You come home after a long day of work and you immediately curl yourself up on the couch and binge the latest Netflix craze for hours, while you scroll and scroll through your social media feeds and snack on potato chips even though you’re “on a diet.” You lo…

In a study conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in those test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. They studied how people reacted when they were fatigued and told to drink lemonade with sugar in it to give them a boost. After the participants drank the lemonade, the researchers evaluated how they reacted.
It wasnt the sugar in the lemonade, but the belief in its impact that gave participants an extra boost. People who did not see willpower as a finite resource did not show signs of ego-depletion. If Dwecks conclusions are correct, that means that ego-depletion is essentially caused by self-defeating thoughts and not by any biological limitation, an idea that makes us less likely to accomplish our goals by providing a rationale to quit when we could otherwise persist.
Michael Inzlicht, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the principal investigator at the Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience, offers an alternative view to Dwecks conclusions. Inzlicht believes that willpower is not a finite resource but instead acts like an emotion. Just as we dont run out of joy or anger, willpower ebbs and flows based on whats happening to us and how we feel.
For example, to determine how in control people feel regarding their cravings for cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, researchers administered a standard survey called the Craving Belief Questionnaire. The assessment is modified for the participants drug of choice and presents statements like, Once the craving starts I have no control over my behavior, and the cravings are stronger than my willpower.
How people rate these statements tells researchers a great deal, not only about their current state but also how likely they are to remain addicted. Participants who indicate they feel more powerful as time passes increase their odds of quitting. In contrast, studies of cigarette smokers found that those who believed they were powerless to resist were most likely to fall off the wagon after quitting.
The logic isnt surprising, but the extent of the effect is remarkable. A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that individuals who believed they were powerless to fight their cravings were much more likely to drink again. The same theory could be applied to other things as well, such as working out, dieting, self-control in a relationship, etc.