The Cost of Self Control

by F.

Self-control is in short supply. Spend it wisely:

Even a small regulatory exercise – the attempt to suppress an innocuous thought about a white bear – caused the participants who had exercised mental self-control to spend and buy more. Those who had just tried to control their thoughts spent an average of $4.05. Those who had been free to write whatever they wanted spent an average of $1.21. Participants who had previously been asked to exercise self-control also bought twice as many items on average as members of the unregulated group.

“Overall, the research shows that people need self-regulatory resources to resist impulse buying temptations, and that these resources can be depleted by prior self-control efforts,” write the researchers. “As a result, people should avoid shopping on days when they have earlier exercised great self-control or when starting a new self-improvement program, such as a new diet.”

More. This happens all the time to me. If I am exerting extreme amounts of self-discipline, I end up buying lots of small, fairly dumb items—like pens, pencils, erasers, little Post-It notes. I can’t bring myself to buy big ticket items, but I can certainly buy the little ones. I’ve noticed this pattern before and used my lack of interest in obsessive impulse shopping as a measure of my current self-discipline exertion level.