What To Do When You Want To Give Up
Rick Nauert writes on PsychCentral:
“A new study presents hard evidence on how the brain can run out of patience and self-control. A University of Iowa neuroscientist used functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) to confirm previous studies that show self-control is a finite commodity that is depleted by use. Researchers have learned that once the pool has dried up, we’re less likely to keep our cool the next time we’re faced with a situation that requires self-control.
In the study, William Hedgcock used fMRI images to scan people as they perform self-control tasks. The images showed the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is the part of the brain that recognizes a situation in which self-control is needed. Scientists believe the ACC understands that there are multiple responses to this situation and some might not be good — and, consequently, fires with equal intensity throughout the task.
However, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) — the part of the brain that manages self-control and says, ‘I really want to do the dumb thing, but I should overcome that impulse and do the smart thing’ — fires with less intensity after prior exertion of self-control.
Hedgcock believes the loss of activity in the DLPFC might be the person’s self-control draining away. The stable activity in the ACC suggests people have no problem recognizing a temptation. Although they keep fighting, they have a harder and harder time not giving in. This interpretation explains why someone who works very hard not to take seconds of lasagna at dinner winds up taking two pieces of cake at desert.
The study could also modify previous thinking that considered self-control to be like a muscle. Hedgcock says his images seem to suggest that it’s like a pool that can be drained by use then replenished through time in a lower conflict environment, away from temptations that require its use.” Read more here.
Self-control, of course, is an important element of the focus and practice required for learning. This study suggests that if we’re having trouble resisting distractions or the urge to slack off or give up, it’s better to place ourselves in a low-temptation environment for a while.