Jun 09, 2016

Why do entrepreneurs struggle with weight? Psychology has the perfect answer

Yes, mental energy is a real thing, not a metaphor. This is the lynchpin around which the idea revolves.

BYJayadevan PK

You see entrepreneurs in all sizes and shapes, so it is tough (and perhaps unfair) to generalise but many of them pack a few extra kilos. Ever wonder why? I could pass off some truisms as an answer but there is a more accurate explanation that makes a lot more sense. And it is backed by science.
The idea is an extension of studies presented by Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his supremely insightful book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
As Kahneman puts it, people who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial judgements in social situations. This has been well established through various studies.
For instance, if people are asked to remember a set of numbers and at the same time offered a choice of two desserts, one loaded with sugar and the other a healthy fruit salad, most people are likely to pick the sugar loaded dessert.
Why is that?
It is all based on what is called ego depletion, or the depletion of mental energy.
Yes, mental energy is a real thing, not a metaphor. This is the lynchpin around which the idea revolves.
Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has shown through his studies that our nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body, and effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose, Kahneman points out. Which means, when you perform cognitively demanding tasks or make decisions that require self-control, your blood glucose level drops. This in turn leads to a lack of self-control. Because exercising self control also requires mental energy.
A corollary is that the effects of ego depletion can be reduced by ingesting glucose, Kahneman writes. In one of Baumeister’s studies, volunteers were asked to interpret the body language of a woman in a short film. Meanwhile, a series of words crossed the screen and participants were asked to ignore them to concentrate on the woman’s body language.
“This act of self control was known to cause ego depletion,” writes Kahneman.
Now the volunteers were given a glass of lemonade, one sweetened with glucose and the other with Splenda. The group that consumed the drink with Splenda committed more intuitive errors in tasks that followed.
If you stretch the idea a little, you could say a typical entrepreneur in the thick of things is cognitively busy most of the times, leaving him with little mental space to worry if the next meal is going to be healthy. I find this a better explanation than plenty others out there.
So there, now you know.

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Jayadevan PK is a writer of FactorDaily.