Chip Is Alive!, Issue 8

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Welcome to Issue 8 of Chip Is Alive!, where we examine thought-provoking life strategies and issues which may or may not be of interest to you. Chip Is Alive! is inspired by Chip Vivant, the app who thinks he's alive and wants to be your friend and help you in ways that other productivity apps can't. You can meet Chip at

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In this issue, we'll:

  • talk about Ego Depletion and Decision Fatigue
  • talk about how Chip can help with these

Enjoy. Feedback always welcome. If you enjoy this newsletter, please consider Liking the EmpathyNow Facebook page and following us on Twitter. Every little bit helps.

Willpower: An Exhaustible Resource

Ego Depletion is the theory that self-control and willpower are exhaustible resources[1]. Exercising these uses them up and when they are used up, the ability to exercise them becomes impaired. The insidious thing about Ego Depletion and Decision Fatigue is that if you don't know about these phenomena, it's difficult to realize you have succumbed to them. By definition, an impaired state means you're less apt to realize you're in one. This model explains why dieters often fail and binge eat when they do. It explains why normally rational people do irrational things. It certainly explains quite a few dumb things I've done in my life.

While the notion of ego depletion is not universally academically accepted, it has many proponents. A fascinating New York Times article[2] discusses a corollary of Ego Depletion called Decision Fatigue, where one's decision-making ability is impaired as the result of having made too many decisions, and presents a case study of how Israeli parole board members' life-altering decisions depended strongly on the time of day, whether they had had lunch, etc.

The article goes on to describe how salespeople know how to exploit decision fatigue by timing the sale and presenting a barrage of choices up front in order to purposefully impair the customer's decision-making ability early on. "The best decision makers," Baumgartner (the researcher behind the theory of Decision Fatigue) says, "are the ones who know when not to trust themselves."

Ego Depletion and Decision Fatigue have important ramifications when trying to use EmpathyNow and Chip to get through difficult moments and accomplish your To-Dos. If you're trying not to smoke a cigarette or eat junk food, it's not enough to have Chip check in on you or will yourself to avoid these things, especially when most of our days are filled ego-depleting activities. The same holds for To-Dos: most To-Dos involve an expenditure of psychic energy which is difficult once ego depletion has taken hold. That's why one fitness trainer I respect recommended exercising first thing in the morning "before the day sinks its claws into you".

How does one counteract ego depletion and decision fatigue? The NY Times article discusses how successful people structure their lives so that potentially depleting activities become a non-option as much as possible. Secondly, these faculties can be replenished through rest, positive stimuli and depending on whether your blood sugar levels are low, nourishment.

Tips on how Chip can help with ego depletion and decision fatigue are discussed in the following section.

Chip's Tips: Combating Ego Depletion

As mentioned previously, the specter of ego depletion means that naively-formulated Challenges (not smoking a cigarette) and To-Dos (learning Spanish) may not be enough. Here are some tips that can help compensate for this:

  • Understand what Ego Depletion is and learn to recognize when you might be succumbing to it. Also understand that simply willing the depletion away when you're in an impaired state is unlikely to work.
  • With each To-Do, focus on the big picture of why you're doing this as well as the good feeling that arriving at your ultimate destination will bring. Then create a series of Empathetic Notifications which remind you of this in as much detail as possible.
  • Give yourself ego-restoring, fun To-Dos which should be taken every bit as seriously as your ego-depleting ones. These can help both with your challenging moments as well as your To-Dos.
  • Finally, seek to structure your life in such a way that ego-depleting events are limited or avoided. I'm pretty sure that this is beyond the current capabilities of EmpathyNow, but maybe that means there's a potentially new app waiting to be written.

If you enjoy this newsletter, please consider Liking the EmpathyNow Facebook page and following us on Twitter. Every little bit helps.

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