Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Ego Depletion

without comments

On the recommendation of Mike Jones I’ve been reading through Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow in which the first part of the book covers our two styles of thinking:

  • System 1 – operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 – allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

He then uses a series of stories to explain this in more detail but I found an experiment run by Roy Baumeister the most interesting:

A series of surprising experiments […] has shown conclusively that all variants of voluntary effort – cognitive, emotional, or physical – draw at least partly on a shared pool of mental energy. Their experiments involve successive rather than simultaneous tasks.

Baumeister’s group has repeatedly found that an effort of will or self control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around.

The phenomenon has been named ego depletion.

This particularly resonates with me as I’ve frequently seen people (including myself) let a series of events involving another person to go by before finally snapping over something seemingly innocuous.

Quite frequently the other person had no idea that the way they were behaving was irritating so the reaction comes as a surprise to them!

We can get around this problem to some extent by providing timely feedback but in order for that to happen I think we need to admit to ourselves when we are frustrated rather than pretending that it doesn’t bother us.

It will probably feel silly to address these innocuous events so early on when we don’t think they’re bothering us that much but I think it’s better than the explosive alternative!

Be Sociable, Share!

Written by Mark Needham

June 4th, 2013 at 11:16 pm