In yesterday’s post I talked about how the brain can only take in so much information at a time and because of that it generalizes what it sees at times, depending on priority. Today I’m going to talk a little about the brain’s ability to self regulate.

Willpower is a great under appreciated talent. What is interesting about it is the balancing act. If you tighten your belt in one area you tend to loosen it in another. For more information you can see Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang Op-Ed piece on April 2nd, 2008 in the NY Times called Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind.” The examples it details is how someone when restricting their spending will then over eat. Here are some excerpts I like from the article:

The good news, however, is that practice increases willpower capacity, so that in the long run, buying less now may improve our ability to achieve future goals — like losing those 10 pounds we gained when we weren’t out shopping.

Other activities that deplete willpower include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep.

People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking

No one knows why willpower can grow with practice but it must reflect some biological change in the brain.

Whatever the explanation, consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower — and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life.

So as we get closer to the stimulus package you can see that the US Federal government wants people to open back up their wallets. They don’t want an increase in shopping avoidance willpower, regardless of if people can really afford it. As consumer spending goes so goes the economy. Maybe it is just as simple as cash flow on the balance sheet.


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