Signs of Willpower Fatigue: How To Tell When You’re Burnt Out

July 25, 2017

If we know that willpower is a finite resource that we should treat sparingly, how do we know when we're pushing our limits and facing burnout?

Apparently there isn't just a single tell-tale sign that can tell us whether we're suffering from willpower depletion or not.  However, there are a few traits that seem to affect us all in this state:-

  • Stronger emotional reactions - while depleted people don't show any single emotion, they do seem to react more strongly to the stimulus that's placed upon them.  

    In other words, willpower depletion seems to make you overreact to both positive and negative things that happen to you.

    A moment of joy will make you more happy than happy than usual, whereas the opposite is true if you watch a sat or negative film, for example.
  • Cravings intensify - studies show that people crave things with increased intensity when they're in a depleted state.

    In one particular study, those in a depleted state reported a stronger craving to eat another cookie...And they acted on those impulses when they were given the chance.

In short, when we have willpower depletion, we tend to react stronger to things that happen to us and our desires and impulses are stronger than usual.  It's like turning up the volume on life.  

Some other more Practical Signs that
your Willpower is Drained

Aside from the symptoms of willpower fatigue there are also numerous behavior signals that we can watch out for.  These include:-

  • If you're struggling with clarity of thought and decision making.  This could be  a sign that you're struggling from decision fatigue (a form of willpower depletion).
  • You have stronger resistance than normal to doing things that you usually do.  For instance, if you usually hit the gym three times per week but you're struggling to make yourself go.
  • If you give into temptations that you usually manage to resist through self control.
  • If you give up and don't have as much persistence as you usually do, or if you're struggling to focus or get in the zone when doing something that you can usually handle.  Perhaps you cut your workout short or you're not able to completely your daily meditation practice or writing routine.

The Practical Implications of this...

The symptoms of willpower depletion are a little bit wishy washy.  There isn't a specific list of emotions, feelings and other symptoms that people have when they're depleted. Of course, this makes self diagnosis difficult. 

If we do, however, have the suspicion that we're depleted then the best course of action is to take a break, eat something (to elevate glucose levels), get a good night's sleep and just get some rest.

Another thing to consider is what's led you to burnout?  Have you been trying to tackle too many things at once?  Is your life a constant string of willpower depleting decision making?  

If so, follow these steps to design your life in such a way that preserves your willpower.

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