But I Already Spent That…

Have you ever thought of your willpower as a limited resource?  Like money?  You get a certain amount each payday, but once you spend what you’ve got, it’s gone!

During the day I do pretty good.  I wake up refreshed and restocked with a big bucket of willpower.  Then diabetes drinks it up.  I know that eating big means harder to manage blood sugars, or crazy amounts of exercise (which can work like magic to help manage BG’s).  So I give up a cup of willpower and eat a breakfast that I can manage.  Repeat this process of surrendering precious willpower over and over, throughout the day.  Every day.

Most evenings, I’m all tapped out.  I’ve spent all my willpower already.  I have trouble making good decisions.

There is a really great story out there called “The Spoon Theory“, written by Christine Miserandino (ButYouDontLookSick.com).  It is a wonderful expression of what it can be like to live with some sort of chronic condition or disability.  Talking about my willpower makes me think about this story.

So I have trouble with food in the evenings because my bucket of willpower has been drained dry, and/or I’ve spent too many of my spoons being “good” earlier in the day.  I end up making bad eating decisions and get really sloppy with my insulin.  I eat more than I need, swing crazy wild with my blood sugars, usually landing on running way too high for the entire night.  I deal with a lot of guilt, both for eating too much AND for having bad less than ideal blood sugars for the entire night.

There are a few articles out there that talk a little bit about willpower being a limited resource:

But I have to say that none of it seems very authoritative.  As if it is a pretty new idea that hasn’t been thoroughly tested.  Or maybe I just don’t have the patience to read through enough of it.  There is also a recurring idea that willpower is like a muscle, and can be trained to be stronger through practice.

When I first thought about that idea, I didn’t agree with it.  I figured I had years and years of practice.  My willpower muscle should be RIPPED!

But writing this blog post, I thought a little more about exercise and how exercise works.

Let’s say that I can do four push-ups.  After that fourth push-up I feel that I’ve done all I can, my muscles are spent, and I can’t do anymore push-ups.

If all I ever do is four push-ups, even if I do those four push-ups every single day, my brain is trained to think that four is all I can do, and I’m not really gaining any strength.  I’m not pushing my muscles to do any more than four.

The entire purpose behind training and exercising (for gains) is to push your body past its comfort point.  That is how you get stronger.  That is how muscles develop and grow more powerful.

Maybe the idea of exercising my willpower is not such a bad idea after all.  It is here where the idea departs a bit from “The Spoon Theory“, in that if I work at it, I can increase my willpower and self-control.  Maybe I’m also learning to make my spoons do more, or to “spend” my spoons wiser.

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14 thoughts on “But I Already Spent That…

  1. Well, that’s all nice and wonderfull, but just wait until you start getting all those “Complications” .. Those are the Boosters to your Will Power I think.. Or is it Fear of Loss Motivation?
    And if you can walk? You have no Excuse not to be walking EVERYDAY dummy! I used to walk ave of 1-2 mi , everyday in my neighborhood, go to parks, Forest Preserves and other places…Find 5-7 different places to go do your 1-2 miles of walking -20 min mile speed) and bring some hand weights or a Fanny Pack with 20 lbs in it..
    And I’ve been eating at McD’s, Burger King and others for Decades, You just have to Know what your Insulin-to-Carb-Ratio is and take the appropiate amt of Insulin..
    Another Trick? You just eat 1/2 the Bun and not the other, since there is where most of the Carbs are…( Or No Bun- ask for it w/o the Buns) and McD’s Side salads are fine as well..
    and their Hot Fudge Sundae is the Best for the lowest Carbs ( 45) Culver’s is NOT good for their High Carb -Fried Foods..stay away from them..
    and just Test.. b4 and 2 hrs after eating, know what a Correction Bolus is for your 2 hr timeframe is..If you’re not 120 or less after 2 hrs? take a CB.. and focus on taking the right amount of Basal At Bedtime to get up in the 80’s…5/7 days awk.. the other 2 days? can be in the 100-120’s..
    Be Aggressive.. T1 is out to Destroy your Organs and you..That is what a Auto -Immune Disease does..and a CURE is the Only answer, everything else is just Temporary..Just ask Ron Santo-Chicago Cubs fame and Bret Micheals -Rocker and Apprentice Fame..

  2. I just read the Zen Habits post — interesting that glucose is key to willpower. This explains why so many of us have such a hard time with the stupid 15 carbs/15 minutes rule.

  3. great blog Scott…..I am often he of wont-power…..(wont resist whatever it is)
    I think you are right on target once again …………..
    Your writings are always relevant and honest, and I think thats why folks dig ya……
    The muscle memory thing is a great way to look at it…
    Keep on keeping on brother……..

  4. Scott, this is definitely one of the more interesting and relevant posts I’ve read on a d-blog in a while. For me, it’s a question of maintaining willpower/discipline until habit takes over. I’m extremely vulnerable to cravings/addictions, but at the same time, I’m good at total self-denial (versus moderation), so that after a while of being disciplined, a behavior becomes habit, and no longer requires willpower. All it takes, though, is one dalliance/deviation to throw me right off the wagon (and this was the case long before diabetes). Very insightful and welcome post.

  5. hey scott!!
    great subject!! as a old timer and the master of the old ways im sure you remember the “evening ” snack! that has been a thorn in my side for a long time.and still is.
    i do great during the day also.but because this no need to snack thing is relativity new thats where my problem lies.with the new insulin i can “reward” myself with something at night as i have always done.and still be ok.right? yea right!! i swear im pavlovas dog!! 8:00 pm. ding ding.bring on the stuff!!! lmao
    there is no sane reason for this except that i am insane! i dont need it. but i do it.it doesnt help.but i do it.i have joined the new century except for this.i still eat at night.
    i know others have given it up.”no snack for you”.but its like a security blanket to me.i have gone without it,and it did not kill me.
    but then i feel something missing.like i was bad!! lol jeeezzz im not 11 anymore!!!
    what comes first.habit.do we need will power to break a habit.
    this is way to deep for me!!
    great blog!

  6. Interesting & thought-provoking article! I have Fibro & recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes & Hypothroidism. So I start my day with a seeming deficit of spoons! The diabetes has thrown an interesting wrench into the mix! It’s a process of learning every day! Thx for your post!

  7. Scott, I’m glad you plugged Zen Habits. I really enjoyed his book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. It’s one of the few “self help” style books that helped. It encouraged me to cut back on activities that didn’t really mean a lot to me and make sure I did more of the things that did. In the process, I discovered that I got a lot more done, experienced far less stress, and improved my health (eating, exercise, etc.) For most people, isn’t stress the biggest source of willpower depletion?

  8. I don’t trust willpower so I need to make sure I avoid or replace the things that sabotage me. Haven’t figured out how to close down the McDonalds down rhe road but I don’t drive past it anymore!!

  9. Hey Scott– I’m a fellow T1 who found your post through the magic of Twitter RTs. I was also a psych major in college, so this post made my nerd heart especially happy. 😀 Yes, there is in fact a lot of data beyond Wikipedia that support ego depletion, and the idea of self-control as a muscle. Don’t forget all the other domains in life in which you’re exerting self-control…..being productive at work instead of putzing around on Facebook, not snapping at an annoying remark (mmm, diabetes police, perhaps?), etc. etc. etc.
    So you’re right– the way to make it stronger is by practice. You can also take a tip from experimenters, who led their participants through the same self-control challenges (i.e. resisting a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and instead eating….radishes) multiple times. After doing it a few times, participants became better at resisting the cookies. So– is there ONE temptation that you consistently yield to by the end of the day? Maybe it’s eating too much. Maybe it’s eating less-than-healthfully. I know for me, it’s pulling a bolus dose out of my arse instead of doing exact calculation. (Stupid, yes? Yes. I don’t deny it.) But the evidence shows that if you practice self-control in one domain, it will get easier for sure. And besides, easier to pick one thing…..so that you don’t get wiped out all over again!
    –Caroline (carobanano on Twitter)

  10. It can be hard especially with all the convenience foods so readily at hand. Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Ice Cream shops. It can be hard but it takes willpower and the ability to convince yourself you don’t need it. I am lucky to be on an insulin pump so when I eat, I counter with insulin to cover the meal. Helps with the swings…but it does not mean I don’t have to exerciseto make up for bad decisions.
    I also believe as I was diagnosed when I was 4 I never grew up eatting many things others miss. I do not like chocolate, ice cream or candy…so it does make it easier. I can pass a bakery, smell and keep on, but know others who were diagnosed later in life who can not, they are drawn.
    I hope everyone can tame their demons and stay in the best control possible.

  11. I love your thoughts about willpower and training that muscle! But another line of cognitive behavior theory presents the idea that willpower is less important than identifying and removing the barriers that get in the way of taking care of ourselves.
    Example: If you’re tired when you approach making your evening meal and thus grab less healthful foods, consider making your meals ahead of time, when you have the will and patience to count the carbs, make sure you’re getting all food groups, etc. Yes, much much easier said than done.
    But what I like about the “crashing the barriers” approach is it becomes less about something we supposedly lack at times–willpower–and more about shaping our world for success.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this.

  12. Get me a spoon! I need a bowl of ice cream 🙂
    Just so you know that you aren’t alone in the spoonless boat of hunger during the evenings.