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What Is Ego-Depletion And How Does It Affect Willpower?

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The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Picture how you feel at the end of a hectic day. Do you still feel like you have the stamina to pursue your interests after a day of errands, projects, and last-minute appointments? You probably just want to veg out in front of the TV after a long day.

Psychologists talk about something called the ego-depletion effect to explain why you could feel so spent and worn out at the end of a long day.

Defining “Ego Depletion”

Knife with reflection tattoo on the leg
Knife with a reflection tattoo on the leg.

Many times in a person’s life, they will be confronted with a strong want, desire, or natural inclination that must be satisfied. It’s not always healthy, reasonable, or socially acceptable to give in to such emotions. Self-discipline and restraint are necessary for navigating these sorts of obstacles. Sometimes, we have to put off giving in to these desires until we’re in a better position to do so.

It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to self-regulate in this way. Willpower is required to varying degrees for each of these initiatives. Restricting one’s behavior, no matter how mildly, can be taxing.

The term “ego depletion” refers to the state of having spent all of one’s potential motivation on a single activity. They lose the ability to exercise the same amount of discipline on subsequent, frequently unrelated jobs.

We Can Only Exert So Much Willpower

The premise of this view is that self-control, like a muscle, can be trained and exhausted. Exhausting yourself by running sprints, for instance, will impair your ability to accomplish other types of physical work.

According to the available evidence, willpower and self-control are essentially identical. If you use your available energy and attain a level of ego depletion, you will have less self-control when presented with ensuing chores.

Big black trident tattoo on the back
Big black trident tattoo on the back

Having self-restraint is crucial. Having good self-control is advantageous in a variety of ways. Self-controlled people may be happier and more successful in their personal and professional lives. Instead, those who struggle to maintain their own composure may find themselves embroiled in interpersonal conflicts and underperforming in the classroom.


Ego depletion and the inability to reestablish self-control can result from a number of different circumstances, including:

  • Emotional discomfort, in particular, has been shown to hasten the depletion of willpower.
  • The effort required to try anything new is more when it is unfamiliar.
  • There is a phenomenon known as “illusory fatigue,” in which the perception of a mentally demanding task leads to increased mental exhaustion.
  • Low blood sugar levels can make it harder to say no to tempting foods.
  • We lack the same level of self-control when we are forced to do something as when we are free to choose.
  • Cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual’s actions or words go counter to their held beliefs, and this can lead to a loss of inhibition.
  • Researchers have shown that the more irregular your heartbeat is, the less self-control you have.
  • Because the ovaries produce more estrogen during this time of the menstrual cycle, women may feel less in control of their emotions and behaviors during premenstrual syndrome.
  • To some extent, the ego depletion experienced by the elderly may be less severe than that experienced by the young.

Preventing Ego-Depletion

Four leaf clover in a triangle
Four leaf clover in a triangle

Depletion of one’s ego can have a devastating effect on one’s drive, accomplishments, and productivity. As a result, how can you lessen the impact on your ability to exercise self-control and willpower?

Enhance Your Mood

Researchers have shown that a happier disposition can help one exert more self-control. Some research has shown that people with low ego who watch comedies improve their mood and can then perform as well on self-control tasks as people with high egos.

Modify Your Perspective

Self-perceptions of exhaustion were associated with ego depletion in one study. Those who were able to take a step back and look at the big picture, rather than focusing solely on their personal perceptions, were able to counteract this tendency. In order to lessen the effects of ego depletion, it is important to keep your attention on your long-term objectives rather than your immediate emotions.

Consider What Is Important to You

Another black and gray piece
Another black and gray piece

Self-affirming behaviors have been demonstrated to mitigate the psychological distress associated with ego depletion. To affirm oneself is to engage in any action or idea that serves to strengthen one’s sense of identity and worth. Communicating your most fundamental views and ideals is a straightforward yet powerful method of self-affirmation. When you’re feeling down and overwhelmed, it can help to stop and think about the things that really important to you.

Focus on Getting Enough Rest

Your resolve is restored overnight, giving you the mental fortitude to face the day with determination. Sleep deprivation has the same effect, making it harder to exercise restraint. Now consider how much more difficult it is to say no to junk food when you’re sleep deprived compared to when you’ve had a good night’s rest. Learn more about how prioritizing sleep and rest is essential for strengthening willpower and lowering ego-depletion here.

Learn to Manage Your Stress

Watercolor circular spaceship tattoo
Watercolor circular spaceship tattoo

Taking control of your stress levels can have a multiplicative effect, allowing you to exert more command over the aspects of your life that are draining your reserves of self-control and determination. Taking short breaks throughout the day to practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness meditation can also help restore mental vitality.