Ego Depletion and Your Life Choices

Ego Depletion and Your Life Choices

Aug 16, 2023

Are you a disciplined person who can save and invest regularly? Do you have the willpower to eat well, exercise regularly, and sleep for eight hours at night? Do you have that self-control to put in the necessary work to advance in your studies, career, and even sustain meaningful relationships?

In other words, do you have that constant ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of your long-term goals?

We usually call the people who are able to do the above as disciplined, determined, self-controlled, rational, etc. And we oftentimes think that it’s a matter of either you are a disciplined, determined, self-controlled, rational person, or you are not. Today’s article explains that it’s not as simple as either “you are or you are not.” 

In FQ Book 2 Why Financial Education Alone Does Not Work back-to-back with The Psychology of Money, we discuss Ego Depletion in Chapter 12.

First, let us clarify the usage of the word ego in the context of this behavioral bias. It is not the colloquial meaning of being too full of oneself that we commonly use when we say, “Ang tindi ng ego mo!” or “You’re too egotistic!” Ego here, is used in the psychological sense which is the organized and critical part of thinking that balances our physical desires and moralistic aspirations. It is our Makatwirang Mak side. 

Ego Depletion refers to the idea that yes, we all have this rational willpower or self-control to mediate between our instinctual desires and our moralistic aspirations, but this draws upon a mental resource. As with any kind of resource, it is also limited and can be used up. Thus, our ability to make rational decisions and behave accordingly is affected by this limited resource. This resource can be drained by decision overload, hunger, self-restraint, and extreme fatigue.

We always hear the advice never to do your groceries on an empty stomach. Why? Because hunger causes ego depletion. The hungrier you are, the more likely you will overbuy, and the quality of the food you may end up adding to your cart may be the not so healthy ones but those that can give you immediate tummy gratification.

Even when attending parties, this should be remembered. We always hear people say, “I didn’t eat lunch anymore because I have been looking forward to your buffet dinner treat!” Again, this will make us stuff too much into our mouths that we may regret later on.   

When it comes to shopping, we often hear the term retail therapy. Bad moods or experiences are addressed with this exercise, but believe me it is the opposite of therapy. Therapy is a rehabilitation that takes several sessions to gradually cure something. But a shopping spree is more like a pill you pop into your mouth for that immediate gratification. Unfortunately, just like most pills, there are negative side effects. You will experience them when your credit card bills arrive, and your regular saving and investing is missed. 

Judicial Rulings and Ego Depletion

There are several experiments and studies on ego depletion discussed in FQ Book 2. One of them is the 2011 study by Danziger, Levav, and Avnaim-Pesso on the parole decisions of judges.

Judicial rulings are supposed to be based on laws and facts where judges apply legal reasons in rational, mechanical, and deliberative manner. Unfortunately, the study found a trend that points otherwise. They found out that the likelihood of granting a parole is highest after the judges took their last meal. From a high of 65% after their last meal, favorable rulings drop gradually to almost 0% for the last case in a long series before the break. The favorable decisions abruptly return to 65% after the break, then goes down to almost 0% again. To put it bluntly, as the judges get hungrier and more exhausted, your chances of being granted a parole goes down!

Not granting a parole means status quo for the prisoner, and it takes less action from the judges.

Watch Your Ego Reserve

Knowing what you know now, you may be better off watching your levels of hunger, frustration, energy, and general well-being that may affect the way you decide and behave especially in important matters.

Plan your meals well – the quality, quantity, and the timing so that you do not succumb to ego depletion often. And talking about meals, our next installment in the House Tour + Behavioral Biases Video Series is coming out on Friday! It is a Kitchen Tour + Ego Depletion. The bonus is a discussion about keto diet and other matters with our guest, food and wellness entrepreneur, Kath Buendia of KetoPescaPh, KetoVegetarianPh, KetoVeganPh, ChowBabyMnl, BetterJuiceMnl, Deesse.Officielle, and many more!


1. I will be a guest at Cito Beltran’s Agenda on Thursday August 17, 2023 at 8:00 am.

2. Where are you in the journey now, take the FQ Test to find out. Click here.

3. Purchase any or all of the FQ books to enhance your FQ (Financial Quotient).

This article is also published in Philstar.