building muscle

Now this is interesting:

Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources:  Dose self-control resemble a muscle?
Mark Muraven & Roy Baumeister, Psychological Bulletin (2000) No. 2, 247-259

Abstract: The authors review evidence that self-control may consume a limited resource.  Exerting self-control may consume self-control strength, reducing the amount of strength available for subsequent self-control efforts.  Coping with stress, regulating negative affect, and resisting temptations require self-control, and after such self-control efforts, subsequent attempts at self-control are more likely to fail.  Continuous self-control efforts, such as vigilance, also degrade over time.  These decrements in self-control are probably not due to negative moods or learned helplessness produced by the initial self-control attempt.  These decrements appear to be specific to behaviors that involve self-control: behaviors that do not require self-control neither consume nor require self-control strength.  It is concluded that the executive component of the self- in particular, inhibition – relies on a limited, consumable resource.

So… some situations extract a cost in self-control resources.  If that cost is high, the next event requiring self-control can’t be “purchased.”  More important, not being aware of the cost, I may not gauge accurately my ability to be skillful in engaging with the next event.  Others authors/researchers have talked about mindfulness as a muscle that supports awareness in the service of self-control (not getting hung up here on the self-non-self issue).  In essence, it’s about how seamlessly we can re-set from one exertion to the next and, I think, only practice will strengthen that particular muscle and replenish that well.

Time to log more hours on the cushion.

Thank you for practicing,


5 thoughts on “building muscle

  1. I’m pretty skeptical of “self-control” – at least, in the way that I hear the term used. It generally refers to meeting some externally imposed standard of behavior, following a rule, or keeping quiet. No wonder it can be exhausting and exhausted!

    Perhaps there’s another way to live…

  2. Thank you, Everyone.

    There’s always a bit of a risk in putting out conclusions drawn fron research data where the operational definitions and constraints of the experiment haven’t been made clear. Sitting here in Zen Brain, suffering through powerpoint after powerpoint of butt-numbing data, I share your stances, Barry & ZDS. In the research I posted, “self-control” is defined a specific way (necessarily narrow) so that it could be measured behaviourally. Now this is the problem with research and real-search. It’s a bit of a leap of faith between lab-measured responses and what happens when I have to face down my boss and then pick up the kids. So, ZDS, there are a lot of variable in the equation for sure!

    For me all research is an invitation to run the experiment in real time in my real life.

    On another note: Barry, I originally wrote a portion of the post about the impact of times when I was not able to speak my truth. That form of “self-control” is not self-control but “other-control” – perceived or real. In my understanding (of how my twisted mind works), “self-control” is realizing “no-self” to control. That’s been a powerful practice through this retreat and likely the Chaplaincy piece up-coming next week. 😉

  3. That’s a really cool metaphor. It could explain some of my poorer decisions/actions… “But I was doing so well…”

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