Sunday, April 25, 2010

We Lose our Self-Discipline when tired or Hungry - but why?

Why do we go off our diets, or exercise programs, at the very time we need them - when we are tired or stressed? If we want to retain control of our lives, then we need to understand about the Biochemistry underneath these changes - and some of it is quite basic. Self-discipline needs glucose to the brain. Exercising self-discipline takes energy. Therefore we need to keep ourselves properly fueled, fit, and refreshed by proper sleep. It's so easy to enter the self-harm spiral, where we miss out on any one of these because of the pressure of life. I'm finding it hard to take time to exercise because work is urgent right now. It's the old conflict between what's important and what's urgent. Today, however, I'm just back from a break. Energized, not fit but fitter, and ready to write. Take a minute to read more about the science behind it so we can all manage our lives better.
Scientists have long argued that delaying gratification requires a sense of "self." Having a sense of personal identity allows us to compare what we are today, at this very moment, with what we want to be--an idealized self. Aspiring to this idealized self is what fosters uniquely human self-control powers.
Well maybe--or maybe not. New research is now suggesting a much more primitive explanation for our powers of self-discipline--one that brings us down a notch or two in the animal kingdom. Indeed, it appears that, even with our lofty aspirations, we may rely on the same rudimentary biological engine for self-discipline as our four-legged best friends. Here's the science.

Psychological scientist Holly Miller and her colleagues at the University of Kentucky knew from previous research that human self-control relies on the brain's "executive" powers, which coordinate thought and action. It's further known that this kind of cognitive processing is fueled by glucose, and that depletion of the brain's fuel supply compromises self-discipline. But is this a uniquely human fuel system? Or do less evolved animals rely on sugar-powered executive functioning as well?

Wray Herbert: Dog Tired: What Our Hounds Can Teach Us About Self-Control

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