life ranging from business executives to people caring for children or the infirmed. We experience it when we become overwhelmed by too many decisions, temptations, and plans. Even presumedly joyful events like planning a wedding or remodeling a house can become unpleasant because they sap mental energy (self-restraint, logical processing, decision making) needed elsewhere.
How to best to use reason’s super gadgets?
Most of us use reason’s gadgets more than we know. You may be surprised at how much of your day is spent using different types of mental energy. Take stock of all the ways in which you drain energy from reasons’ power.
Willpower entails controlling your automatic responses to your:
- Thoughts (trying to ignore or “turn off” a plaguing thought, memory, song, or image)
- Emotions (trying to suppress emotional reactions )
- Drives (resisting urges to eat, sleep, relax, have sex, be social, read, surf web, etc.)
- Attention Demands (focusing you attention and awareness on a needed task, managing time, persevering despite lack of interest)
Logic requires you to:
- Gather information
- Consider future possibilities
- Weigh options
- Keep emotions at bay
Decision-making requires you to make choices, for example:
- What you wear and eat
- What route you take to work
- What you choose on behalf of others (at work, for dependents, for your community or other organizations)
- Your leisure time (plans with friends, choosing TV shows or books, selecting vacations)
- Finances (establishing priorities like what you need versus what you want, savings versus spending; allocating resources to different family members or areas of life)
Tricks for handling emergencies:
- Distract yourself from urges
- Removing yourself from a situation
- Offer yourself a “bribe” that involves rewarding yourself with something else in the future.
- Try substituting new responses that might satisfy your physical or social urges