2. Bad timing
Researchers have revealed that the prefrontal cortex manages our willpower, along with our short-term memory and our ability to focus and solve abstract problems. That’s a lot for one piece of tissue to do. Why is this important? Because if these other functions are taxing our prefrontal cortex, then it won’t have enough energy left to boost our fortitude when we need it to. In a Stanford University study, one group had to remember a two-digit number, while another had to remember a seven-digit one. Both had to walk down a hallway then choose from two different snacks, chocolate cake or fruit salad. The seven-digit, mentally taxed group were almost twice as likely to choose cake over fruit.
Translation: If you have the kind of day that strains your prefrontal cortex (intense focusing, solving abstract problems, exercising short-term memory), then adjust your schedule so that you’re using your willpower earlier in the day before your brain gets tired: work out in the morning and avoid doing your grocery shopping at night—if you must, then stay away from the candy aisle.