The Theory Behind Ego Depletion And How it Affects Your Willpower

Last Update on February 3, 2023 : Published on February 4, 2023
The Theory Behind Ego Depletion And How it Affects Your Willpower

After a long busy day – where you worked straight on projects, ran all the errands, and even made the appointments you made last week – but then, back at home after the end of the day, you feel too fatigued to even think about dinner, a shower, and sleep. Sounds vaguely familiar?

Well, this is what can be called ego depletion. When you spend a lot of time working on tasks that take all your self-control and willpower, you become exhausted to tackle other tasks on your list – even if they are as simple as making dinner.

There’s a theory explaining that when all your self-control and willpower are used up, you feel burned out. For example, when you work out too much, your muscles feel tired, right? So tired that you can’t even move to pick up a cup of coffee! Just like that, when you use all your internal resources to work on a task or two out of many, it leaves you feeling exhausted to the bone.

In this blog, explore what ego depletion is, how it affects your willpower, what causes it, and how you can overcome it. Plus, keep a lookout for some interesting stats too!

What Is Ego Depletion?

Ego Depletion

It’s important to understand that willpower is limited and just like our muscles, it can be exhausted and strengthened. Just like that, self-control is an important part of our motivation too. Good self-control means better relationships and higher accomplishments. But poor self-control can result in social conflicts, bad decision-making, and poor performance.

When you use up all your limited resources – such as motivation, self-control, and willpower – on one task, unable to use the same on another unrelated task, then it’s what ego depletion is.

Here, I’ll help you with an example; you pay attention (all of it) at a work meeting but then when it comes to choosing a lunch meal, you don’t have the attention to pick the right one. Or maybe all your self-control was spent at work and when you went home, you forget to rein in your frustrations and yell at your partner.

What Causes Ego Depletion?

Many factors could cause ego depletion, including;

  • Emotional distress
  • Working on something new and challenging
  • Mental fatigue
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Lack of choice in picking tasks
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Increased heart rate
  • Premenstrual syndrome or fluctuating hormones

Ego Depletion Examples;

Here are some common examples of ego depletion;

  • In a study, it was found that participants who were asked to avoid eating snacks placed next to them were more likely to consume unhealthy food such as ice cream. This suggests that not eating snacks placed next to them took all their willpower so when presented with ice cream, they gave up and ate the ice cream as much as they wanted.
  • In another experiment, it was found that people with ego depletion were more likely to snap or respond with hostility towards their spouse or partners.

What Studies Say…

Researchers have long argued that ego depletion is not a result of drained self-control but a shift in motivation, emotion, and attention. Some also believe that ego depletion does not exist at all.

A study explored the former theory by asking participants to complete a task that depleted their self-control and willpower completely. Some participants were then informed that the study aimed to provide proof of supporting a new therapy for people with Alzheimer’s.

Given this incentive, these participants felt motivated to perform well for patients with Alzheimer’s, making them outperform the other group. This study somewhat proved that motivation, when provided in the right way, can play a huge role in the effects of ego depletion.

How Does Ego Depletion Affect You?

Here’s how ego depletion affects you in your daily life;

  • Healthy diet: Studies show that seasoned dieters are more likely to suffer from ego depletion than others. Because dieting takes a lot of willpower, it can cause people to lose their self-control when faced with temptations.
  • Poor decision-making: Another study shows that frequent shoppers struggle with ego depletion more and are more likely to make impulsive decisions and purchases. When they are faced with a huge number of choices to make, they feel overwhelmed and frustrated, losing their self-control over their impulses.
  • Performance: For anyone doing mental tasks that take a lot of willpower and self-control, it’s common to see a decline in performance. For example, student-athletes taking an exam before a game are likely to perform poorly.
  • Substance use: When someone uses all of their willpower on demanding tasks, it leaves them vulnerable to give in to substances such as alcohol, smoking, and drugs.

How To Overcome Ego Depletion?

Theory Behind Ego

Here is what you can do to prevent and overcome ego depletion;

1.Work on your mood

When you’re in a positive mood, you can see a positive impact on your self-control too. In many studies, it was found that people with ego depletion found themselves in better moods when they watched comedy films and performed well on tasks that required self-control.

2.Look at the big picture

In a study, it was found that people who saw themselves as exhausted individuals were likely to feel ego depletion, but those who paused and looked at themselves as a whole did not struggle with the same. Changing your self-perception can play a huge role in overcoming ego depletion.

3.See what matters the most

When you’re motivated by self-affirmation, then you can work on overcoming ego depletion too. Self-affirmation is any action or thought that can boost your sense of self. For example, you can express what matters to you the most whenever you’re feeling exhausted. This will also help you prevent ego depletion from affecting your tasks.

4.Get enough sleep

Sleep can help you reset your self-control and replenish any willpower and motivation you seem to lack. When you are working on less sleep, you can be more prone to ego depletion as it makes it harder for you to work on self-control. Getting enough sleep can help you improve your self-control too.

5.Use stress management techniques

Using stress management techniques to manage stress can help you control yourself and make you refresh your willpower and energy. So whenever you begin to feel the effects of ego depletion, take some time to relax; maybe take a deep breath, and do some mindfulness meditation; to recharge your mental energy.

Final Thoughts…

Ego depletion is when you use all your willpower and self-control on one or two tasks but then have none for the rest of the tasks in the day. Ego depletion can have many effects on your decision-making skill, performance, and day-to-day life. Working on preventing ego depletion can help you improve in many aspects of your life.

Watch an uplifting movie, take a walk, do something fun – anything that can help you restore your motivation and willpower. Focus on things that give you a mental boost whenever you feel mentally exhausted and drained.

I hope this blog helped you understand what ego depletion is, its causes and effects, and how you can work on overcoming ego depletion. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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