If you read a typical woman’s magazine, you’d think we have an endless supply of self-control.
Lose weight. Exercise more. Get ahead at work. Raise your kids to be superstars. Treat your spouse better.
If you work hard enough, you’ll soon be perfect.
Or will you end up even worse?
Dog Self-Control at the Vet
Honey and I just got back from the vet.
She’s such a good girl. But it’s still not easy.
We wait for the young, active dog to go in the door and sit down before we enter. Honey sits and stays as the dog goes to the exam room. She has to ignore the cats meowing in their carriers. And the office staff are busy so she can’t solicit lovies.
In the exam room, Honey sat patiently as the doctor examined her ears and teeth. She didn’t complain when she was microchipped.
By the time we left, Honey had exerted a lot of self-control. Did she have anything left?
Human Self-Control at the Campground
A raccoon must have wandered off with my brain.
I remembered to write down the addresses of family I wanted to send postcards to. I remembered to pack stamps. I remembered to buy post cards.
When I finally remembered to write out the postcards, I had lost the addresses. When I found the addresses, I had misplaced the postcards.
And it wasn’t just postcards I had trouble keeping track of. During my entire week of camping, I was a mess.
I think I had exhausted my self-control.
The most important things I have to keep track of when camping are my contact lenses and glasses. I have very poor eyesight. My vision is 20/180. To put that in perspective, a person is legally blind if her corrected vision is 20/200.
If I misplaced or damaged my contacts or glasses, I’d be lost.
For some reason, I constantly worried over the condition and location of my eyewear. And I used up every ounce of my self-control staying organized in that one area so I had nothing left to stay organized with anything else.
Using Up Self-Control
Several psychological research studies have found that self-control is a diminishing resource.
In one experiment, students who had to resist eating chocolate chip cookies gave up solving a tricky math problem sooner than subjects who ate all the cookies they wanted. The effort of resisting the tempting cookies made the students too tired to persist in solving the next problem.
Interestingly, someone has also tested the effects on dogs exerting self-control.
What can we learn?
Let’s Give Ourselves a Break
Science has given us an excuse to be slackers.
If we spend too much time controlling ourselves, we wear ourselves out and don’t accomplish what we need to.
I did keep track of my eyewear between the tent, car, and camp bathroom. But my brain was mush for doing anything else.
After Honey’s marathon of self-control at the vet, I avoided situations on the way home where she might not make good decisions. And we spent ten minutes playing fetch in the park after leaving the vet’s office to replenish her resources.
Perhaps if I had kept my eye care supplies in a pouch around my neck, I would have had enough brain power left to do something, anything, else with some degree of competence. But instead, I used up all my self-control and mental energy keeping track of a few hundred dollars worth of plastic and metal.
It wasn’t my best moment.
Is anyone else with me? Are you willing to limit your self-control just a little bit so you have the reserves left to do other things?
After all, it’s good for the dog. And it’s good for us too.
Your Turn: Have you ever noticed other areas of your life suffering when you’re working hard on self-control in another aspect of your life? How about your dog? Does she make worse decisions after having to control herself for too long?
Something Swagging This Way Comes Giveaway
Thank you so much to the 70 people who took my long and involved survey. I’m just starting to look at your many great suggestions for improving Something Wagging This Way Comes. And I’m encouraged by your kind words.
The survey is now closed. But I welcome any constructive comments by email or in the comments.
Please stop by tomorrow when I’ll announce our two prize winners.
And thanks again for wagging with us day after day.