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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Scott K. Johnson

Patient voice, speaker, writer, advocate. Living life with diabetes and telling my story. Patient Success Manager, USA for mySugr (All opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of my employer).

Diagnosed in April of 1980, I recognize the incredible mental struggle of living with diabetes. Read more…