Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

Whether it’s getting an education, improving your dietary habits, getting some exercise or going for improved efficiency, altering your life begins and ends with self-control. But for some, this comes at a steep price.

For life hackers, it’s about making the changes as efficient as possible: reaping maximum benefits for minimum efforts. For members of the quantified self movement, it’s about monitoring yourself in order to create a scheme of self-improvement tailored to your body and your needs. For the average reader of the self-help article in a magazine, it might just be about quitting smoking or getting the laundry done.

Self-help gurus agree that the best way to change one’s life is the one that doesn’t require more self-control than necessary. Indeed, many have grown to view self-control as a finite resource, and the phenomenon of “running out of it” has a term of its own: ego depletion. For this reason, habit formation is encouraged: once you’re accustomed to a certain way of acting, you no longer need to push yourself to do it. It gets easy. One caveat though – for that habit to be formed, it’s that much more important that self-control is maintained during the first three(ish) weeks that it takes to instil a new habit.

But while most address self-control as an internal property of people – one that can be learned and cultivated, but a property of the person, nonetheless – there’s a factor to it that is often overlooked: money.

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Hacking the Self: Are Life Hacking and QS Perfectionist Self-Sabotage or Superhuman Self-Realization?

When joining a gym, I measured myself up. I stepped on an InBody body composition analyzer; it looked pretty much like a scale except that it also had a handle that I was supposed to hold in the front of me for a moment while staying perfectly still. A small current of electricity was sent through my body, and bioimpedance levels revealed the amount of fat – which conducts electricity poorly – in my body. In a minute, I was shown my fat and muscle percentages with what appeared to be an astounding accuracy.

I was hooked. Soon, I was spending a great deal of my time online, researching everything from supplementation to optimal excercise regimes. I was determined to see a difference each time I stepped on the machine. Still, a part of me was wondering: whatever happened to the tape measure? Why did I get such a thrill out of knowing exactly how many calories my body consumes in rest? How come we desire such detailed information about ourselves, and why do we want to optimize results when, in the olden days, amateur sports were about having fun? Why does the whole western world seem to have an OCD, and why am I loving it?

Continue reading Hacking the Self: Are Life Hacking and QS Perfectionist Self-Sabotage or Superhuman Self-Realization?