By Steven G. Mehta

Why is it that at the end of the day, it is easier for you to snap at your spouse than the beginning?  Why do telemarketers advertise late at night, when you are tired?  Why is it hard to get out of the rut and change your routine?   The answer is that you only have so much self control.

Here is a link to a video that explains an experiment in self control and its implications towards everyday life.

Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. Any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation, negotiating something stressful, mediating,  or simply trying to focus, you only have so much self control in the gas tank.

According to the research, in most change situations, you’re substituting unfamiliar behaviors for old, comfortable ones.  That simple act burns self-control.

What implications for mediation and negotiation?  Well first, for many years, I have had chocolate chip cookies and other yummy — but less than heart healthy — snacks.  Little did I know that I was doing something psychologically towards helping change rather than having radishes.  Having food around can help people be more tolerant to change and difficult tasks.  They won’t just snap and stop working on the change (i.e. settlement).

This limited resource of patience may also explain why people might make more moves later in the day rather than earlier.  They may simply have ran out of willpower.

This concept is also very closely related to my prior post


To oversimplify the issue:  So now we know that if we want change in behavior, try do it early in the day; if we want someone to accede to our requests, do it later in the day, when they have less willpower.