Introduction

. When performing mild exercise, there is a greater mental alertness. On the other hand, if we increase the degree of physical exertion, we are less able to engage in mental work ie there is a sharp deterioration in our ability to think coherently; especially if it involves the short-term memory. In addition to the physical effort of greater exertion, a mental effort of self-control is required to resist the urge to slow down. Self-control and deliberate thought currently draw on the same limited budget of energy.

. It is thought that frequent switching of tasks and speeding up mental work are not intrinsically pleasurable for our brains and people try to avoid them whenever possible.

. To develop an intricate argument under time pressure, we need to be physically still.

. Even in the absence of time pressure, maintaining a coherent train of thought requires discipline (thus effort and energy)

. On the other hand, people sometimes expend considerable efforts for long periods of time without exerting willpower. This is called "flow", ie

"...a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems..."and their descriptions of the joy of this state are very strong

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as quoted by Daniel Kahneman, 2012

There are 2 parts to flow, ie information on the task and the deliberate control of attention. In the state of flow, maintaining focused attention on the all-absorbing activities requires no exertion of self-control; this frees up resources for use elsewhere

. Self-control and cognitive effort are forms of mental work. Self-control of thoughts and behaviours requires attention, effort and use energy. Thus it is tiring. Many tasks are known to have a negative impact on self-control like conflict, need to suppress a natural tendency, trying to impress others, interacting with a person from a different group, etc.

. If you have to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge occurs. This is called ego depletion. The initial emotional effort reduces the ability to withstand the pain of sustained muscle contraction of the next challenge, eg next difficult cognitive task. Thus there is a greater urge to quit. Factors that can impact on ego depletion are our diets, overspending on impulsive purchases, reacting aggressively to provocation, performing poorly in cognitive tasks and logical decision-making, etc

- ego deletion is linked with motivation. If the incentive is strong enough, people can resist ego depletion.

- ego depletion is not the same mental state as cognitive busyness

. Performance can be disrupted by loading the short-term memory with pointless thoughts

. If somebody is simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and a temptation, the temptation is more likely to win

. Intelligence, ie

"...is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed..."

Daniel Kahneman, 2012

. Research (Daniel Kahneman, 2012) has shown self-control and intelligence are linked. Improve control of attention and intelligence improves

 

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